Syracuse 18-year-old indicted on manslaughter charges in beating death of 70-year-old man

Romeo Williams

An 18-year-old who is accused of beating a man to death at a convenience store in September will face manslaughter charges.

Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick held a news conference Monday morning to announce that Romeo Williams of Syracuse will face manslaughter charges instead of a murder charge, which carries a tougher sentence. Fitzpatrick says a murder charge requires proof that Williams intended to kill 70-year-old James Gifford, which Fitzpatrick says does not apply in this case.

Williams has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of first degree manslaughter, second degree manslaughter, and second degree assault. First degree manslaughter is defined as causing injury to a person, which then results in death.

Fitzpatrick says the key to the manslaughter indictment is a medical examinerâ??s report that Gifford suffered a â??diffuse axonal injuryâ??. The D.A. described it as the kind of injury associated with whiplash or shaken baby syndrome, in which the white and gray matter in the brain tears apart.

Fitzpatrick explained that Gifford suffered the injury when Williams allegedly attacked Gifford twice on the morning of September 21. Even though Gifford was kicked twice on the ground during the second attack, the D.A.â??s Office says there was not enough to charge Williams with intending to kill Gifford.

Fitzpatrick has been criticized for not seeking a murder indictment against Williams, but he explained that he reached out to 15 district attorneys and prosecutors throughout the state, and he says they were unanimous in agreeing that the circumstances of the crime do not meet the criteria for â??depraved indifferenceâ?? murder. He said â??I donâ??t want to minimize these charges,â?? but he says the first degree manslaughter count means Williams â??intended to cause serious injuryâ?? when he attacked Gifford twice.

Fitzpatrick pointed out that during the second attack Williamsâ?? acquaintances had to drag him away from Gifford.

Fitzpatrick says first degree manslaughter carries a penalty of up to 25 years in prison. Second degree murder carries 25 years to life.

The D.A. also told reporters that Williams faces a completely separate charge of second degree criminal possession of a weapon for an incident in late August where Williams was allegedly seen tossing a stolen handgun out of a car during a traffic stop.

If Williams is convicted of first degree manslaughter and the weapons charge, Fitzpatrick says he will ask that the sentences be imposed consecutively. That means Williams could face up to 40 years in prison.

Fitzpatrick says Williams has been interviewed by authorities but has not made any confessions.

Williams is accused of attacking and fatally beating Gifford in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven convenience store on Valley Drive in September. Police say he attacked Gifford unprovoked, went inside the store and celebrated, then came back out and resumed the beating. Gifford died from his injuries four days later. Police said Williams and Gifford did not know each other, and the attack was random.

Williams will be arraigned in Onondaga County Court at a later date.

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