LAS VEGAS (AP) — A woman imprisoned for nearly 20 years for having marijuana in her system when she crashed and killed six teenagers in a Las Vegas-area freeway median has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter to end her case and avoid a retrial, authorities said Wednesday.
Jessica Williams, now 41, won’t serve more time behind bars, and her parole ended as a result of her Aug. 13 plea, attorneys said. She was sentenced to time served in a case that generated intense interest before and after trial and during years of appeals.
A federal judge in June vacated Williams’ convictions in the March 2000 crash and deaths of the teens, ages 14 to 16. They were struck while collecting trash in the Interstate 15 median near Apex as part of a work crew fulfilling a Clark County youth disciplinary sentence.
John Watkins represented Williams at trial and during several appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case.
A statement from Watkins and attorney Michael Pariente said Williams wanted to accept responsibility for her actions and put the case behind her. Pariente said Williams would not comment further.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson called the case “a terrible and avoidable tragedy,” and he noted in a statement its effect on the teens’ families.
But, “Williams completed her prison sentence, and nothing would be accomplished by re-trying her case,” the prosecutor said. “I believe this is a fair outcome.”
A jury in 2001 convicted Williams of several felonies including driving with a prohibited substance, marijuana, in her blood. She was sentenced to 18 to 48 years in state prison and was paroled last year.
Scott Garner, father of 14-year-old crash victim Scott Garner Jr., told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he was relieved the lengthy legal ordeal was over, but disappointed that Williams wasn’t ordered to pay restitution.
In throwing out Williams’ convictions, Senior U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson said she had been denied due process because state law at the time of the crash was unclear that the presence of marijuana metabolite, an inactive ingredient of marijuana, in Williams’ blood was illegal.
The Nevada state attorney general’s office appealed Dawson’s ruling, but Wolfson’s office reached the plea deal with Williams.
Williams was 20 at the time of the crash and worked as a stripper at a Las Vegas club. She acknowledged to police that she and her female roommate spent a sleepless night dancing at the club, used the hallucinogenic stimulant Ecstasy and smoked marijuana.
Williams insisted that she was not impaired when she crashed but fell asleep at the wheel while returning to Las Vegas from the Valley of Fire State Park.