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Attorney for Semmie Williams Jr. asks judge to block state from pursuing death penalty

Assistant public defender says suspect in killing of Ryan Rogers
Posted at 10:33 AM, Feb 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-23 15:55:49-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — An attorney for the suspect accused of killing a 14-year-old Palm Beach Gardens boy while he was riding his bicycle in 2021 is asking a Palm Beach County circuit judge to block the state's attempt to seek the death penalty.

Assistant Public Defender Scott T. Pribble filed the motion Wednesday for Semmie Williams Jr.

Williams, 41, is charged with first-degree murder in the November 2021 death of Ryan Rogers.

Ryan Rogers picture at Palm Beach Gardens police news conference, Dec. 2, 2021
A picture of Ryan Rogers serves as a backdrop at a Palm Beach Gardens Police Department news conference, Dec. 2, 2021, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

The William T. Dwyer Community High School freshman's body was found Nov. 16, 2021, near the Central Boulevard sidewalk at the Interstate 95 overpass, less than 24 hours after his mother had reported him missing.

Williams was arrested on Dec. 1, 2021, in Miami. Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Clint Shannon said Williams was a "homeless drifter" who stabbed Rogers to death in what appeared to be "a completely random act."

Police used DNA evidence to link Williams to the crime.

Assistant State Attorney Jo Wilensky filed a notice of the state's intent to seek the death penalty in January 2022.

But Pribble claims Williams is "intellectually disabled," thereby precluding the state from pursuing the death penalty under the law.

In his motion, Pribble claims Williams was evaluated by Dr. Joette James, a Washington-based psychologist, last December. He said James concluded that Williams meets the medical criteria for intellectual disability.

"Mr. Williams has significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning," Pribble wrote.

He went on to say that Williams has an IQ score of 56, which places him in the "extremely low/impaired" range of intellectual ability.

According to Pribble's motion, Williams also has "concurrent deficits in adaptive behavior," scoring in the "low" range of adaptive functioning.

Pribble claims Williams' "intellectual disability manifested many years prior to the age of 18 years, as indicated by delayed language and motor milestones, broader developmental delays, consistent weak academic performance in school and on standardized testing, grade retention, and special education placement. Mr. Williams never completed high school or obtained a GED."

Therefore, Pribble wrote, the state "should be precluded from seeking an unconstitutional punishment."

Judge Cymonie Rowe has yet to rule on the matter.

A different judge ruled in June 2022 that Williams was competent to stand trial.

Shortly after his arrest, Williams was involved in a jail scuffle with corrections deputies that was seen on surveillance video, but the state declined to prosecute.

WATCH: Semmie Williams jail scuffle with deputies

Video of Semmie Williams jail scuffle

Williams' murder trial is scheduled to begin in October.