Truck driver convicted in smuggling deaths case in Houston, jurors to decide penalty

Monday, December 4th 2006, 11:36 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ A truck driver was convicted Monday for his role in the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt, in which 19 illegal immigrants died from dehydration, overheating and suffocation.

The trial's punishment phase began immediately and jurors will decide if he should be sentenced to death.

The federal jury convicted Tyrone Williams on 58 counts for the transport and deaths of illegal immigrants during a May 2003 smuggling attempt. His sweltering tractor-trailer was packed with more than 70 immigrants. The immigrants had scraped at the insulation, broke out the tail-lights and screamed for help escaping the tomb-like trailer.

Last year, a jury convicted Williams on 38 transporting counts, but he avoided a death sentence because the jury couldn't agree on his role in the smuggling attempt. The jury deadlocked on 20 other counts.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the decision, saying the verdict didn't count because the jury failed to specify his role in the crime.

In his retrial, Williams also faced 58 counts of conspiracy, harboring and transporting illegal immigrants, 20 of which were death penalty eligible.

Since the jury convicted him on counts eligible for the death penalty, it will now hear evidence in a punishment phase before deliberating on whether to sentence Williams to death or up to life in prison.