The capital murder trial of a League City man accused of beating his 6-year-old stepdaughter to death took an emotional turn Tuesday as the child’s mother testified and defense attorneys attempted to pin the killing on her.
“My child is dead and isn’t coming back,” Brithony Williams said. “It happened after I left her with someone I trust. I have no answers and I deal with it daily. It is time I get answers.”
Brithony Williams’ testimony came on Day 2 in the trial of Evan David Nolan, 28, who is accused of beating Whitney Williams, 6, to death in 2016 while he was watching the girl and Williams’ 1-year-old daughter in the family’s apartment.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, took the opportunity to accuse Williams of severely beating her daughter and causing her death.
“You lied to the police when you had no reason to suspect Evan,” attorney Adam Banks Brown said. “It was because the night before you beat that girl and were worried those injuries had come manifest.”
A Galveston County grand jury in 2016 indicted Nolan after viewing evidence from the homicide. Whitney Williams died from severe injuries, including brain trauma, a lacerated liver and internal bleeding.
Nolan’s attorneys argued Tuesday that Nolan was never known to be violent and that it was actually an incident Aug. 16, during which Brithony Williams spanked her daughter, that led to her death.
“You decided to whip her repeatedly and, at some point, did he have to tell you to stop?” Banks asked.
Williams denied that account, saying she had only spanked the daughter three or four times.
Tuesday’s testimony focused on events between Aug. 16, 2016, and Aug. 18, 2016, when Whitney Williams died.
Nolan texted Brithony Williams Aug. 16 to tell her about her daughter misbehaving at home, records show.
Williams returned home that night and spanked Whitney Williams, Brithony Williams said.
When Williams left for work the next morning, everything was apparently fine, she said.
The couple chatted back-and-forth via text message while she was at work and he was watching the children, records show.
“There was no sense of animosity or anger in any of the text messages,” Brown said.
After a one-hour gap in conversation, Nolan sent Williams a text asking her to come home.
“He was calm on the phone,” Williams said. “He mostly just kept asking where I was at. He kept saying Whitney was fine and that it was nothing serious.”
Williams arrived home to find her daughter unconscious on a blanket and rushed her out the door before speaking with anyone else, she said.
A League City police officer driving to work the evening of Aug. 17 spotted a motorist driving recklessly and stopped the vehicle in the 1500 block of East Main Street.
Williams got out of the vehicle carrying her unconscious daughter, police said.
Emergency medical personnel took the girl to Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, and later to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where she died the next day.
Brown cast Williams’ actions while speaking to detectives as further evidence that the death was her fault.
Williams initially told detectives a baby sitter had been watching her children, but she could not provide police with a phone number for the caretaker, according to the affidavits.
Williams told police the baby sitter had called her at work to tell her Whitney had suffered a seizure and hit her head, according to the affidavits.
When detectives questioned Williams about text messages with Nolan, indicating he was watching the girl, she told investigators Nolan had been watching her daughters at the couple’s League City apartment, according to the affidavits.
Officials had considered pursuing false report charges against Williams, but eventually had decided not to, she said.
League City police and U.S. Marshals arrested Nolan after a traffic stop the day after officers encountered the girl, police said.
Williams has moved to Louisiana since Nolan was arrested, but is in town to testify.
Williams learned she was pregnant with twins days after her daughter succumbed to her injuries, she said.
The trial is expected to last through the week, Chief Assistant District Attorney Adam Poole said.
Mike Foreman and Omar Peck discuss issues in the Friendswood mayoral race.
A TV news report revealing the existence of a 2017 campaign finance complaint against Galveston County Judge Mark Henry led Tuesday to a flurry of dirty-tricks accusations between Henry and his opponent in the March GOP primary, District Court Judge Lonnie Cox.
The report aired on FOX 26 news Monday night. Henry said Tuesday he’d filed a criminal complaint against Cox, alleging the judge had used his position to access and leak confidential records that were part of a divorce proceeding initiated by Henry’s wife and sealed by court order.
Cox denied that accusation.
Henry also claimed the Texas Attorney General’s Office had appointed a special prosecutor to investigate an earlier complaint against Cox about the use of campaign funds in the long-running lawsuit between Cox and the county. Cox said he knows of no such investigation.
The various agencies that would be responsible for investigating the claims declined Tuesday to confirm whether the various complaints or investigations exist.
Henry confirmed that his wife had filed a complaint against him with the Texas Ethics Commission in February 2017. He declined to share a copy of the complaint, and said it had been resolved in June or July without any penalties against him.
“They dismissed it,” Henry said. “They asked us for documents. We turned over everything. They dismissed it.”
The complaint was about a transfer of $62,000 that Henry made from a campaign account to his business, according to the TV report. There was nothing untoward about the transfer, Henry said. He had been reimbursing himself for a personal loan made to the campaign, he said.
“I don’t understand how it’s a story,” he said. “I loaned to my campaign and I paid it back. Not even all of it. I only paid part of it back.”
Henry and his wife, Amy Henry, are still married. Civil court records show two different divorce cases between the couple, both in 2017. Henry said Tuesday he and his wife were reconciling.
A spokesman for the Texas Ethics Commission said Tuesday he was barred by state law from confirming whether a complaint had previously been filed against Henry. The commission confirms complaints only if a person has been found to have broken election laws and ordered to make some sort of restitution, he said.
No such orders have been issued against Henry, according to records posted on the commission’s website.
