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North Babylon man challenging murder conviction for second time

Eric Williams in an undated photo.

Eric Williams in an undated photo. Credit: /

For the second time, a North Babylon man is trying to undo a murder conviction.

Eric Williams, now 40, has been convicted twice of second-degree murder. Suffolk County juries have found he acted with depraved indifference to human life when he shot at a car he was chasing on May 15, 2001, in Deer Park and caused it to go out of control. A passenger, Candice Arena, 19, of Deer Park, was ejected and killed.

A federal judge threw out Williams’ first conviction, ruling that the judge, the prosecutor, the defense lawyer and the appellate lawyer all did a bad job of handling the testimony of Williams’ girlfriend, Rebecca Madigan, who blurted out unexpectedly that he’d killed before.

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson called that testimony “beyond the pale” because it improperly suggested Williams had a tendency to kill.

But Williams’ second trial in 2015 had its own problems, appellate attorney Jane Simkin Smith of upstate Millbrook argued Friday to the Appellate Division Second Department in Brooklyn.

Chief among those, she said, was that the legal definition of “depraved indifference” has evolved significantly in the 16 years since Williams was first indicted. At the time, the law said that jurors could find a defendant acted with depraved indifference based solely on his actions.

More recent appellate decisions, however, now require prosecutors to prove that a defendant had a state of mind necessary to act with depraved indifference to human life. Smith argued that the indictment — and therefore the conviction — were won under the outdated legal definitions.

Some of the justices seemed skeptical of that argument. Justices Colleen Duffy and Ruth Balkin suggested that shooting into a moving car with three people in it at 80 mph seemed to be evidence of depraved indifference no matter how it’s defined.

Prosecutors say Williams chased after the car to collect a $260 drug debt from another passenger, Melissa Weiner, then 18 of Deer Park. They say he was trying to kill her when he fired, and the 19-year-old driver, Melissa Singh of Deer Park, lost control. Weiner and Singh were seriously injured in the crash.

Assistant District Attorney Caren Manzello said the proof of Williams’ depraved indifference was “more than supported by the credible evidence.”

In addition to the three women in the car, she said the chase and the shooting endangered other motorists on busy Deer Park Avenue. Manzello said that even if the indictment was obtained under the outdated definition of depraved indifference, the jury in the second trial was instructed properly with the updated definition.

The court typically takes a few weeks to make a decision.

Williams is serving 30 years to life in prison.

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