Syracuse (WSYR-TV) – Many Central New Yorkers were taken aback when the Onondaga County District Attorney’s office revealed that it would not charge Romeo Williams with murder.
Williams, 18, is accused of assaulting James Gifford in front of a 7-Eleven on Valley Drive in Syracuse on Sept. 21 – an attack that resulted in the 70-year-old man’s death several days later.
Criminal defense attorney Kim Zimmer cautioned that Williams could face serious consequences for the incident. District attorney William Fitzpatrick says that there were only two possible theories
for justifying a murder charge in the case against Williams:
1. Williams intended to kill Mr. Gifford
2. Williams recklessly killed Mr. Gifford while acting with a depraved indifference to human life
Fitzpatrick says that, “Neither of the statutes comes close to fitting the facts of the case as a result of decisions from our State's highest court.”
“There has never been any chance that Mr. Williams would be charged with murder under the facts of this case,” he said.
Williams was originally charged with assault in the second degree, but this was before Gifford passed away from injuries sustained in the attack.
Zimmer anticipates that Williams will be charged with manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. Manslaughter can carry a sentence of five to 25 years.
"I’m sure the district attorney’s office has carefully evaluated the facts and I’m sure they are going to present the most serious charges that they feel they can sustain to the grand jury and these are serious charges and just because they may not carry the label murder – manslaughter charges are very serious charges and can result in very substantial jail time,” Zimmer said.
She added that Williams’ past criminal record could impact his sentence.
The 18-year-old had 14 prior arrests, including three felonies.
He was out on bail following an August weapons arrest when Gifford was killed.
At the time of his death, officials indicated that additional charges could be presented.
Fitzpatrick said the incident is being presented to a grand jury and a decision should be made soon.