Death penalty sought
in 1996 park murders
By Jen McCaffery
Jan. 31, 2003
Attorney General John Ashcroft authorized federal prosecutors Friday to seek the death penalty against a Maryland man charged with the 1996 hate crime killings of two hikers in Shenandoah National Park. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Giorno said the brutality of the slayings of Julianne Marie Williams and Laura "Lollie" Winans led him to ask for permission to pursue the death penalty in the case of Darrell David Rice. Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., and Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, were found about a week after they set out on a camping trip in May 1996. Their bodies were discovered about a quarter-mile from Skyline Drive off the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, south of Luray. Their hands were bound, their mouths gagged and their throats slit. Rice, 35, has been charged with two counts of capital murder for the killings and faces two additional counts of capital murder on the grounds that he intentionally selected Williams and Winans because they were female and because they were gay. He has pleaded not guilty to the slayings. He is currently serving an 11-year sentence for assaulting a female bicyclist at Shenandoah National Park in 1997. One of Rice's attorneys, Frederick Heblich of Charlottesville, said he was not surprised that Ashcroft gave federal prosecutors Giorno and Tom Bondurant permission to seek the death penalty in the case. "We've been preparing our defense on the assumption that it would be a death penalty case," said Heblich, who is representing Rice with Richmond attorneys Gerald Zerkin and Claire Cardwell. Rice's trial is set to begin July 24 in Charlottesville.
in 1996 murders
By Phillip Pina
St. Paul Pioneer Press
April 11, 2002
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Maryland man who professed to hate women and gays was indicted Wednesday in the 1996 slayings of a St. Cloud, Minn., woman and her partner as they hiked and camped near the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.
Darrell David Rice, 34, was indicted Wednesday in Virginia in the deaths of Julianne Williams, 24, of St. Cloud and Laura “Lollie” Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine. Rice faces four federal capital murder charges, two of them brought because authorities consider the slayings to be hate crimes. It has been nearly six years since Julianne Williams was last seen alive, and the Williams family expressed its relief and gratitude that investigators have charged a suspect. “She wasn’t forgotten,” said her father, Tom Williams — not by the detectives who pursued the case and not by the family and friends who knew his bright and compassionate daughter and keep her memory alive. The killings attracted national media attention as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force pressed authorities to pursue the case as a hate crime. While the Williamses knew their daughter and Winans were friends, it was after their deaths — through friends and media reports—that they learned about the nature of the relationship.
Prosecutors say in court records that Rice killed the two as part of an ongoing pattern to “assault, intimidate, injure and kill women because of their gender.” He is already in prison after pleading guilty to a 1997 attempted abduction of a female bicyclist in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It is the same park in which Rice is accused of killing Winans and Williams the year before. The charges against Rice were filed in federal court because the killings took place in a national park. Julianne Williams graduated with honors from Cathedral High School in St. Cloud in 1990, and went on to earn a degree in geology at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. An avid outdoorswoman, she served as a volunteer with the Girl Scouts and had been a day camp counselor in Northfield. She was about to start a job studying the phosphorous levels in Lake Champlain for a Vermont research center.
A native of Michigan, Winans was studying at Unity College in Maine. She, too, loved the outdoors and had nearly completed her accreditation to become an outdoor guide, prosecutors said. The two met while with Woodswomen Inc., the former Minneapolis organization that provided outdoor adventure and education programs for women. The pair led canoe trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota before eventually moving to Burlington, Vt. “She was the kind of person who really wanted to make a difference in the world,” said Denise Mitten, who was the executive director of Woodswomen Inc. while Williams worked there. The two were last seen alive on May 24, 1996, camping in Shenandoah National Park, which the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail bisects on its route between Maine and Georgia. Their bodies were found at a campsite eight days later. They had been bound and gagged and their throats were cut. Nothing appeared stolen, authorities said. While imprisoned on the 1997 abduction, Rice made comments about the Williams and Winans deaths. Authorities, who tracked more than 15,000 leads in the investigation, interviewed Rice, and the case began to center on him. According to court records, Rice told investigators he “hates gays” and that Williams and Winans “deserved to die because they were lesbian whores.” Announcing the indictment Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said, “Criminal acts of hate run counter to what is best in America — our belief in equality and freedom.” He promised the Justice Department would continue to investigate crimes of hate or intolerance. Federal law hasn’t created a hate crime based on gender or sexual orientation, but sentencing guidelines permit a harsher punishment if the crime was motivated by sexual orientation, allowing federal prosecutors to pursue a hate crime type of case. Prosecutors said they believed this was the first time a federal murder prosecution was brought using that provision. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force applauded the indictment. “We are relieved to have some kind of closure on this case,” said Betsy Gressler, spokeswoman for the organization. The importance of the hate crime enhancement to the murder charges reflects the crimes’ intended impact on gays and lesbians. “It’s not a crime against one person, but a group of people,” she said. The indictment accuses Rice of killing both women and selecting them “because of their actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation.” He told investigators he intentionally selected women to intimidate and assault “because they are more vulnerable than men,” court records said. If convicted, Rice could face the death penalty. After meeting with Ashcroft, Tom and Patsy Williams were returning to St. Cloud on Wednesday night. While it was a gratifying day for a family seeking justice, Tom Williams said, the family continues to deal with Julianne’s death. “We keep doing what we have been doing,” Tom Williams said, explaining how his family has tried to cope over the years. “We’re moving on with our lives. But there is no closure.” “We are living with the grief of the loss,” he said. And while Wednesday’s indictments centered on Rice, his family’s thoughts “revolve around Julie and Lollie.”
