HOUSTON – A truck driver accused of being responsible for the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt could again face the death penalty.
Prosecutors say Williams failed to help the more than 70 illegal immigrants who had been packed into his tractor-trailer in stifling heat in 2003. Nineteen died.
Jury selection in his retrial took more than two weeks because potential jurors were questioned individually about their views of illegal immigration and the death penalty.
Williams, 35, avoided the death sentence in his first trial because the jury couldn't decide whether he was directly responsible for the deaths. The judge removed the death penalty as an option. Prosecutors appealed.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial and that the previous judge be removed from the case because of the case's "extraordinary history" and the judge's complaints about a crowded docket.
"I'm disappointed because the first jury reached a fair verdict," defense attorney Craig Washington said. "To have to do it again is disheartening. At the end of the day, the result will be the same as the last trial."
Prosecutors are not commenting on the case outside the courtroom. But during a hearing last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Rodriguez reiterated the government's contention that Williams was responsible for the immigrants' deaths because he ignored their cries for help and failed to turn on the air conditioning unit on his tractor-trailer.
"This unit could have had a significant, major impact in the survivability of these individuals," Rodriguez said. "If they were caught in time, serious injury could have been prevented."
Williams is the only one of 14 people charged in the case who is facing the death penalty. Seven people have been sentenced to prison, sentencing of three others is pending, charges against two were dismissed and one man is a fugitive.