GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Allegations that Sean Williams tried to escape from federal custody in Jonesborough last month created a delay in another federal count against him as Judge Clifton Corker postponed a scheduled motion hearing in Williams’s federal ammunition case.
In a Thursday appearance hearing before federal judge Cynthia Richardson Wyrick, Williams pleaded not guilty to attempting to escape July 23 from the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC), where he has been held since late May as a federal prisoner.
A former Johnson City business owner who has been implicated in two civil suits of drugging and raping multiple women at his downtown apartment, Williams was initially jailed in Jackson County, N.C. after being arrested April 29 on drug trafficking charges.
Williams had been a fugitive on the federal ammunition warrant since May 2021 when a Western Carolina University officer allegedly found him with a large amount of cocaine and methamphetamine after approaching his parked car in the wee hours of the morning. He was transferred to federal custody within days.
A Washington County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told News Channel 11 Thursday that Williams is no longer being held at WCDC.
After Thursday’s appearance hearing, the parties moved upstairs for the motion hearing in front of Corker. After a long consultation with Williams’s appointed attorney Bryce McKenzie and federal prosecutor Meghan Gomez, McKenzie asked Corker to delay his bid to have a search warrant from 2020 suppressed as evidence in the ammunition case against Williams.
“On the original count, I filed a motion that would have been dispositive of all charges,” McKenzie said, referring to the likelihood that if his motion was upheld, the case against Williams would have crumbled.
With a second count that could bring a prison sentence of up to five years, “potential criminal liability is very different and I’d like to ask for more time,” McKenzie said. He added that he’d not even been able to review discovery in the escape attempt case, which was just filed Tuesday.
Gomez did not object.
Corker rescheduled the motion hearing until Oct. 3 and set a Sept. 22 deadline for motions over the new count. Williams now has a plea deadline of Oct. 19, and the full trial, which had been set for Sept. 12, will now occur Nov. 2.
Person who started it all in attendance
McKenzie’s motion to suppress involves a Sept. 19, 2020 search warrant that Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) detective Toma Sparks filed hours after Mikayla Evans, a Kingsport woman, fell from Williams’s fifth-floor apartment downtown.
Williams’s apartment was full of video cameras the night Evans fell, and police reportedly wanted to search for video or other evidence that might prove whether Evans fell or was pushed.
Officers noticed a locked safe during that search and thinking it could contain related evidence, filed a second search warrant. It was in the safe that they allegedly discovered the 257 rounds of ammunition that eventually led to Williams’s indictment as a felon in possession of ammunition in April 2021. Several weeks later, on May 5, 2021, officers unsuccessfully tried to arrest Williams at his apartment, after which he fled.
McKenzie argued in a court filing that multiple elements of JCPD’s search warrant, as well as their seizure of his phone during an interview shortly after Evans’s fall, violated his Constitutional rights.
Evans, who survived but didn’t walk without assistance for months and still uses a cane, attended Thursday’s hearings.
She called the potential five-year sentence on the escape attempt, “real nice. I mean, we don’t just want five years, obviously, but the additional five to whatever he gets on anything else, awesome.”
She said the slight delay in his case disappointed her, but added that the overall cases involving Williams are so complicated she knows there will be delays. He’s also at the center of two lawsuits against JCPD and the City of Johnson City, both alleging that Williams was a serial rapist who drugged his victims and that the JCPD failed to adequately investigate multiple allegations against him.
One case is on behalf of nine alleged rape victims and the other was filed by Kat Dahl, a former federal prosecutor who pushed the JCPD to be more aggressive in its investigation of Williams. She claims she was dismissed in retaliation for her insistence on action and her independent interviews with alleged victims.
“Everything will take time because of how in-depth all of this is,” Evans said. “Different cases, different people, multiple victims, the D.A. or this lawyer, this person, prosecutor, whoever has to talk to all these people, go through evidence, email people, call people. So it’s going to take time.”
“I hope they all see justice, regardless if anybody sees any money or not,” Evans said of the alleged victims and Dahl.
“I think the main thing and the point here is for people to know his name and his face. At that point, maybe if it gets nationwide I mean, I know it’s on the news, obviously, but there’s not enough people watching because I think there’s other victims in other places.”
Evans said seeing Williams — who was escorted by U.S. marshals and was wearing a tan prison jumpsuit and glasses — wasn’t easy even though she said she doesn’t want to miss any hearings.
“At first I thought I’d be OK. As soon as he started talking, I started crying. But then I told myself, it’s all right.”
Williams did a bit of talking out of turn during his first hearing. After he answered Judge Wyrick that yes, he wanted her to do an informal reading of his “superseding indictment” (including the new count), she said she’d read the full indictment, which is relatively short.
As she began reading through the ammunition count, Williams began to talk. Wyrick cut him off and he said he had only needed her to read the second count and “was just trying to help you out.”
Wyrick tersely informed him he needed to remain quiet through her reading. From there, he answered only “yes,” both times he was asked whether he understood what was alleged against him in a single count.
News Channel 11 asked Evans how it felt to know that her near-death fall proved to be the first domino in Williams’s still-expanding case.
“It makes me proud, actually,” she said, adding that she hopes Gomez and the federal government will successfully defend the search warrant.
“Hopefully, whatever they collected or gathered is sufficient enough evidence to continue the ball rolling and I hope nobody throws anything out,” she said.