Henry said he believes Cox used his position as a district court judge to access sealed records, copy them and leak them to allies and the media.
Henry said he had no direct evidence that Cox had accessed the records, however.
“I have nothing except that he had motive and access, and nobody else has either,” he said.
The ethics complaint was among other divorce-related documents that had been sealed by the judge hearing the case, Henry said.
Henry said he filed a criminal complaint against Cox on Jan. 18, when he first learned of people sharing information from his divorce case.
Cox denied he had anything to do with the apparent leak.
“I don’t have the authority to open up the court record from another court,” Cox said. “It’s just not true. I don’t have it. I can’t get it, so I can’t give it.”
Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady would not comment Tuesday on claims made about documents filed with his office.
“We aren’t confirming or denying anything has been filed,” Roady said.
The county late Tuesday responded to an open records request regarding Henry’s complaint with a copy of an email Henry sent to Roady on Jan. 18.
In the email, Henry told Roady he had been contacted by a reporter from The Texas Monitor, an online news outlet, about the ethics complaint and material from the divorce proceeding.
“That file has not been unsealed and this was the only time it was put into the record,” Henry wrote.
He asked Roady to investigate the leak.
Cox said he had never spoken to anyone from The Texas Monitor. The Texas Monitor has not published any articles about either of the men, according to a review of its website.
Henry also said he had consulted with a civil attorney about the issue.
Henry meanwhile claimed Cox was the subject of an investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s Office over a complaint made last month by Greg Enos, a Friendswood attorney who moonlights as a judicial watchdog.
Enos, in a lengthy post in his newsletter The Mongoose, accused Cox of violating state law by using campaign funds to pay an attorney to represent him in a lawsuit against Henry and the commissioners court.
Cox has denied any wrongdoing.
Roady said the his office had referred Enos’ complaint to the attorney general’s office.
Henry claimed an assistant attorney general had been assigned to investigate the complaint, and named an attorney he claims is involved in the investigation.
Both that attorney and a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office declined Tuesday to confirm whether any investigation existed.
“Unfortunately, we have to follow policy and I cannot confirm or deny any investigation by the OAG at this time,” spokeswoman Kayleigh Lovvorn said.
Cox said he was unaware of any investigation of him by the attorney general’s office, adding that he had called the agency to ask whether he was being investigated.
“The AG’s office told me that they would never confirm or deny an investigation,” Cox said.
Early voting for the primary race between Cox and Henry begins Feb. 20. Election Day is on March 6. The winner of the race will be the presumptive judge-elect, as no Democrat filed to run for the position this year.
Galveston is a step closer to funding four coastal projects intended to build a beach along a popular stretch of shoreline, mitigate erosion and look at long-term ways to pay for coastal projects.
Galveston’s Industrial Development Corp. on Tuesday approved nearly $1.7 million for four coastal projects, including for rebuilding Babe’s Beach and beaches west of 61st Street along Seawall, testing a pilot program to capture sand for beach building and to build an artificial reef to combat erosion.
The corporation gets its money from some sales tax revenues.
The biggest chunk of spending — $1.5 million — will go toward financing a $23.9 million project to place sand from Babe’s Beach, from 61st Street westward, said Reuben Trevino, director of operations at the Park Board of Trustees.
The remaining money would come from a $14.9 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and $7.5 million from the Texas General Land Office and grants resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, according to the park board. The corps oversees the dredging of the sand from the Houston Ship Channel to create the beach.
The beach, which was named after former state Sen. A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, was built in 2015 when local, state and federal entities paid $23 million to lay down 15 blocks of sand. The next dredging and sand placing would happen in 2019, to replenish the beach that has washed away, Trevino said.
Beach-building projects are meant to widen beaches and provide more area for sand to absorb the force of waves, which reduces erosion.
The Industrial Development Corp. board — a panel made up of local, elected leaders and tourism and business representatives — voted unanimously to approve about $175,000 in funding for other projects that might eventually reduce the need for beach building.
“We’re fleshing out the options to help the problem of erosion along the beaches,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough, who is a member of the corporation board. “There are all different components, it’s not just beach replenishment in the traditional sense.”
The corporation allocated $75,000 toward an ongoing pilot program testing technology to catch sand before it pushes away from the beach, Trevino said.
The technology is used on rivers upstream to capture sediment and sand before it fills in downstream and creates problems in channels, Trevino said. But a consultant working for Galveston and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been testing the product in Galveston to see whether it would work for a coastal environment, Trevino said.
It’s the first time the design has been used on a coastal beach, he said. The viability will depend on whether it works to capture the sand and whether the cost of using the equipment is less than the cost of dredging and shipping in sand for beaches, Trevino said.
“We hope within the next year we’ll have a firmer idea or whether this is a viable option or not,” Trevino said. “We’re talking about a year-round program, so it’s only worthwhile if that cost is less than the dredging costs.”
The end of the seawall on the beach side has had some of the worst erosion on the island, Trevino said. The army corps has been studying ways to mitigate erosion through different designs, including an artificial reef, Trevino said.
The project is still in the feasibility stage, but the Industrial Development Corp. earmarked $75,000 to be paired with other grants from state and federal sources looking at mitigation projects like the artificial reefs, he said.
The board also approved $25,000 to conduct a study looking at different long-term funding sources for coastal projects, Trevino said.
“If we’re going to keep building our beaches, and we don’t have a sustainable funding source, we need to take a step back and look at the whole picture,” Trevino said.