Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

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April 26, 2013

Branstad approves commutation request


Des Moines —

The record supports the Murder – 1st Degree conviction which carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  The jury did not find Mr. Williams’ self-defense claim valid. 

The evidence establishes that on July 20, 1974, Rasberry Williams fatally shot Lester Givhan in front of George’s Pool Hall in Waterloo, Iowa.  The shooting resulted from a quarrel over a debt Mr. Givhan owed Williams.  Witnesses stated Mr. Williams waited outside the Pool Hall for Mr. Givhan to come outside.  Once outside, witnesses stated they tried to calm Mr. Williams down and talk Williams out of harming Givhan; however, Williams walked towards Givhan and shot his gun in the air.  Williams then shot Mr. Givhan in the head.  Mr. Williams claimed self-defense.  A jury, the Iowa Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Mr. Williams’ claim of self-defense.  At the March 27, 2013 public hearing, even Mr. Williams’ own defense attorney from his trial, Wallace Parrish, testified this was indeed first-degree murder and rejected any notion of self-defense by stating, “There never was any question about Rasberry’s guilt.”   However, after Mr. Williams shot and killed Mr. Givhan, Williams drove to the Waterloo police department and turned himself in. 

Mr. Williams’ record while incarcerated has been extraordinary.  He has made the most of his life and has had a positive impact on the lives of both inmates and Department of Corrections’ staff.  On December 8, 1979, inmate George Goff took over a cell house at Iowa State Penitentiary and held Correctional Officers hostage at knife point.  Several inmates serving life sentences, including Rasberry Williams, came to assist the officers held hostage.  Mr. Williams was one of the individuals who talked inmate Goff into putting down his knife.  Other inmates then walked Mr. Goff to the Warden’s office to turn him in.  No one was injured during this hostage situation and Mr. Williams can be credited with contributing to this positive outcome. 

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Upon completion and reopening of Third Street, should the City of Knoxville wait to start the next stage of the Streetscape and Infrastructure project until 2015?

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