Man accused of murdering father pleads not guilty during arraignment

Timothy A. McWilliams entered a plea of not guilty to first-degree murder charges in Upshur County Circuit Court

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Timothy McWilliams
Timothy McWilliams during a court appearance in front of 26th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall in January.

BUCKHANNON – The man alleged to have murdered his father in March 2018 pleaded not guilty to the felony charge of first-degree murder during his arraignment Friday.

Timothy A. McWilliams, 65, of Buckhannon was indicted by an Upshur County grand jury earlier this week on the murder charge. In March 2018, McWilliams was arrested for allegedly killing his father, Leo McWilliams, on March 8, 2018, during the course of an altercation in their home, located on Victoria Street.

McWilliams has been held in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail without bond since his March 2018 arrest.

At McWilliams’ arraignment Friday, 26th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall informed McWilliams of the charge that had been lodged against him. Per standard procedure, Hall asked McWilliams a series of questions to determine whether an accused person is clear-headed enough to make an informed decision about whether to plead guilty, not guilty or stand silent.

McWilliams told Hall he’d graduated from high school and that he had been diagnosed with a mental illness, although he wasn’t aware of the name of it. McWilliams waived the reading of the indictment against him.

Advised by his attorney, Dennis Willett, McWilliams entered a plea of not guilty.

Hall accepted the plea and set jury selection for a trial for 9 a.m. April 15, saying McWilliams’ trial will take place sometime between April 16 and April 26, 2019. A pretrial hearing is slated for 2 p.m. April 11. Hall also ordered prosecuting attorney David Godwin to provide discovery evidence to Willett within 14 days.

“We’ve previously addressed the bail issues, and I’m gong to continue to order that the defendant be held without bail,” Hall said.

Hall was referring to a Dec. 4, 2018, hearing during which Willett had filed motion for bond to be set in the case. Willett argued that McWilliams, who doesn’t possess a driver’s license, was not a flight risk, and that McWilliams’ sister, Rita Yaun, was not afraid of McWilliams.

During that hearing, Willett called Yaun to the stand. She testified that should bond be set, and should McWilliams make bail, he could come live with her and her mother at the same Victoria Street residence where Leo McWilliams was allegedly murdered.

Yaun testified that she had moved back to Buckhannon from Florida to take care of the siblings’ mother since the March 8, 2018, death of their father. Yaun went on to say that Timothy McWilliams, her brother, was “more than welcome” to come live with them.

“I’m not scared of him,” she testified at the time.

However, when Godwin cross-examined Yaun, he asked her if she knew about the particulars of her father’s death.

“Are you aware that the cause of death was a partial decapitation at the hand of your brother?” Godwin inquired at the Dec. 4 hearing, to which Yaun responded, “Right.”

“But you weren’t afraid for [your father’s] safety prior to then?” Godwin persisted.

“No,” Yaun had replied.

Godwin had then asked Yaun to describe her brother’s disability, and she said, “He’s mentally incompetent,” adding that she had no additional knowledge of his condition.

During the Dec. 4 hearing, Hall said he had a few questions of his own for Yaun.

In response to the judge’s inquiries, Yaun testified that she’d been traveling back and forth from Florida and West Virginia to help take care of her mother and father for the past decade. She said her father was in more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, while her mother, Virginia McWilliams, had recently been given the umbrella diagnosis of dementia.

Yaun said, “Daddy had become very violent in his later time. He had threatened to kill Mom. He had threatened to kill us kids. He had recently had an accident before [March 8, 2018]. He had had head trauma and had broken his nose … he progressively got worse after that accident. He became more violent.”

Godwin said that while he agreed that McWilliams did not present a flight risk to the prosecution, he was worried setting bond could lead to McWilliams harming Yaun or their mother.

Hall had ruled in favor of the prosecution, saying that although he agreed McWilliams wasn’t a flight risk, he was concerned about the safety of the general public, and specifically Yaun and her mother.

“The court finds that protection of the public at large includes his own mother and his own sister,” Hall had told Willett at the time. “As limited as that subset might sound, they are members of the public at large. His mother’s behavior could potentially provoke the defendant. Bond is discretionary in capital cases, and this court’s going to deny bond.”