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Closing argument in driver's murder case

Lloyd Williams appears at Nassau County Courthouse for

Lloyd Williams appears at Nassau County Courthouse for closing arguments in Mineola, New York. (Sept. 20, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Prosecutors said Lloyd Williams was playing what amounted to Russian roulette with his car in June 2011, blowing through eight stop signs and six red lights. He was going to kill someone; it was just a matter of when.

So when at last Williams smashed into a car driven by Chad Whethers of Roosevelt, killing him, prosecutors charged the 28-year-old Hempstead man with murder.

Williams' behavior was so depraved, they argue, that he deserves the same punishment as if he had killed Whethers, 24, of Roosevelt, intentionally.

"He didn't want to kill Chad Whethers, he didn't even know him," said Assistant District Attorney Everett Witherell in his closing argument at Williams' trial Friday. "He just didn't care if he lived or died."

Nassau County Judge Tammy Robbins will instruct jurors Monday on the law in Williams' case, and they will begin deliberating. If convicted of second-degree murder, Williams will face a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.

Prosecutors said Williams and another man were involved in a fight with bouncers at the Phase Bar in Freeport and a shot was fired -- shortly before the 3 a.m. crash on June 18, 2011.

As Williams and his friend drove off in Williams' Mitsubishi, they were fleeing a Freeport police car with its lights on and sirens blaring, prosecutors said. Williams had three times the legal limit of alcohol, as well as marijuana, in his blood, prosecutors said.

But defense attorney Joseph LoPiccolo, of Garden City, said Williams was fleeing a bouncer who fired shots at him and his friend, not fleeing police.

LoPiccolo said Williams had initially planned to take a cab home, but jumped in his car and sped off because he feared for his life. He was also trying to get his friend, who he thought had been wounded, to a hospital, LoPiccolo said.

"He had a choice: Drive drunk, even after smoking marijuana, or stay and possibly die," LoPiccolo said. "What kind of a choice is that?"

A murder charge is rare and difficult to prove in a vehicular case, experts said. To prove a person is guilty of that crime, prosecutors must show that the behavior was "so wanton . . . so devoid of regard for the life or lives of others," that it was as serious under the law as if he killed someone intentionally, prosecutors said.

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice has brought murder charges in five vehicular cases since taking office in 2005, and won two top-count convictions, her spokesman said.

Most notably, Rice won a murder conviction against Martin Heidgen, who was speeding the wrong way on the Meadowbrook Parkway in 2005 when he slammed into a limousine, killing its driver and a 7-year-old girl, although it was Rice's predecessor, Denis Dillon, who first brought that charge.

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