Associated Press version of story
By Laurie Kellman
April 11, 2002
WASHINGTON — Six years and 15,000 tips after the murder of two women near the Appalachian Trail sent a chill through hikers everywhere, federal prosecutors say they have the killer and will prosecute the case as a hate crime. Darrell David Rice of Columbia, Md., was indicted for the 1996 slayings of Julianne Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. Already jailed on an unrelated kidnapping charge, Rice told authorities the women “deserved to die because they were lesbian (expletives),” according to prosecution documents filed in court. The bodies of Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., and Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, were found bound and gagged June 1, 1996, at a creek-side campsite in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, about a half-mile off the Appalachian Trail. Their throats had been cut. Williams’ parents, Tom and Patsy Williams, of St. Cloud, Minn., said, “We are grateful that a suspect has been apprehended and indicted, but our focus has been and will continue to be on the life of our daughter.” Attorney General John Ashcroft, who met with the women’s families Wednesday, said the murders denied the world their budding talents, “which would have been substantial.” “These families have suffered what Americans now know all too well — that’s the pain and destruction wrought by hate,” Ashcroft said at the news conference. “Hatred is the enemy of justice, regardless of its source. We will not rest until justice is done for Julianne Marie Williams and for Lollie Winans.” At a federal prison in Petersburg, Va., according to court papers filed by the government, Rice said he intentionally picked women to assault “because they are more vulnerable than men.” Prosecutors also said in the papers that Rice “hates gays.” The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay and lesbian organization, praised the Justice Department. “With this indictment, the federal government has recognized the horrendous nature of this hate crime and that it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said political director Winnie Stachelberg. Rice, 34, was indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday in Charlottesville, Va., the indictment announced Wednesday in Washington. Federal authorities had automatic jurisdiction in the case because the slayings took place on U.S. government land. A federal hate-crimes law covers crimes motivated by race and religion, but not sex or sexual orientation. An effort to add those categories failed two years ago. The Justice Department was able to push for a hate-crimes type of indictment in this case, however, because comments Rice allegedly made in prison indicate he selected the women “because of the actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation” of his victims. Rice was charged with four counts of capital murder:
• One count for each murder on the basis of Rice’s motivation, which allows prosecutors to introduce more evidence than a straight murder charge.
• One conventional murder charge for each woman’s death in case the “hate crime” charges are rejected by a jury, department officials said. Conviction on any of the charges could bring Rice the death penalty.
The murders were not Rice’s first offenses against women, according to the government’s court documents. Prosecutors said they will present evidence that “the defendant’s killing of the two women was part of an ongoing plan, scheme or modus operandi to assault, intimidate, injure and kill women because of their gender,” according to court filings. Rice has been held in jail in Charlottesville since 1998, after he pleaded guilty to an unrelated abduction charge in which he was accused of verbally and physically assaulting a female bicyclist in the Shenandoah National Park a year earlier. She avoided being forced into his truck, so he “tried to kill her” by running her over, authorities charged. Investigators later discovered hand and leg restraints in Rice’s vehicle. He was sentenced to 136 months in prison on that conviction, according to court filings. It was there, as investigators pursued more than 15,000 leads and contacts in the Williams and Winans murders, that Rice made comments relevant to the case, authorities said. Some of the tips came after investigators contacted hikers who had used the trail around the same time as Winans and Williams and signed trail logs along the way.
See previous stories on the murders, posted online on this site.