Man accused of breaking into a Canandaigua woman's home and sexually assaulting her found not guilty
CANANDAIGUA — The prison inmate on trial in Ontario County Court this week for allegedly breaking into a Canandaigua woman’s apartment in October 2013 and sexually assaulting her while he was out on bail has been found not guilty of the top charges in the indictment.
It took the jury approximately two and a half hours on Thursday to find 52-year-old Pernell Williams not guilty of a trio of felonies, including first-degree criminal sex act, which carried with it a prison sentence of 25 years.
The other charges rejected by the jury of nine men and three women were second-degree burglary and third-degree criminal sex act.
Williams was found guilty of three misdemeanor charges related to giving Canandaigua police officers a false name when he was apprehended, as well as for entering the alleged victim’s apartment uninvited and damaging a door inside the home.
The conviction on the three misdemeanor charges will not equate to time behind bars for Williams, who is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for a robbery charge committed in Monroe County in June 2012. The up to two-year local jail sentence Judge William Kocher could give Williams for Thursday’s misdemeanor convictions merges with that prison sentence by law.
“He’ll have to finish out his current sentence, but he won’t have to serve any additional time,” said Williams’ attorney, Jason Housel, moments after the jury foreperson read the verdict.
When the verdict was revealed, Williams displayed a look of satisfaction — as did his wife, who was present throughout the trial in the North Courtroom.
“He feels relieved,” Housel said from the defendant’s table as the courtroom cleared out. “He’s been very stressed throughout this entire process.”
After Williams denied an eight-year prison sentence plea deal offered by the Ontario County District Attorney’s Office, the case was scheduled to head to trial last August, but Williams suffered a heart attack, forcing its delay.
“It’s been a tremendous strain on him,” Housel said. “It’s been a long road for Pernell. Obviously he feels vindicated now.”
The defense attorney noted throughout the case’s development that the prosecution would have a difficult time with the physical-force elements of the case.
Housel contended that there was no force used by his client against the alleged victim as implied by the first-degree criminal sex act charge. According to Housel, this was an obvious case of a consensual sexual interaction.
While on the stand on Tuesday, the alleged victim testified that she thought it was her husband of nearly three decades who had climbed into bed with her at around 6:10 a.m. Oct. 15, 2013, and removed her underwear. She claimed that she continued to think it was her husband as oral sex was performed on her.
She said that it was when he used force on her to perform oral sex on him that she began to panic.
“As soon as he did that, I knew it wasn’t my husband,” Ontario County First Assistant District Attorney Brian Dennis read to the jury from notes from the alleged victim's testimony during his closing summation. “I turned on the light and said 'What are you doing? How did you get in here? Get out.'”
Housel cast doubt on those claims of uncertainty, noting that Williams, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound black man could not be confused with her husband, who the defense attorney had estimated was 5-foot-9 or 5-foot-10 and of average weight.
“(Williams) is a gigantic individual,” Housel told the jury. “There’s no way in God’s green earth that she could have thought that was her husband.”
Housel also contended that the alleged victim knew Williams, as he lived next door at the time. She had taken him to Walmart to return a TV once and had assisted him when he got locked out of the apartment.
Dennis countered this sentiment during his closing summation, noting that the alleged victim helped Williams because she is a good person and not because of a desire for sex.
The prosecutor also contended that Williams had climbed into bed with the alleged victim while the bedroom lights were off. Dennis added that the woman was also groggy from the anxiety and pain medications that she takes.
When the jury foreperson revealed the jury’s decision, Dennis placed his hand on his forehead.
After the jury was excused and proceedings were finalized, Dennis went to console the now 56-year-old alleged victim and her husband, who sat in the courtroom gallery.
“It was a tough case with a tough outcome,” Dennis said afterward. “The victim is disappointed, but she is empowered because she chose to testify and face her attacker. She has a loving husband who continues to support her.”
Dennis also pointed out Williams’ long criminal record, adding that he is a dangerous individual.
Court documents show that from February 1980 to February 2014, Williams has been arrested 21 times, with 14 of those arrests being felony charges. Of those 14 felony charges, four have been classified as “violent felonies.”
During that period of time, Williams was convicted of 16 charges, seven of which were felony convictions. Two of the seven felony convictions were classified as violent felonies.