Trucker resentenced for '03 smuggling deaths

Truck driver Tyrone Williams leaves the federal courthouse in Houston in shackles this Monday, March 21, 2005, file photo. Williams had been convicted in December on 58 counts of conspiracy, harboring and transporting illegal immigrants, and a jury that could have given him the death penalty instead imposed a life sentence. Two more sentences were added by the judge Thursday, Aug. 23, _ 33 years and nine months on a conspiracy charge, and 20 years each on 19 counts of transporting illegal immigrants. Williams, 36, drove a sweltering tractor-trailer in May 2003 during a smuggling attempt that resulted in the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan,)

January 24, 2011 10:40:56 AM PST
A truck driver was resentenced to nearly 34 years in prison on Monday after a federal appeals court last year overturned the multiple life sentences he received for his role in America's deadliest human smuggling attempt, which resulted in the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants.

Tyrone Williams was given his new sentence of 405 months in prison during a court hearing in which prosecutors argued that despite the appeals court's ruling, the truck driver deserved to remain in prison for life for the deadly May 2003 smuggling attempt inside a sweltering tractor-trailer.

Williams, 39, had faced possible death sentences on 19 counts of transporting illegal immigrants. But a jury in 2007 decided to sentence him to life in prison without parole. However, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Williams was not eligible for capital punishment. The court also said that U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, who presided over the trial, should have sentenced Williams on those counts.

Before he was resentenced Monday, Williams, who began crying, told the judge he did not merit a life sentence as prosecutors had requested.

"If I had known those people were in trouble like that, I would have opened those doors," Williams said. "I don't kill people, your honor."

In total, Williams was convicted on 58 counts of conspiracy, harboring and transporting illegal immigrants. Prosecutors dismissed 19 harboring counts while Williams was sentenced on 20 other counts by Rosenthal: 20 years for 19 other transporting counts and to nearly 34 years for the conspiracy count. The appeals court upheld the sentences on those counts.

The smuggling attempt began in the South Texas city of Harlingen, where more than 70 immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic were packed inside Williams' tractor-trailer. Williams was only supposed to take the immigrants about 120 miles north to Robstown. But during the trip, Williams was told to instead take them to Houston, which was more than 200 miles past Robstown.

However during the more than three-hour trip, Williams never turned on the air conditioning in the airtight truck. As temperatures in the trailer skyrocketed to as high as 173 degrees Fahrenheit, the immigrants kicked walls, clawed at insulation, broke out tail lights and screamed for help. Despite stopping the vehicle twice during the trip and realizing that the immigrants were in danger, Williams didn't let them out.

Williams abandoned the trailer at a truck stop near Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston. Williams, an immigrant from Jamaica who lived in Schenectady, N.Y., was later arrested in Houston.

Seventeen people, including a 5-year-old boy, were found dead in the trailer. Two others died later. All the deaths were attributed to dehydration, overheating and suffocation.

Besides Williams, 13 others were indicted in the case. Two had charges against them dismissed, one who cooperated with prosecutors was sentenced to the three days in jail she served after her arrest and the others were given sentences ranging from 14 months to 23 years in prison. Williams was the only one who faced a possible death sentence.

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