A jury found Victor Williams guilty only of unlawful sex with a minor, but not on the more severe charge of drugging and raping an incapacitated 16-year-old boy at Williams’s Palm Coast home a year ago, nor of not disclosing that he was HIV positive to the victim.
Williams, 43, who’s fostered several boys as a single parent over the years and claimed he owned Grandma’s Kitchen restaurant in Bunnell just before his arrest last year, faces up to 15 years in prison. He would have faced life in prison had he been found guilty on the more severe charge. He will be sentenced on Jan. 10.
Considering the alternative, the split verdict was a victory for Williams, who had never denied having sex with the boy.
(Sophia Hubbard, the actual owner of Grandma’s Kitchen–now Lil City Lounge–said subsequently that “he never owned a damn thing,” and that Williams only worked at Grandma’s Kitchen “for a brief period of time,” talking about being a partner. It never got that far.)
The jury of three women and three men took two hours to reach the verdict. Williams had maintained zen-like concentration and cool during the trial. He did not change when the verdict was read. The boy’s mother and step-father were in the courtroom, having sat through the afternoon’s closing arguments. As she had on the stand while testifying two days earlier, the mother had broken down several times during closing arguments. She kept her calm when the verdict was read, reacting just once with a start, when she heard the not-guilty verdict on the most serious charge.
The week-long trial included today a two-and-a-half hour testimony by Williams himself, who described the night of Sept. 10, 2018, when he says the boy spent the night at his house and the two had sex. He’s never disputed that the sexual encounter took place, but he has disputed not knowing the boy’s age at the time, and disputed the charge that he had drugged him, or that he had taken advantage of the boy while he was incapacitated, either from alcohol, from Xanax, a narcotic relaxer, or from pot. The prosecution said the boy, who in manner and frame could not easily be mistaken for an adult, was under the influence of all three.
All three substances were in Williams’s possession and freely available to the boy who, even by Williams’s account, reached into the fridge and helped himself to a potent malt drink called Four Loko, in addition to sips of margarita that Williams had himself prepared. Williams claims he never gave the boy Xanax. But Williams also lied to the police about whether he had pills in his possession, never disclosing that he had, in fact, a mason jar with 20 pills or more on his nightstand. (The 20 pills was the number police recovered: there could have been more at the time of the encounter.) He attributed his false answers to what he perceived as an “interrogation” rather than questioning.
When the boy returned home the next day–Williams says he dropped him off at the same intersection where he’d picked him up–he was incapacitated for the rest of the day. His step-father initially found him just outside the front door, passed out, and his mother tended to him on and off the rest of the day until, late that night (24 hours after he’d gone to Williams’s house) the boy broke down in the shower and said he realized he’d been raped while in and out of consciousness at Williams’s house.Williams never disputed the sex, thus conceding that he would face serious prison time regardless. But the heart of the trial was over the question of impairment and consent. Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally built her defense on the theory that the boy was covering up for his misbehavior by turning Williams into a “scapegoat.” Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark drew on Williams’s numerous recorded lies to police and to the boy’s mother to severely damage his credibility. Nunnally tried to do the same when the boy was on the stand. She caught him in a few inconsistencies. She failed to make him out to be a liar of Williams’s caliber, but drew on enough inconsistencies to sow doubt in the jury’s mind.
Williams on the stand had handled himself well as Nunnally asked him questions–leading questions that allowed Williams to frame the night in terms most favorable to him. He did not do what men facing the sort of charges he’s facing almost unfailingly do: he did not blame the boy or try to shift blame on the boy, or come up with excuses. He left that task to his attorney.
His testimony was remarkably polished–he addressed the jury when answering every question, like an expert witness–and if anything, eventually seemed too polished, too studied: he had after all been in the courtroom the entire week. So it was not a surprise when at one point he parroted the language of his own expert witness, a physician who said that the boy could not possibly have been impaired based on the amount of substances the boy himself claimed to have consumed. What he never explained was why, as the father of numerous children over the years, he could not have prevented the boy from consuming anything.
