By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — Signs that his life would be a battle with mental illness began when Paul Williams was a student at the University of Washington.
Over the years, Williams was hospitalized, medicated and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He regularly saw a psychiatrist. His last visit was in April 2009 and his doctor reported that Williams seemed to be doing well.
Two months later Williams was arrested for murder. He was accused of killing Shirley Freeman, 73, of Marysville. Williams told police he had thoughts that he had to kill Freeman or face eternity in hell, according to court records. He had stopped taking his medication.
“This was a horrific crime. Shirley Freeman was murdered in her own home by a young man she considered her friend,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson said.
A judge on Thursday sentenced Williams to 22 years in prison for the June 2, 2009, slaying. Williams pleaded guilty in May to first-degree murder with a deadly weapon.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Larry McKeeman gave Williams, 34, a low-end sentence. The judge explained that he had to balance the defendant’s “monstrous” actions with his mental illness, which obviously factored into the murder.
McKeeman said he also understood why Freeman’s family requested the maximum sentence under the law.
“I feel obligated to society to do the best I can to make sure he is locked up so no other family suffers the way we have,” Freeman’s oldest son said. “There is no malice. All the vengeance in the world will never bring my mother back.”
Williams had no previous criminal history.
State doctors determined that Williams was able to assist in his own defense and found him competent to stand trial.
Williams didn’t want to take the case to trial or pursue an insanity defense, his attorney Neal Friedman said Thursday. This is a case that highlights a breakdown in the criminal justice system for mentally ill offenders, Friedman said.
Williams didn’t quite meet the standards for a claim of insanity at the time of the offense based on criteria of an “archaic test,” the public defender said.
“This is one of those moments that I can’t help but feel that the criminal justice system is broken because we are warehousing an individual in a general prison population for an incredibly long time when he committed his crime while clearly mentally ill,” Friedman wrote in court papers.
Williams apologized to Freeman’s family on Thursday.
Freeman lived next door to Williams’ parents. The day before her death the police were called after Freeman and Williams’ mother got into a dispute about barking dogs.
The officer talked to both women and told them to work things out. Williams was there during the argument but wasn’t involved in the dispute. Williams’ mother told her son the argument didn’t concern him and he should stay out of it.
Williams told police he had thoughts of killing Freeman for a couple of days, came up with a plan and acted on it, court papers said.
He went to Freeman’s home June 1 and watched television with her. He returned to his parents’ home the next morning, had coffee with his mother, took a knife from the kitchen and went to Freeman’s house and attacked her, Matheson wrote.
He drove to his apartment, cleaned up and returned to his parents’ home, where he told his mother that he’d killed her neighbor.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.