06/09/09 — Death penalty removed in murder

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Death penalty removed in murder

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on June 9, 2009 1:46 PM

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Brandon Lee Williams

Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty if a Fremont man is tried for the March 2008 alleged murder of a Fremont mother of two, court records show.

In what is called a Rule 24 hearing, the state did not find the offense met the statutory requirements to seek the death penalty against Brandon Lee Williams, 23.

Williams is accused of murdering Silvia Benitez Morales, 28, a former neighbor of the defendant who lived just four miles away.

Court records show Williams now faces sex-related counts in the case. Authorities have not released details, but those charges include attempted first-degree rape and an attempted first-degree sex offense, according to court records.

Williams has been arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty, and voluntary discovery will begin for both the prosecution and defense within 30 days.

The case was continued to Oct. 12, 2009, court minutes show.

Prosecutor Branny Vickory could not immediately be reached for comment.

Williams was under suspicion from the very beginning of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office investigation, authorities have said.

But tying Williams to the crime scene proved difficult, partly because there were no witnesses who could reliably recount the incident.

According to authorities, Ms. Morales' 3-year-old son was the only possible witness to the murder, and could not talk to deputies.

Williams' arrest was also noteworthy because it was the first application of a new law in state murder cases, which commands law enforcers to videotape interviews in murder cases.

The Morales family and Williams were both residents of a rural area along N.C. 222 between Fremont and Eureka in northern Wayne County.