Williams had told the jury that for many years he’d worked for organizations devoted to HIV-AIDS education (he was infected in 2015). He sounded sincere, compassionate, very well educated on the matter. But his demeanor with Clark was such a contrast that he undermined himself in the eyes of the jury. His monosyllabic answers to Clark, especially when conceding to a lie, were flat, unemotional, at times icy, in complete contradiction with the way he’d been with Nunnally. He came off as calculating and, again, too well rehearsed, and eventually appeared more tactical than sincere.
Clark tried to exploit the contrast.
One of the most damning revelations by Williams himself was his lie about always using a condom. In fact, he conceded to Clark, he at one point took off his condom and grinded against the boy’s pelvis and abdomen to get himself off, which he did.
“You want us to believe [the boy] not only agreed to have sex with you but agreed for you to take your condom off and ejaculate on him,” Clark asked Williams, incredulous. Williams dead-panned: “Yes.”
The revelations about Williams ejaculating on the boy allowed Clark to use it to try to prove one of the charges against him as she told the jury: “There was never a conversation about HIV between these two people.” Nunnally, on the other hand, used the revelation to tell the jury that semen on skin “is not sex,” anymore than “grinding” is sex, anymore than semen on unbroken skin could cause an HIV infection. She played up the claim that Williams’s profile on the Grindr app indicated that he was HIV positive, though that evidence is based on Williams’s word, not on any corroboration introduced at trial. Nothing from the Grindre app on either the boy’s or man’s phone was recovered: both had deleted the apps, and a forensic analysis of Williams’s app did not reveal any tests or evidence.
The third-degree felony charge of not revealing his HIV status was the lesser of the three charges Williams faced.
The second charge–unlawful sex with a minor–didn’t need proving: Williams had proved it on his own in recorded conversations with police and with the boy’s mother, though Nunnally at one point tried to tell the jury to find him not guilty on that count, too, by applying the “spirit” of the law as opposed to the “letter” of the law. That prompted an immediate objection from Clark. Circuit Judge Terence Perkins sent the jury out of the courtroom, then admonished Nunnally to not even suggest to the jury that it could ignore his directions, which are to follow the law. Clark said there is no “spirit” or “letter” of the law. There is only the law.
That left the most severe charge to prove: not statutory rape, but rape while the boy was helpless to resist–“sexual battery under specified circumstances,” in the wording of the law. It is irrelevant whether the boy went to Williams’s house for sex, for drugs or for alcohol. What matters is what took place there, under Williams’s roof. The prosecution argued the boy had gone there for alcohol and pot, the defense argued he’d gone there for sex. He had been using the Grindr app through which he’d met Williams for a year–Grindr being a hook-up app for gay men, bi-sexuals and transgender men. But the boy’s past acts were not relevant or admissible in court (just as Williams’s past acts were inadmissible: he was recently acquitted of seeking out a minor for sex in Volusia County, and faces charges of cocaine possession and controlled substance possession in a separate, pending case. The drugs were seized when deputies served a search warrant at his house on the rape case.)
That left almost the entirety of the case’s most salient claims dependent on what Williams said, and on what the boy said, with one recurring exception: the documented, impaired condition of the boy the morning after. Even Williams agreed that he was “wobbling,” and not just the morning after. He’d told police that he’d wobbled the night before. He said on the stand that he’d had to stay with the boy more than an hour the morning after, waiting for him to regain his composure so he could walk. Something was not right. Williams claims he didn’t know what it was and was even willing to call police or an ambulance if necessary. It was in that condition that the boy ended up in front of his home, passed out, when his father found him.
“Even the symptoms the defendant describes” had concerned him, the prosecutor said, recalling Williams speaking of the boy the next morning falling to his knees. “That’s consistent with that young man having taken Xanax, alcohol and cannabis.”
