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Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Williams-Tillman sentenced to life with possibility of parole
MANKATO — As a sheet was pulled back to reveal her daughter’s battered body, Cara Bishop could see how hard Josselyn had fought to stay alive.
Her feet were worn from running barefoot down a sidewalk, trying desperately to escape the murderous anger of an ex-boyfriend. Broken fingernails and scratched hands told the story of a 19-year-old woman who knew she was too young to die. Holes in Josselyn’s body revealed how her life was stolen anyway by a jealous man and his knife.
Damone Christopher Williams-Tillman had just admitted to murdering Bishop, pleading guilty Tuesday to one count of first-degree murder during an act of domestic violence. He used his orange jumpsuit to wipe his eyes as his attorney, Barry Voss, helped him describe what happened in broad daylight on North Victory Drive the afternoon of July 8.
After a nine-month relationship turned very bad, including incidents where Williams-Tillman slashed the tires on Bishop’s car and threw her cell phone into Hiniker Pond, she had agreed to meet him again, he said. He drove her around town for awhile before they both started yelling. That’s when he stopped the car and pulled out a knife.
She got out of the car and ran after he stabbed her once in the stomach, Williams-Tillman said. Sobs from a courtroom full of Bishop’s friends and family grew longer and louder as he struggled to admit that he chased her down, caught her and stabbed her repeatedly until she was lying lifeless on a grassy median.
“Christopher Tillman ripped happiness right out from under us — happiness he had witnessed first-hand as we graciously invited him into our home,” Cara Bishop said in a victim impact statement that was read in court before Williams-Tillman was sentenced.
“It’s not fair. My family has endured a nightmare.”
An emergency medical technician, who was called to the scene immediately after a passing truck driver found Bishop, told Cara Bishop that her daughter was still breathing when she was found. The EMT, also a mother, prayed with Josselyn as her life slipped away. She told Cara she would want another mother to be with her daughter, if she couldn’t be, during her last moments.
Matt DuRose, a Mankato detective who is usually stoical in public while dealing with police business, attempted to keep his emotions in check as he read what Matt Bishop said about his daughter’s untimely death. Matt Bishop sat behind DuRose and listened to his own description about the 1,000 people who turned out for his daughter’s funeral.
His daughter called him “Fabio” and often greeted him with an embrace. They invented a handshake that became more complicated each time they did it, eventually spanning 30 seconds of maneuvers no one else could imitate. When they parted, peace signs were exchanged.
DuRose’s voice cracked as he read how Matt Bishop “will always remember her smiling face with those two fingers turned my way.”
Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott said it was shortly after Christmas, after a discussion with Bishop’s family, that he first made a plea offer to Williams-Tillman. The deal allowed Williams-Tillman the chance of being released on parole after serving a minimum of 30 years in prison.
Williams-Tillman was arrested shortly after the murder. A grand jury later handed down an idictment including charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and assault. Three of the charges in the indictment could have resulted in sentences of life in prison without the chance of parole, McDermott said.
Before the plea, Voss asked Williams-Tillman if he understood that some of the evidence gathered by investigators could have been challenged before it was heard by a jury. Constitutional questions could be raised about the arrest, a search of his father’s house in Golden Valley and statements made to police, Voss said.
Williams-Tillman said he understood that none of that would be possible after he pleaded guilty.
Voss also verified that they had discussed the plea deal extensively during a meeting in jail Sunday, and that Williams-Tillman had time to discuss his options with his parents. Damone Tillman Sr. also was in the courtroom, losing his composure several times during the 90-minute hearing.
In another victim impact statement that was read Tuesday, Josselyn Bishop’s 8-year-old brother, Gage, did something young people are known to do. He confronted Williams-Tillman with brutal honesty.
A simple act could have kept one life from being lost and another from being ruined, he said.
“Chris, you didn’t have to do this,” the statement said. “You could have walked away.”
After issuing his sentence, District Court Judge Bradley Walker said that option was now gone because he couldn’t turn back the clock.
“I wish you could,” Damone Tillman Sr. whispered as he buried his head in his hands.
Then he sat up and watched as his shackled son was taken back to jail.