Trial begins in beating death of UF professor


Tavares Williams, 21, is escorted by a bailiff out of the courtroom following a recess order by Circuit Judge Robert Cates Monday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 12:53 a.m.
One minute prospective jurors were listening to a prosecutor's routine questions about serving on a jury in a first-degree murder trial.
The next they were watching as three bailiffs picked up and carried the case's screaming, struggling defendant out of an Alachua County courtroom Monday morning.
"Kill me," the handcuffed and shackled Tavares Williams, 21, had yelled moments earlier after he swung his head down toward a courtroom table while seated during jury selection.
"My opinion is that this is all an act. It's his way of trying to delay the proceedings," Assistant State Attorney Marc Peterson said about this and other outbursts from Williams throughout the morning.
But in spite of delays caused by Williams' outbursts and questions over whether he would be represented by an attorney or allowed back into the courtroom, attorneys did select a jury and make opening statements.
The former Gainesville High School student is accused of beating to death his guardian, University of Florida research analyst and adjunct professor Barbara Roth, 51, three years ago. Peterson, in his opening statement, said Roth and Williams had a normal mother and son relationship, although she was not his biological parent. She had met him years earlier in DeLand while she was a social worker and kept in touch with him.
In 1997, she let him live with her and took care of him when she moved to Gainesville to pursue a doctorate .
Then, on Jan. 24, 2002, Williams told Roth he had a surprise for her and asked her to stand with her eyes covered at their apartment on Northwest 23rd Boulevard, Peterson said.
Williams then hit Roth with a baseball bat, killing her, the state alleges. Assistant Public Defender Ellie Wilkov told jurors this case is not a "whodunit," but a tragedy in which Williams had been suicidal and on medication.
"Try to understand the state of mind of the defendant," she said to the jury.
Jury selection wasn't the first time questions over Williams' competency or behavior have delayed his trial. Williams was sent to a state hospital in 2003 after he initially was found incompetent to stand trial. But last fall, following treatment, monitoring and more evaluations by mental health experts, a judge determined he was competent.
Last week, as Williams' case was set to go to a jury, he told the court he would dismiss his attorney and represent himself, delaying the case.
And jury selection hit roadblocks throughout Monday morning as Williams erupted into screams, once in front of prospective jurors and again about one hour earlier in front of the judge, lawyers and courtroom staff where he started yelling, "I can't take this."
Bailiffs carried him out of the room to a holding cell. Bailiffs also told Circuit Judge Robert Cates that Williams had tried to smash his head against a steel sink that morning.
Several times before the jury pool entered the courtroom, Cates tried to ask Williams if he wanted an attorney or if he wanted to enter a plea. The judge also asked Williams if he wanted to change from his red jail uniform to regular clothes before appearing in front of possible jurors.
"I can't think clearly," Williams said. "I don't know."
After several warnings from the judge followed by the latest outburst, Cates said Williams' behavior meant he wouldn't watch jury selection from the courtroom. Instead, Williams was placed in another room, where he could see and hear his case via a television screen.
Cates then dismissed the potential jurors who had seen the disturbance, replacing them with a new jury pool. Prospective jurors were told Williams was voluntarily absent from the court hearing.
Twelve jurors and two alternate jurors were selected while Williams sat in another room.
Before the jury was picked, however, Williams changed his mind and asked that an attorney represent him. Then he told the judge he wanted to return to the courtroom and would wear regular clothes.
It was a very different Williams who returned to the courtroom Monday afternoon.
Williams sat quietly with his hands free but his legs shackled while jurors listened to opening statements and heard testimony from Roth's father. He appeared to put his head down as jurors watched a video tape taken by police showing Roth's apartment, her body wrapped in bedclothes, blood on the carpet and cleaning supplies on a kitchen counter.
Attorneys told Cates they anticipate the case will go to the jury for deliberation today.
Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or fisherl@ gvillesun.com.

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