HOUSTON – A truck driver already serving life in prison for the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt was sentenced Thursday to lengthy terms for conspiracy and transporting illegal immigrants.
Tyrone Williams, 36, drove the tractor-trailer in a May 2003 smuggling attempt that ended with 19 illegal immigrants dead inside a sweltering trailer.
The trailer had been packed with 70 Latin American immigrants in South Texas headed for Houston, but the air conditioning in the airtight refrigerator truck was never turned on. As the temperature rose, the immigrants clawed at the insulation, broke out tail lights and screamed for help. The Jamaica-born driver abandoned the trailer after realizing what had happened.
Williams, who lived in Schenectady, N.Y., was convicted in December on 58 counts of conspiracy, harboring and transporting illegal immigrants, and the jury decided against the death penalty. The panel imposed a life sentence for some counts, and the judge sentenced him for the rest on Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal added more than 33 years for a conspiracy count and 20 years for each of 19 counts of transporting illegal immigrants, to be served concurrently with his life sentence. He also dismissed 19 counts of harboring immigrants that largely duplicated the transporting counts.
Federal prosecutor Daniel Rodriguez said he hopes the prison terms will send a message to other smugglers: "If you do this, you will be exposed to the possibility of receiving the death penalty."
Williams declined to give a statement in court before his sentencing Thursday.
His attorney, Craig Washington, said the new sentences don't matter much since Williams is already serving a life sentence.
Thirteen other people were charged in the case, but Williams was the only one who faced a possible death penalty. The suspected leader of the smuggling ring was sentenced last year to 17 years in prison, and the man who recruited Williams as a driver was sentenced in January to 15 years in prison.