With her hands cuffed behind her back, Susan Williams could not wipe away the tears that streamed down her cheeks Friday as a judge sentenced her to the maximum 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison for trying to hire a hit man to kill her estranged husband.
Nassau County Court Judge Norman St. George said he had little sympathy for Williams, even after her defense lawyer read letters from each of her four children, ages 11 to 20, begging for his mercy.
"She wanted a divorce by murder," St. George said, noting that Williams had not expressed remorse. "The court will show the same leniency to the defendant that she afforded to her husband."
As St. George spoke, Williams' daughter Alexis, 20, sat with her head bowed, sobbing.
Williams, 44, of Garden City, was convicted Nov. 15 of second-degree conspiracy and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. Prosecutors made videotapes of her meetings with the supposed hit man - an undercover detective - the centerpiece of their case.
Williams put a $500 deposit down on what was described as a $20,000 job to kill Peter Williams, 46, with whom she was going through a bitter divorce.
Prosecutors also said she forged his signature on a $1-million life insurance policy in 2009.
Peter Williams had attended the trial but not the sentencing. Prosecutor Anne Donnelly said he supported whatever sentence prosecutors felt was appropriate and "wants to move on with his life and put this behind him."
Before sentencing, Susan Williams' lawyer, John Carman, of Garden City, said she had been willing to plead guilty and spare her children the pain of a trial. But he said the prosecutor wouldn't discuss a plea deal, and St. George wouldn't commit to a cap on her prison sentence, as often happens when suspects plead guilty.
Alexis Williams described a nurturing mother who, even when she was gravely ill with cervical cancer, rose every morning to make her two sons' lunch.
"We know that the monster described by the district attorney is not our mother," her letter said.
Williams' younger daughter, Christine, 19, said she and her siblings are the ones who will suffer most.
"Her punishment is our punishment," she wrote. "I feel as though I am in jail with her."
Speaking before the judge pronounced sentence, the weeping Williams apologized to her children and her parents.
"I have no explanation. I have tried to go back and figure out what happened to me, but I can't," she said as her lawyer dabbed tears from Williams' eyes with a tissue.
The soft-spoken woman in court Friday was a world away from the one on the surveillance videotape who passed on several chances to let her husband live, musing instead about what expression she should wear when police came to her house to tell her he was dead.
At one point on the tape, she says, "I would do it myself if I could," then laughs.
District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Williams should have thought about her children sooner.