TOMS RIVER – In a stunning reversal, a panel of appellate judges reversed a Superior Court Judge’s decision today to release a Brick woman from remaining in jail to await trial. The woman is accused of murdering her fiancé.
Appellate Division of Superior Court Judges Clarkson S. Fisher Jr., Robert J Gilson and Lisa Rose explained their opinion that Superior Court Judge Wendel E. Daniels abused his discretion in issuing an order on November 1 that Ciara Williams, 27, be freed pending trial in the murder of 35-year-old Dennis Power.
Williams was lodged in the Ocean County Jail as the state appealed Daniels’ decision to free her.
She was the central prosecution witness in 2017 involving her former boyfriend James Fair, in a high profile gang trial in Monmouth County. She was later charged in 2019 in the fatal stabbing of Power who investigators allege she stabbed during an argument in her Brick Gardens apartment complex residence on September 29.
Accompanied with her 8-year-old daughter, she drove Power to Ocean Medical Center in Brick and left him the facility’s parking lot. She later surrendered to authorities the next day.
Daniels said during his issuing the order for Williams to be freed from jail that she had a “viable self-defense claim,” basing that on an extensive history of domestic violence between them and a number of videos found on her cell phone which included their argument. It concluded with a “thud” following Power thrusting a broomstick in her direction.
A conclusion was reached by Daniels that the sound was Power hitting Williams with the broom. According to the appellate judges however, a two-second video that followed the video including the thud did not factor into Daniels’ decision to release Williams.
Power is no longer holding the broom, and Williams is speaking to him in a more normal tone according to the appellate judges.
While the appellate judges stated they found the brief video clip to be important in evaluating the viability of the defendant’s self-defense theory and would have strongly suggested that whatever caused the thud did not likely cause her to act in self-defense.
Francis R. Hodgson who serves as Williams’ legal counsel said during the court proceeding that he had not spoke to Williams though he intends to ask New Jersey Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the decision to keep Williams in jail. He is calling the matter a “self defense case” and agrees with William’s assessment in the matter and his decision to release her.
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer disagreed with that view noting that while he has great respect for Judge Daniels that the Appellate Division had made the correct conclusion.
An Ocean County grand jury returned an indictment charging Williams with murder, weapons offenses, hindering apprehension and tampering with evidence, during the time the appeal of Daniels’ decision was pending.
On January 13, Williams will face an arraignment on those charges. Her testimony in 2017 for what was dubbed as the “Operation Dead End” gang trial helped attain 79 criminal convictions and an 82-year prison term for Fair who was a leader of the set of the Bloods based in Asbury Park. Her cooperation in that case was referenced by the appellate judges but it wasn’t enough to conclude that she would not obstruct justice or pose a flight risk or danger to the public if she were released.
Williams failed to appear in court on 11 prior occasions according to the appellate judges. She also has a prior conviction for a violent offense and in the past hindered her own apprehension, provided false reports to law enforcement and resisted arrest.
While she drove Power to the hospital following his stabbing, she left before police arrived and attempted to cover up what happened by cleaning her apartment, discarding her phone and waiting more than 24 hours before coming forward to authorities, according to the appellate judges.