After days of testimony in the trial of a man who was accused of murdering his wife last year, it took a jury less than 10 minutes to return a guilty verdict on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, the jury deliberated on the punishment for 50-year-old Willis Everett Washington II, deciding on life in prison and a fine of $4,720, according to Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza, on Thursday afternoon.
The state’s prosecutors presented 13 witnesses and other evidence to show that Washington shot and killed Latonya Bates Washington, 47, at their home in the 800 block of Trail Crest in Heights on April 7, 2020.
The murder weapon, a .32-caliber handgun, never has been found.
“The jury returned a verdict yesterday after approximately 8 minutes,” Garza said.
Washington was being held in the Bell County Jail on Thursday in lieu of bonds totaling $1.5 million, on the first-degree felony murder charge and a third-degree felony charge of tampering with evidence, according to jail records.
A 3-day trial
After a jury was seated on Monday, testimony began in the 426th Judicial District Court, with Judge Steve Duskie presiding. Both sides rested their cases on Wednesday and the jury began its deliberations. By Wednesday afternoon, at the sentencing hearing, the jury heard more testimony before retiring again, this time to decide on the punishment for Washington.
According to court testimony, there had been a divorce on the horizon for a relationship that had been affected by domestic violence, infidelity and substance abuse. Latonya Washington had left her husband and moved out, but then returned and was murdered around a week later.
“I was glad that she was leaving him, finally, and that she would finally be safe,” said Quantavia Washington, who is one of the couple’s five daughters, during her emotional testimony on Tuesday. “We weren’t going to let her get hurt anymore ... I celebrated because she was choosing herself.”
Heights police went to the home at around 3 a.m. on April 7, 2020, after a call about a gunshot victim. When they arrived, they found Latonya Washington dead with a gunshot wound to the head.
A woman told police that she had heard Willis Washington and Latonya Washington arguing, according to the arrest affidavit. Police said the woman told them that she heard Latonya Washington yell “please stop,” and not long after, she heard what she thought was a gunshot.
The woman said Willis Washington told her Latonya Washington was dead. He gave her more than one explanation for how it happened and left the residence with a firearm, according to the affidavit.
Police said the woman told her that Willis Washington was afraid of being blamed, so he told her “‘no gun, no evidence.’”
After he was arrested, Willis Washington allegedly admitted that he and Latonya Washington were arguing and that the gun in his hand discharged, police said.