HOUSTON – The wife of a truck driver convicted in the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt asked a jury Monday to spare her husband the death penalty so his children won't grow up fatherless.
"I grew up without a father. I know what it's like. I don't want my kids to go through that," said a tearful Karen Williams, an accountant for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.
Karen Williams and two of her three children testified Monday in the punishment phase of the retrial of Tyrone Williams, 35, convicted last month on 58 counts of conspiracy, harboring and transporting immigrants in his sweltering trailer during the smuggling attempt in 2003.
The truck driver's oldest son, 11-year-old Tyrone Williams III, told jurors how his father had stressed the importance of getting an education, and that he missed him.
"He's a very kind man," the boy said.
Williams' 8-year-old daughter also briefly testified, saying she wanted her father to come home.
Testimony wrapped up Monday and closing arguments were set for the afternoon.
The jury could begin deliberating later Monday on whether to sentence Williams to death or up to life in prison for the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants. They were among more than 70 people crammed into the truck, which was abandoned at a truck stop near Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston.
The punishment phase has included tearful testimony from relatives of the victims asking for justice, as well as from Williams' relatives asking that his life be spared.
Prosecutors have said Williams deserves a death sentence because he intentionally committed an act of violence that caused the immigrants' deaths when he did not let them out.
Craig Washington, Williams' attorney, has said his client never intended for the immigrants to die and blamed the deaths on other members of the smuggling ring who overstuffed the trailer. The immigrants who died suffered from dehydration, overheating and suffocation after nearly four hours inside the container.
Williams, a Jamaican citizen who lived in Schenectady, N.Y., is the only one of 14 people charged facing the death penalty.
In 2005, a jury convicted Williams on 38 transporting counts, but he avoided a death sentence because the jury couldn't agree on his role in the smuggling attempt. The jury deadlocked on the 20 other counts.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the verdict, saying the jury failed to specify his role in the crime.