Nunnally offered a valiant defense of her client–the more so because pre-trial motions had restricted what she could mention to the jury, narrowing the boy’s history to the 24 hours around the night with Williams. She could not tell the jury that the boy had been on Grindr for a year, for example. She painted the portrait of an intelligent boy who had snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to meet with Williams not to “play Yahtzee,” but for sex, that he had lied on his Gringr account to pass himself off as an adult, that he’d lied to his parents “to get out of trouble,” that he couldn’t keep straight what color pill Williams had handed him–yellow, white or orange–even though he was a brilliant boy at school and college. She didn’t make the boy out to be the predator, but close: she made him look like the seducer, the schemer and evader (though Williams still held all the cards).
Nunnally tried to indict the boy’s family–the father’s seeming callousness when he stepped over the boy on the porch on his way to work, after texting his wife a picture of the boy. “Now, what does that tell you? You’re talking about the dynamics in this family, what only [the boy] and his parents know,” Nunnally said. Nunnally told the jury it had to take those dynamics in consideration. She got to tell the jury that the boy had allegedly characterized his treatment at his parents’ hands around that time as “shitty.” She was not blaming the victim. Just his family.
The defense attorney was shifting attention from Williams’s responsibilities to the boy’s family’s, as if the family had anything to do with Williams’s acts–and as if family dynamics reverberating with tensions between a rebellious, different-minded teen and his parents were somehow unusual. She went on during her closing, speaking derisively of both father and mother–“they treated him like they saw him”–to play up the theory that the boy felt he’d been “caught, the jig is up,” even as the boy was texting Williams after the rape, even as he was turning him in to his “scapegoat.” And she reminded the jury of the locations of the acts that night. Still: it had its effect.
Nunnally worked up to a powerful moment in her closing when she held up two pictures, one showing the boy without injuries on his knees the morning he came home, and one showing injuries, a day later, that the boy accused Williams of inflicting on him. Clearly, the boy had lied. “That’s inconsistent. That’s inconsistent, and [the boy] cannot be trusted,” she said. So she could extrapolate and make the charge: “There’s no proof that [the boy] was impaired, only his words.” He had pockets, she said, suggesting that after the sex he could have taken anything from Williams’s house, including pills, and gotten impaired after the sex.
It was enough to sow doubt in the jury’s mind–reasonable doubt being the standard for finding a defendant not guilty of a given charge.
The prosecutor reminded the jury of a fact equally damaging to Williams’s credibility: At one point Williams rationalized lying to the boy’s mother, who’d asked him if he had a sexually transmitted disease–he said no–by claiming that he didn’t consider HIV to be an STD. “He’s just not credible,” Clark told the jury. But Nunnally may have effectively confused matters: the boy had been drinking, he may have taken a Xanax, he may not have passed out during sex, but he was no longer in complete control of his faculties the night of the sex.
During his testimony Williams had told the jury that he’d slept with the boy in the living room through the night–not because he was being affectionate, but because he was being watchful, having someone he didn’t know in his house. But he’d shown no such vigilance with his drugs or his alcohol. And in the end, he was still the 42-year-old boy who’d had sex with a boy almost a third his age. He will serve serious prison time for the crime–but nowhere near life. And he will be branded a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Nunnally after the trial said the verdict was a victory of sorts, considering the alternative, but she still found the result disheartening. The boy “is on a hook-up site, and–here goes my client,” Nunnally said. “My client didn’t go looking for him. My client isn’t a predator, he doesn’t exploit anybody. But now he’s going to be a sex offender because of this straight-liability charge, having a hard time finding some place to live. He has good family support and everything, so he’s blessed. But now he’s going to be a sex offender, and he raped nobody. That’s not what this charge was about. It wasn’t rape. That charge was about sex. He was over 24, he was 16, 17, doesn’t matter if he was raped or not.” The fact that her client didn’t get convicted of a charge punishable by life “is big, I’m not denying it,” she said.