- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

CUMBERLAND, Va. (AP) — A judge rejected a plea agreement that would have kept Michael Wayne Williams in prison for the rest of his life for killing a Cumberland County couple.

Circuit Judge William Shelton said Monday that he based his decision on information in Williams’ presentencing report. He did not elaborate.

The agreement called for Williams to plead guilty to capital murder in the Feb. 27, 1993, slayings of Morris C. Keller Jr., 45, and Elizabeth Keller, 34. He also would have admitted to breaking and entering, robbery, rape, abduction and using a firearm in a felony.

A federal judge had overturned Williams’ death sentence, and his lawyers and prosecutors reached the plea agreement as a new trial was getting under way in March.

After Judge Shelton rejected the agreement, Williams changed his plea to not guilty.

Morris Keller’s relatives urged Judge Shelton to reject the agreement, but members of Elizabeth Keller’s family asked him to accept it.

“I feel capital punishment should be an option,” Morris Keller’s sister, Elizabeth Jones, testified. “I truly believe Michael Wayne Williams should be tried by a jury.”

Elizabeth Keller’s sister, Marie Victoria Williams, testified that the slayings traumatized her children and that the family was drained by a trial, appeals, a near execution and the reversal of the sentence.

“What we can do is hear Michael Wayne Williams say he is guilty and spend the rest of his life in prison,” she said.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Patricia Scales said the agreement should be accepted because “nothing ever stays the same — not people’s recollection, not their memories and in this case, not even the evidence.”

In January, DNA evidence was retested, and improved methods eliminated Williams as a contributor of cells tested in the rape of Elizabeth Keller. Testing before the first trial indicated the possibility of a mixture of fluids from Williams and Jeffrey Cruse, another man convicted in the case.

The Kellers were taken to a thicket where they were shot several times. Mrs. Keller died clutching the couple’s marriage license.

As part of a plea agreement, Cruse testified against Williams and was sentenced to life in prison.

Williams was sentenced to death in February 1994, but it was later discovered that the jury forewoman did not disclose that she had been married to a deputy who was a prosecution witness. Williams was 50 minutes away from execution when the U.S. Supreme Court intervened on Oct. 28, 1999.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer then ruled in January 2002 that Williams’ right to a fair trial was violated, and he ordered a new trial.

While he was awaiting trial in Cumberland, Williams was sentenced to life in prison for the slayings of four men in Prince Edward County in 1992.

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