NEW YORK – An ex-convict was found guilty Tuesday in the rape and torture of a Columbia University graduate student who survived 19 hours of nightmarish sadism in which he scalded her with boiling water and attempted to blind her before trying to burn her to death.
Robert Williams was convicted of attempted murder, rape, kidnapping, arson and other charges in the attack, which was so prolonged and agonizing that the victim begged her tormentor to kill her and later tried to kill herself.
The verdict followed a gruesome trial that included dramatic testimony from the victim, who said the 31-year-old Williams made her swallow fistfuls of painkillers, ordered her to gouge out her eyes with scissors, sealed her lips with super glue and gagged her with duct tape before torching her apartment.
Williams, who was found guilty of all but two of 46 counts, was not in court to hear the verdict read. The judge said that when Williams was told a verdict had been reached, he simply turned over in his courthouse cell and went back to sleep.
"He didn't have any more reaction to that than he has had to anything else," said Williams' attorney Arnold Levine.
The victim and her relatives, in the front row of the courtroom, showed no reaction while the verdicts were read. Her father, on behalf of the family, later declined to comment.
Williams, who previously served eight years in prison for attempted murder, could get a life sentence at a hearing set for July 24.
When the trial began June 5, prosecutor Ann Prunty told jurors that Williams had violated the victim "in every way imaginable — and in some ways unimaginable," then tried to finish her off by burning her alive.
The evidence against Williams included DNA from the victim found on a shirt he was wearing when he was arrested and DNA from him on one of the woman's T-shirts. The victim also identified him in court.
The woman told teary jurors Williams repeatedly raped and sodomized her, scalded her with boiling water, threw bleach at her eyes in an attempt to blind her and slit her eyelids during the excruciating torture in her upper Manhattan apartment.
Tied up and left unconscious to die in a fire her attacker set in her apartment, the woman woke up and used the flames to burn through some of her restraints and escape what might have become her crematorium.
Prunty credited the victim's intelligence and mental toughness with helping her survive, despite the emotional and physical pain.
The victim testified that she memorized features and scars of her torturer while trying to connect with him — even asking about his taste in music — and trying to convince him she wouldn't identify him to authorities.
The nearly three-week trial was unusual in that the defendant was in court just once for a few hours. He was forced to show up on the day the victim testified and pointed him out to the jury as her rapist and torturer.