Over three years after the alleged fatal stabbing of a Faribault man by his romantic partner, jury trial began this week, as prosecutors aim to prove the guilt of the sole suspect.
Judana Catherine Williams, 28, is on trial, charged with felonies for second-degree murder and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon. Prosecutors say that Williams killed her boyfriend at the time, 53-year-old Michael Bongers, by stabbing him with a knife on Sept. 7, 2018.
Williams, who had a history of domestic violence in which Bongers was the victim, was found by police kneeling over Bongers and covered in blood, according to the complaint. The knife, allegedly used to stab Bongers, was close by. Williams and Bongers were the only two people in the home at the time of the murder, and her statements to another officer that “he ran up on me, he ran up on me,” can be used against Williams.
However, a recorded confession from Williams will not be admissible, because she was not read her Miranda Rights ahead of time. In April 2020, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal filed by the Rice County Attorney’s Office, which viewed the evidence as a potential linchpin in its case against Williams. The decision to bar the defendant’s testimony from use at trial was originally made in July 2019 by Rice County District Court Judge Christine Long, subsequently upheld in January by the state Appeals Court.
Rice County Attorney John Fossum still feels the office has a strong case against Williams, and, led by Chief Assistant County Attorney Adam Johnson, the prosecutors will present evidence and witnesses to prove their case over several days of trial. Williams’ defense will be led by attorney Kassius O. Benson, of Minneapolis.
The first week of the trial consisted of jury selection, which attorneys and Judge Long were able to finish by the end of Thursday, meaning presentation of evidence and witnesses can begin Monday, Oct. 11. The jurors were interviewed individually, an atypical process brought on by COVID and the complexities of this case. Attorneys on both sides were able to select and deselect, ultimately coming to a consensus jury.
According to Rice County Court Administrator Lisa Kuhlman, the trial will take place in Courtroom 5, a temporary setup in the Rice County Government Services Building. The media and public will be allowed to watch from Courtroom 2 at the courthouse, where the trial will be displayed via Zoom.
Fossum expects the trial to last a couple weeks.
“Presentation of evidence, examination of the witnesses, the whole shebang, I guess,” he said.