Attorney: Hammer killing was self-defense

He will pursue battered woman's syndrome defense in April trial of woman accused of bludgeoning husband

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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The attorney for a Vancouver woman accused of bludgeoning her husband with a hammer says in court papers he plans to pursue a battered woman's syndrome defense.

Donna Rae Williams, 51, was set to go to trial Monday on a first-degree murder charge, but Kurtz requested a delay so his client could be evaluated by psychologists. The new trial date is April 8.

In court papers filed Aug. 17, attorney David Kurtz said he plans to rely on a self-defense theory and requests that a Clark County judge allow expert witnesses to testify to Williams' mental state as a battered wife.

"The defense will show that the defendant had been battered as a spouse, both physically and mentally, and that this led to her need to defend herself," Kurtz wrote in his court memorandum.

Kurtz does not elaborate in court papers on the alleged abuse. He says he does not yet know whether Williams has a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder; he has subpoenaed Williams' medical records and is in the process of having his client evaluated by a psychologist.

Kurtz said expert testimony on battered woman's syndrome is necessary to show his client's actions were reasonable given the circumstances.

"This evidence may have substantial bearing on the woman's perceptions and behavior at the time of the killing and is central to her claim of self-defense," Kurtz wrote.

Williams was arrested May 30 after she called 911 to confess that she killed her husband two weeks prior, according to court documents. Responding sheriff's deputies found 55-year-old Mark Williams in the couple's bed, covered in blood-soaked bedding.

In an interview with sheriff's investigators, Donna Williams said she hit her husband over the head with a hammer because he had punched her in the left eye the previous evening. He was asleep at the time of the attack, according to court documents.

She said she then walked to a convenience store, and when she returned home, Williams said her husband was still breathing, so she struck him in the head again, according to documents.

Legal experts not involved in the case have said self-defense would be tricky to prove in Williams' case because of the length of time between the physical abuse and her alleged attack.

A hearing to address Kurtz's request for expert witness testimony at trial has yet to be scheduled.

Laura McVicker: http://www.twitter.com/col_courts;http://www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.