A third participant in the infamous racist torch march at the University of Virginia in 2017 has pleaded guilty to using a burning object to intimidate.
His lawyer told the court that being held without bail before trial was what forced William McAffe Williams of Nacona, Texas, to take a deal.
“In my own personal opinion I would have taken this case to trial,” attorney Ryan Rakness told Albemarle County Circuit Court. “That my client was held without bond made that impossible.”
Unlike the lawyers representing the others five men thus far charged with violating Virginia’s ban on using a burning object to racially intimidate on Aug. 11, 2017, Rakness has openly challenged the prosecution.
“The commonwealth waited six years,” Rakness said at a bail hearing in early May. “If they thought my client was a danger to society they would have acted sooner.”
Later that month, Judge Claude Worrell, hearing a prosecutor’s arguments that Williams served as a confidante and bodyguard to a fugitive blogger found the 37-year-old Williams a “danger to his community” and denied pretrial release.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney W. Lawton Tufts emphasized the connection to that blogger, Robert “Azzmador” Ray, again Wednesday. Tufts said that Williams, a heavy-set man standing over 6 feet tall, served as “muscle” in the “bully squad” of Ray.
“He came with Robert Ray, who is known as someone who incited violence at these types of events,” said Tufts. “He came as a kind of guard.”
Tufts then read one of Ray’s racist statements, ostensibly about deploying mace but veiled in a reference to the Nazi gas chambers of the Holocaust.
“Yesterday, I gassed a bunch of kikes,” Tufts alleged Ray to have said in Charlottesville.
On the alleged crime of burning to intimidate, a felony which can carry a term up to five years, Tufts showed the court pictures of Williams the night before the deadly United the Right rally-turned-riot. The pictures showed Williams near the front of the hundreds-strong throng of mostly men who carried torches in a procession across UVa Grounds. Tufts said that Williams had a burning torch in one hand and a Maglite, a heavy-duty flashlight that often doubles as a club, in the other.
“The people with the tiki torches surrounded the counterprotesters,” Tufts told the court.
Rakness attempted to steer the conversation away from his client’s associations.
“This shouldn’t be about someone’s opinions that are unpopular or outside the mainstream,” said Rakness. “This should be about their actions.”
Maintaining that it was about actions, Tufts said that the torch-bearers had “no intent but to intimidate” and that the surrounded counterprotesters had “no way to exit.”
Rakness said that real-life considerations forced Williams to plea.
“The jury would have been able to suss these things out, but that would have been at least two months down the road,” said Rakness. “My client has a wife and seven children at home.”
Under the plea agreement accepted Wednesday afternoon, Williams received an active sentence of six months. With credit for time served since his arrest in March, his attorney said, Williams appears headed for release in approximately two weeks.
That tracks with another recently accepted guilty plea. Tyler Bradley Dykes of Bluffton, South Carolina, also received a six-month active sentence and is set for release July 17.
Tufts said that the commonwealth agreed to the plea agreement because a trial would have required a “multitude” of witnesses.
Judge Higgins set the full sentence for Williams at four years with three years and six months suspended, four years of good behavior and one year of supervised probation in his home state of Texas, with supervision terminated if Texas declines to supervise him.