In this series of posts I write about the worst family law cases with the most shocking outcomes. For earlier posts in this series see Parts 1, 2, and 3 on August 23, 2010; August 27, 2010 and November 22, 2010.
The case I feature today started like many family law cases where the parties separated, then reconciled, only to separate for a final time. The emotional toll on the parties was exhausting as the disassembling of the marriage occurred over a six-year time span.
But last week this case went from run-of-the-mill unpleasant family litigation to double murder and suicide in the space of a few hours.
Jim and Sandy Williamson were in their late 60’s/ early 70’s, each marrying for the second time to one another. Their marriage began to disintegrate in 2004. Sandy filed for a legal separation and sought a restraining order against her husband. Shortly thereafter the couple reconciled and stayed together until 2007 when Sandy filed for divorce and obtained a new restraining order as she was fearful her husband would hurt her. At that time, she told the court that her husband had pistol-whipped his first wife and she believed he was a danger to her. She also had moved her grandson in with her for extra protection.
The proceedings dragged on over four years until a final court hearing was scheduled for the week of February 17, 2011 to finalize all the outstanding issues. Friends of Mrs. Williamson said that she had planned to stay at various friends’ homes during the trial in order to avoid her husband’s wrath.
In the court’s morning session the issues to be resolved were set before the judge. Mrs. Williamson was asking that the family home be awarded to her, together with spousal support of $1500.00 per month and legal costs of $150,000.00. Mr. Williamson was representing himself in court.
Mrs. Williamson had lived in the family home which at the date of separation was worth $1.8 million but had decreased to a current value of $800,000.00. Mr. Williamson had earlier forged his wife’s signature and placed a $900,000.00 mortgage on the home after the couple separated. He was adamant from the beginning that his wife would never take the house away from him.
At the lunch break, Mrs. Williamson and her lawyer Judy Soley drove to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Unbeknownst to the women, Jim Williamson followed Ms. Soley’s vehicle, crept up on it and shot the lawyer to death as she was parking the car.
Mrs. Williamson ran into the restaurant where her husband followed her and killed her as well, while the restaurant staff scrambled to protect themselves. Mr. Williamson fled the restaurant and holed up in the family home which was three blocks from the restaurant. A SWAT team surrounded the home only to find Mr. Williamson had taken his own life inside the home.
Judith Soley had practiced family law for 40 years and was a well-loved member of the Fresno, California community. Sandy Williamson’s pastor said that Sandy only wanted to begin her new life and was trusting God that everything would work out.
Friends of Jim Williamson say that they saw him falling apart, but nobody could have predicted he would murder his wife and her lawyer in cold blood. Those who want to blame the “system” must remember that millions of married couples divorce every year, but only a rare few take the horrific action he took.