01/27/08 — Man gets 95 years for assaults on women

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Man gets 95 years for assaults on women

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 27, 2008 2:01 AM

Marsha Williams testified "she didn't think she mattered" -- which is why she didn't call police when Rodney Levon Williams beat her to the ground, kicked her in the ribs and tried to strangle her.

A Wayne County jury thought her June 2006 story and those of four other prostitutes did matter. Their guilty verdict on Friday night sent Williams, 36, to prison for at least 95 years, or as many as 1171/2, court officials said.

After his conviction, Williams maintained his innocence, and his lawyer announced his intention to appeal.

Assistant District Attorney Jan Kroboth delivered closing arguments that described Rodney Williams, who is not related to his victim, as a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" character who carefully chose his targets.

"So who would believe them? They're perfect victims. They could be found on the streets, in the alleys and they can be taken very easily to remote areas," Mrs. Kroboth said. "Every single person didn't want 911 called, didn't want the police to come."

Williams was indicted on 22 charges, as a result of a police investigation that revealed attacks that resulted in heavy bleeding, strangulations, a fractured jaw and one victim being slammed against a concrete wall.

Investigator Paige Learnard said Goldsboro police were already familiar with Williams.

"It says something, when the first two victims reported their stories, two other investigators (immediately) went to his house," Mrs. Learnard said. "We were already familiar with him and his patterns."

It took at least eight months to locate women known to work the streets in Goldsboro, as Mrs. Learnard, prosecutors and other investigators worked to gather their stories.

Afterward, officials from the F.B.I. and State Bureau of Investigation were impressed -- they approached Mrs. Learnard to study the case and how she worked it.

"It's been an overwhelming job," the investigator said. "It took us a long time to locate all the girls. You can't just go out and put your hands on any of them."

That meant connecting with people on the streets, asking if they had seen women they thought might have been victimized.

When they did locate them, they started tracing a string of attacks that began at Peacock Park on Herring Street in Goldsboro in 2005.

A victim's blood was found in a dugout at Peacock Park's softball field, launching the investigation that turned up at least five separate violent assaults.

Mrs. Kroboth said those assaults usually began with Williams requesting oral sex from a prostitute he would select. Only fear and violence would excite him in these encounters, she said.

Former prostitutes Ms. Williams and Christeena Smith both said they had problems with crack cocaine addiction that led to prostitution and the eventual meeting with Williams. They also said their violent experiences had changed their lives.

After the attack, Ms. Smith said she tried to make money from other men, but she was haunted by flashbacks of the violent encounter with Williams in May 2006.

After Williams took Ms. Smith to a garage on Salem Church Road, she ran down the street naked, crying and bleeding, according to a witness and Mrs. Kroboth.

A woman who was leaving choir practice with her two young sons told them not to look and asked one son to take off his shirt and give it to her, Mrs. Kroboth said. Then the woman called 911 after her son provided the temporary cover.

Despite the fact that Williams had been in custody, Ms. Smith said she could not escape thoughts of him.

"I know that he (was) locked up, but I'd still think that whoever I was with was (Williams)," Ms. Smith said while waiting with Ms. Williams outside the Wayne County courtroom.

Ms. Smith said she also "got tired of getting out of jail," and reported she had been clean of crack cocaine since Dec. 26.

Ms. Williams said she will be pursuing a job now that the trial is over, and she is undertaking vocational rehabilitation at Wayne Community College. Ms. Williams said she has kicked her drug habit as well.

After Williams' sentence was passed down, his lawyer pleaded with the judge to allow him some hope of being free again one day.

"The man is 36 years of age. He's married. You see the support behind him," defense attorney Charles Gurley said. "I'd ask the court to consolidate sentencing, wherever it can ... to give him the possibility to hopefully get out of prison one day."

As he walked out of the courtroom, Gurley said he "just hope(d) that the appellate courts can look into the evidentiary issues and see if they can possibly get him a new trial."

Mrs. Kroboth said the case had affected her deeply.

"It was emotional, a tear jerker. I thought the girls who came in showed a lot of bravery. They admitted to their flaws and their faults, but they told the truth."

Investigator Mrs. Learnard said this was her first two-week trial. She said she had known many of the women involved for some time.

"I've known these girls for 15 years. They've always been straightforward with me, whether it was good or bad. I knew they were genuine in what they said.

"Once I knew I had the first two girls in the same (Peacock Park) dugout, I knew there was a problem."

Eighth District Assistant District Attorney Mike Ricks said he had been in the office every day at 5:30 a.m. for the last two weeks working on Williams' prosecution.

"This is the most complicated case I've ever dealt with," Ricks said. "Twenty-two counts, five separate victims. Really it's five trials in one, is what we did in here. But justice was done."

Like Mrs. Kroboth, Ricks said he believed that Williams picked victims who were the least likely to call police.

"The (victims) had the common conception that no one would care, that their lives were not important to anyone," Ricks said. "I believe that's why (Williams) chose them ... he believed he could get away with these heinous crimes.

"The jury unequivocally said 'We care about all members of society in Goldsboro,'" Ricks said.

Mrs. Kroboth said Williams' "Jekyll & Hyde" persona was evident even in his testimony before the jury, where he admitted to seeking oral sex with prostitutes.

"The respectable Rodney Williams said 'I was weak in the flesh. I thought I could sneak and do it and get away with it,'" Mrs. Kroboth said.