ROCKY MOUNT — A convicted killer serving life in prison is up for parole.
In 1994, a jury convicted Benjamin R. Williams of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Kenneth L. Freeman.
Williams shot Freeman during an argument between two groups of friends, according to court records.
After serving 25 years, Williams, now 42, could be released by the N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission under the Mutual Agreement Parole Program, a scholastic and vocational plan that’s part of a three-way agreement between the offender, the commission and the state’s Division of Prisons.
The state’s current structured sentencing law eliminates parole for crimes committed on or after Oct. 1, 1994. The commission has the responsibility of considering parole for offenders sentenced under previous guidelines.
Williams is currently housed at the Southern Correctional Institution in Montgomery County. Since his incarceration, he’s had 42 infractions including fighting, making threats, drug possession, sexual acts and disobeying orders. His last infraction occurred in September 2016, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
In 1994, Williams lived in Rocky Mount with his mother, two brothers and sister.
One of his brothers was in the hospital because he’d been shot and his leg had been amputated. Williams testified he bought a pistol because he heard the man who shot his brother would be gunning for him next.
On April 17, 1994, Williams went to Tarboro with a group of friends. They got into an argument with another group, which included Freeman.
Later the same day, Williams and his friends returned to the same location and began to argue with the same group. Williams pulled his pistol and as the opposing group fled, he fired three shots. He testified he shot into the air, but one of the bullets struck Freeman.
A pathologist testified that a bullet hit Freeman in the right side, ripping through his lungs and heart. He bled to death on the way to the hospital.
Williams testified that he felt threatened because he saw members of the other group reach at their belts as if they were reaching for a pistol.
Williams contested his conviction with the state’s appellate court, saying the trial court judge erred by refusing to instruct the jury on the theory of self defense. His lawyers argued the jury could have found it reasonable to believe deadly force was necessary to save Williams and his friends.
The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled against Williams in 1996. Self-defense claims require a defendant to have believed he was in grave danger and that any reasonable person would feel the same; that a defendant wasn’t the aggressor in the affray; and that a defendant didn’t use excessive force, according to State v. Manor, a case appellate judges cited in their opinion turning away Williams’ appeal.
Since Williams didn’t testify that he fired his pistol at the victim because he believed deadly force was necessary to save himself from death or great bodily harm, self defense wasn’t a viable courtroom defense.
“Clearly, a reasonable person believing that the use of deadly force was necessary to save his or her life would have pointed the pistol at the perceived threat and fired at the perceived threat. The defendant’s own testimony, therefore, disproves the first element of self-defense,” the appeals court ruled. “The defendant’s fear, resulting from his brother’s shooting and from the belief that the assailant might be after him, is irrelevant. The defendant’s brother was shot in Rocky Mount, not Tarboro. There is no evidence whatsoever that anyone from Tarboro was involved in the shooting of the defendant’s brother.”
The facts of the case along with information gathered during the investigation from people for and against parole will be considered by the commission in making its decision, according to a notice sent to local news media as required by law.
Upon completion of its investigation, the commission will render a final decision with notifications sent out within 10 days.
The commission consists of a chairman and three commissioners, including Angela Bryant, who represented Nash, Wilson and other counties from 2007-18 while a member of the N.C. General Assembly.
Anyone with questions about Williams’ possible parole can contact the commission at 919-716–3010.