6-year-old can testify against grandmother in Iowa City murder trial, judge rules

Decision overrules defense's motion that boy was incompetent to testify

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A 6-year-old boy who has accused his grandmother of starting a fire that killed his cousin is competent to testify in her murder trial, a judge has ruled.

Lillie W. Williams, 50, of Coralville, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 14-year-old Raymone Bryant. Prosecutors allege that Williams intentionally started a fire at 720 11th Ave. in Coralville on Sept. 4, 2011.

The decision to allow the 6-year-old boy t0 testify, made Wednesday by Judge Paul Miller, is a big break for the prosecution. The boy, in an interview with Miller on Aug. 30 that was played on closed-circuit television for the defense, said he saw Williams start the blaze by first dousing a pillow in gasoline.

“She lit a fire, and she poured some gasoline on a pillow and threw it in the garage, and she knew my cousin was in there, and he’s got asthma,” the boy told Miller, adding that no one else was around at the time.

Williams, according to authorities, knew her cousin and her cousin’s husband lived in the home that burned. The boy talked with several counselors and authorities, who previously testified in court that the child was competent to take the stand.

Miller's decision this week overruled the defense's motion that the young boy was incompetent to testify as a witness.

Attorneys for both sides are scheduled to be in court Friday morning to discuss the defense's request to have the trial moved to another county. In the motion filed Tuesday, Williams' attorney argued that “pervasive media coverage and publicity" surrounding the case would prevent a fair trial for Williams in Johnson County and the surrounding area.

Williams, whose trial is currently scheduled for Oct. 23, has declared her innocence in open court, telling a judge that the murder charge is based on “all false information.”

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