Grandmother sentenced to up to 55 years in prison for fatal Coralville fire

September 2011 blaze led to teen's death

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A 50-year-old Coralville woman convicted in a fatal fire that killed 14-year-old Raymone Bryant last year was sentenced Friday to up to 55 years in prison.

But Lillie Williams’ sentence came with no minimum term, meaning she could be released on parole much sooner.

“We believe there is some measure of justice done,” said Assistant County Attorney Anne Lahey, mentioning Williams’ now 6-year-old grandson who would have testified had the case gone to trial.

“I have to mention the bravery of a 5-year-old boy in telling what happened,” Lahey said.

Williams, originally charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty in October to three lesser charges – first-degree arson, first-degree burglary and involuntary manslaughter. Williams’ daughter told The Gazette that she took that deal to protect her 6-year-old grandson – a key witness in the case – from having to testify at trial.

Likewise, prosecutors said, they were willing to work toward a deal to prevent the child from having to testify about what he saw Sept. 4, 2011, when investigators say Williams intentionally started the fire at 720 11th Ave. in Coralville that killed Bryant.

Williams didn’t make a statement during her sentencing hearing Friday.

Lahey told the judge that Williams’ deserved the maximum sentence due to the nature of the crime.

“The greatest loss here is the loss of Raymone, and the anguish that the parents had to endure at that scene,” Lahey said. “The anguish of not being able to get to their child because of the inferno between them. The only sound piercing it was Raymone’s cries for help.”

Lahey said other, more minor things, were lost in that fire including property, a house and beloved pets, including a family dog that went back into the blaze after hearing Bryant’s screams.

Nekeya Bryant, a representative for the Bryant family, read a statement on behalf of Raymone Bryant’s mother, Susie Bryant.

“On Sept. 4, my family was awoken to the tragic loss of Raymone – he was an extraordinary kid,” Nekeya Bryant said. “He was a loving and driven kid. Our lives haven’t been the same since the loss of him.”

She also spoke to Williams, saying, “We also want to let Lillie know we love her, despite everything that happened, and we just pray that our family can move forward and be stronger than ever.”

Mary Bryant, Susie Bryant’s sister, spoke on behalf of Williams, saying that she is a “kind-hearted person.”

“We are not taking anything from (Raymone’s) death and know my sister lost her baby and it’s going to be a while before she can heal,” Mary Bryant said. “But Lillie has also suffered. She has been taken from her children and grandchildren.”

Williams was scheduled to be tried Oct. 23 until the last-minute agreement in October -- shortly after a judge ruled that her 6-year-old grandson was competent to testify at trial. In a previous hearing to determine the child’s competency, the boy told a judge that he saw his grandmother light a pillow on fire and throw it into the garage where Bryant was at the time.

Her defense team had submitted documents asking first to move the case to another county and then indicating they were planning to use her intoxication as a defense in the murder trial.

Before leaving the courtroom Friday morning, Williams' family made small talk with her and promised to write and visit.

"We'll be coming to see you," one woman said.

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