Support shown for release of 1974 convicted Waterloo killer - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Support shown for release of 1974 convicted Waterloo killer Rasberry Williams

The defense attorney who represented Rasberry Williams spoke at his parole hearing The defense attorney who represented Rasberry Williams spoke at his parole hearing
Rasberry Williams Rasberry Williams

A Waterloo man convicted in a murder nearly 40 years ago could be set free.

The Iowa Parole Board is recommending the life sentence for Rasberry Williams be commuted, making him eligible for parole.

But Williams can't be released until the governor approves it.

Williams was convicted of shooting Lester Givhan outside a Waterloo pool hall back in 1974.

A rare public meeting to collect input about Williams' possible release was held in Waterloo Wednesday.

Rasberry Williams is now 66 years old, and has applied for a commuted sentence a few times since being convicted of murder more than three decades ago.

But Gov. Terry Branstad is the first to take the review process for Williams to the public. 

By many accounts, Williams is now a changed man, who has left quite an impression on many.

"The Bible tells us that if you want forgiveness, you must forgive, and I believe that," said Dennis Reed, one of Givhan's cousins. "We forgive him."

While relatives of Givhan forgive Rasberry Williams for killing him, it's hard for them to think he could be let out of prison.

"That's all I would like to hear: that he's sorry for what he did," said Olabelle Reed, another of Givhan's cousins. "He took my cousin from us, and he won't have a chance to come back and plead his case."

Williams can't do that since, by law, he's banned from contacting Givhan's family.

However, those who have come to know Rasberry Williams over the past 40 years say he's more than made up for his past mistakes.

Men who once served prison time with Williams told the parole board they credit him for helping turn their lives around.

"By Rasberry believing in me at the time when I didn't believe in myself, (he) has encouraged and strengthened me to be the man I am today," said Ray Brown, who was formerly incarcerated with Williams.

"He told me to pursue my education, which I did," said Terry Sallis, who was also formerly incarcerated with Williams. "I got out, went back to school, I got my associate's, my bachelor's, my master's degree from the University of Iowa, and I got my certification as a mental health therapist and drug counselor."

They feel Williams would have even greater mentoring opportunities as a free man.

"It would be such a blessing, Governor Branstad, if you were to see fit to let Ras come back home to us, to live the rest of his life with us, and he'll be an asset to so many young men in Waterloo or any other young person that crosses his path, to encourage them like he has myself and so many others," Brown said.

In letters to the parole board, other inmates who know Rasberry Williams have said he once even helped save lives behind bars. During a prison fight, Williams stopped an inmate armed with a knife from trying to kill prison guards.

Governor Branstad has the final decision on whether Williams will be released. The governor will take all the information from Wednesday's public hearing into consideration, and he's required to issue a decision by May 4.

Branstad has previously commuted two life sentences. The last was in 1992.

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