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A community tries to forgive following shooter's murder conviction
Williams found guilty Thursday of killing man outside Peppers market
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Friends and family of defendant Joseph Williams and his victim Adrian Thompson filled a room in Hall County Superior Court during every day of the trial last week. Wednesday’s video of the shooting was especially hard on Thompson’s family, seated in the foreground. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Those who showed their support for the late Adrian Thompson during the prosecution of his shooter said they must extend compassion to the family of Joseph Williams.

Williams was convicted Thursday by a jury on three counts of murder.

“It’s about their children. This has to stop right here,” said Mac Lipscomb in an impassioned oration to a group of about 50. “They won’t grow up and be killed just because of what has happened to their father.”

The trial of Williams highlighted a division among the Gainesville community more prominent than the average criminal justice proceedings, an obviously adversarial process by nature.

But when courtrooms are scarcely populated even for the most serious of cases, deputies found they had to bend rules to find space for onlookers this time around. And as people squeezed into the pewlike benches, they were careful to align themselves by their allegiance: sitting behind the defendant, or behind the prosecution.

The case stemmed from a June 3, 2013, confrontation at Peppers Grocery & Market in south Gainesville. Williams shot Thompson, who was unarmed, multiple times before fleeing. Only a few seconds changed both men’s lives, although a complicated history colored their past.

Like the complex nature of the 20-year relationship between Williams and Thompson, many onlookers in court had histories with both families.

As Lipscomb, who is Thompson’s uncle, spoke to how his own personal relationships crossed sides, several heads nodded in solemn agreement.

“We, as adults, have relationships established with his family,” he said. “Our relationships were established before this ever happened with J.P. (Williams) and Adrian, because I’ve been knowing them for a very long time. And I’ll just say this: Growing up, I’ve never had any problems with any of them.”

The intertwined nature of the sides was perhaps best embodied by Chassity Thompson, who married Adrian Thompson after divorcing Williams while he was incarcerated. Adrian Thompson, who had children of his own, had in a de facto sense adopted Williams’ son Joseph Williams Jr., she said. She legally changed his name to “Josiah” about six months after Williams shot and killed Thompson, she said.

Lipscomb said beyond not letting the situation fracture the family, the family members should embrace making further connections.

“If they’re making friends with you, let them make friends with you,” he said. “We know it’s going to take time, and it’s a process to that, but learn how to forgive his family, the children.”

He drew on biblical teachings, an appropriate theme for a speech delivered with the gusto of a sermon.

“This is forgiveness and us even loving our enemies,” he said. “When Jesus died, there was a murderer on the cross with him. It was a thief and a murderer, and he said to them both, ‘This day you shall be in paradise with me.’”

Lipscomb’s speech wasn’t the only Sunday-esque act of the impromptu session. Freddie Webb, the grandmother of Chassity Thompson, began to sing a hymn, and soon other voices joined as she recited “Sweet Holy Spirit, Sweet Heavenly Dove.”

“Stay right here with us, filling us with your love,” she sang. “And for these blessings, we lift our hands in praise.”
Further repairs to community relations may have to wait until after Williams’ sentencing, where the two sides will be pitted against one another yet again as they lobby before a judge for a harsher or lesser sentence.

Presiding Judge Jason Deal has not yet set a date for the hearing. Thompson’s friends will have the opportunity to talk about the loss of Thompson in victim impact statements, which victim advocates began making arrangements to gather in writing, or plan to accommodate in person.

Williams’ supporters will tout mitigating factors for Deal to consider as he essentially determines whether Williams will be eligible for parole — at an earliest date of 35 years — or live the rest of his life in prison.

A murder conviction carries a mandatory minimum life sentence.