$1M bond set in death of Jones, a 'Giant' in Palmetto

rdymond@bradenton.comJanuary 27, 2014 

MANATEE -- They called him "Giant."

That was the term of endearment many had for slain Palmetto Parks and Recreation Department employee and former Lincoln Memorial High School football star Willie Lee Jones, his grieving family said Sunday.

At a first appearance hearing Sunday at the Manatee County Judicial Center, Manatee County Judge John Lakin found probable cause to set a $1 million bond for Jones' longtime friend and retired Palmetto parks co-worker, George Williamson Jr., 70, the man detectives say fatally shot Jones at 10:50 p.m. Friday at Williamson's home in the 5000 block of 13th Street West on Snead Island in Palmetto.

Although a motive for Manatee County's first homicide of 2014 was not given Sunday, testimony before Lakin focused on disturbing instances of alcohol and firearms abuse in Williamson's past.

Jones' family, who are still planning his funeral, said they were pleased with the bail ruling.

"You don't do a friend this way," said Sheila Wilson. "A dad is gone, a grandfather is gone and friend to many is gone."

Williamson's public defender, Jennifer Joynt-Sanchez, asked for a $100,000 bond claiming $1 million is too much since Williamson's income is derived mostly from Social Security retirement benefits and a Palmetto city pension, and he has no leverage to raise money since the home he lives in is in a trust.

Lakin overruled her request citing serious instances of violence with firearms brought up during testimony.

Williamson could be charged with second-degree murder, but the charge has not yet been determined, said Brian Iten of the State Attorney's Office, who attended the court hearing.

"I will miss his voice and his phone calls and him hugging me," said Jones' granddaughter, Shanathan Martin, a University of Florida student.

Jones, a linebacker, defensive end and fullback at Lincoln Memorial High School in Palmetto, graduated in 1968 and went on to play football at the University of Tampa, family members said.

He was drafted for his defense by the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League after college but could not reach a financial agreement, said Bradenton's Ed Dick, who helped recruit Jones to the University of Tampa.

Jones played in the World Football League and Canadian Football League, his family said.

"I cried when I heard it," Dick said Sunday. "I would describe Willie as a gentle giant. He was 6-foot-1 and about 230 pounds when he went to college. He had a 34-inch waist. Just imagine someone having that physique. He could run the 40-yard-dash in 4.4 seconds. He was really quick. He was probably the finest defensive player I have ever seen."

Jones, coached by Eddie Shannon, was so ferocious on defense the University of Tampa was concerned about the licks he put on his own teammates, Dick said.

"The coach told me, 'Ed, he's destroying our offense,' " Dick said.

Jones sat at the same table with fellow Lincoln Memorial High School great Ray Bellamy at the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gala at the Palmetto Youth Center.

Jones and Williamson had a long friendship because both worked for years for Palmetto as city park landscapers and shared an interest in fishing and visiting, his family said.

Jones was still mowing Palmetto parks at the time of his death but Williamson retired in 2013, Martin said.

Besides the $1 million bond, the judge also stipulated Williamson must adhere to a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and refrain from using alcohol and firearms should he post bond.

Charged appearance

The appearance was charged with emotion as three witnesses all told the judge Williamson should be kept in jail.

Williamson's own brother, Peter Williamson, ex-wife, Barbara Vanderbush, and Martin all asked Lakin for a high bail for Williamson.

"It's been rare in my career where that has happened," Iten said later, referring to a defendant's family not supporting their own.

After listening to accounts of past incidents, Lakin said: "Clearly, some serious violence took place here."

Vanderbush told Lakin she was George Williamson's third wife and was married to him for seven months five years ago.

"I was once visiting his home after we were divorced," Vanderbush said under oath. "He was in his room, napping. He goes everywhere in his home carrying a revolver with the safety off. I was watching a DVD movie. He got up, went to where I was with his revolver, gathered up all the DVDs and fired at them. Then he went back to his nap."

When asked, Vanderbush said she did not call the police.

The judge asked Vanderbush if she thought Williamson was a danger to the community.

"Most definitely," Vanderbush replied.

Peter Williamson told Lakin his brother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in 1965.

"I have seen multiple bullet holes in his house," Peter Williamson said. "I have seen him abuse alcohol. I have extreme concerns.

"He would tell me he desired to kill people. There were different people he felt had wronged him. He would describe to me how he could kill and get away with it. He was graphic. He would tell me he would say he didn't remember what had happened and that would be his ploy."

After testifying, Peter Williamson tearfully walked to the Jones' family in the courtroom and offered his apologies.

Williamson's fourth charge

George Williamson Jr. was arrested in 1988 and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to Iten. Williamson pleaded to a lesser charge of improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon and got probation Feb. 28, 1989, Iten said.

On Nov. 6, 2000, Williamson was convicted in Manatee County of driving under the influence, Iten said, although he could not locate the penalty in that case.

On July 2, 2002, Williamson was charged with discharging a firearm in public.

In that case, Williamson told the court he lives on a home built on stilts on Snead Island Way and the area below his home is open and unoccupied. He said he stood on his elevated porch and discharged a pistol into the ground.

The case was dismissed, Iten said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.

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