A Hardee County man was found guilty of murder in the second degree on Friday in connection to the killing of 16-year-old Amber Woods, who was found dead near a rural state road in Manatee County in February 2006.
Tyjuan Williams, 35, was arrested in 2020 along with his older brother and Woods' then on-again-off-again boyfriend, Ralph Williams, and his half-brother, Jamaine Brown, nearly 14 years after Woods was murdered.
A passerby found Woods’ body partially clothed lying on the side of State Road 62, a rural road in Manatee County about three miles west of the Hardee County line, with a single gunshot wound to her back on Feb. 11, 2006. The teenager was last seen alive by her aunt at their home in Hardee County around 12:30 a.m. that night, according to previous Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporting.
Woods' murder shocked the small rural community of Duette and surrounding Hardee County communities that were unaccustomed to such crimes in 2006, according to early Herald-Tribune reports.
Previous reporting: Phone records lead to break in 14-year-old Manatee County cold case
Tyjuan Williams was charged with first-degree murder, a capital felony, but after a day of deliberating, a 12-person jury decided to convict him of the lesser charge, which carries a maximum penalty of up to life in state prison. Tyjuan Williams will be sentenced on July 20 in the Manatee County Judicial Center.
Ralph Williams, who is also charged with first-degree murder in connection to Woods' killing, is scheduled to be tried in September. Brown pleaded no contest to accessory after the fact to murder in December 2020 and was adjudged guilty.
Defendant takes stand day after half-brother’s testimony
Tyjuan Williams testified Wednesday in an attempt to share his side of the story he said hadn't been presented to the jury, including that he changed his statement to law enforcement after an initial interview in 2006, and the fact that he supposedly was willing to wear a wire while speaking with his brothers for detectives.
A day earlier, Brown testified against his brother, saying that it had been Tyjuan Williams who had allegedly shot Woods in the back with a rifle while standing on the side of State Route 62. Brown said he recalled hitting the brakes at one point after hearing a gunshot and that he remembered seeing red.
Prior to Tyjuan Williams taking the stand, the prosecution called three witnesses to testify what they heard Tyjuan Williams say related to Woods' death over the years.
One witness said that while hanging out at a local spot after the murder in 2006, she overheard Tyjuan Williams say he hadn't meant to do it, that Woods wasn't supposed to be there. Another witness, who had been dating Tyjuan Williams around 2019, said he continuously brought up Woods and her murder, and said that "they" were trying to pin the murder on him.
One of Tyjuan Williams' defense attorneys, Sean Powers, during his closing arguments said that around the time the ex-girlfriend heard Tyjuan Williams bring up Woods was around the same time the case was reopened and investigators were questioning people again, so Tyjuan Williams could have been paranoid and stressed.
Tyjuan Williams said all three of those who testified, including the ex-girlfriend and a childhood friend, had lied and all had negative intentions when they took the stand.
As Assistant State Attorney Suzanne O'Donnell questioned Tyjuan Williams about which of his statements weren't shared with the jury and attempted to clarify what happened the night in question, Tyjuan Williams repeatedly circled around in his story. He continuously returned to the fact that he lied during his first interview with law enforcement about having his sister's phone in order to protect Brown, but in his second interview he supposedly changed his story.
During the trial, it was stated that all three brothers had been staying at their grandmother's house and that there were younger kids in the home, too. Brown, who had been previously convicted of a sex crime for being with an underage girl and had to register as a sexual offender, was prohibited from being around minors due to his status.
Tyjuan Williams said the night of the incident he and his brothers went to Walmart after church, and then his brothers dropped him off at his girlfriend's home. Tyjuan Williams then said he returned to his grandmother's home, and he woke up when he heard his two brothers arguing before Brown came in and washed his hands with bleach, seemingly in a panic.
Gabriela Szymanowska covers the legal system for the Herald-Tribune in partnership with Report for America. You can support her work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America. Contact Gabriela Szymanowska at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Man found guilty of second degree murder in Manatee County cold case