What Not to do as a Defendant – “Wild Bill” Case Causing Chaos

April 5, 2022 Criminal Defense

A 2017 murder case in Lake County centered around defendant, William “Wild Bill” Roberts, has caused chaos and mayhem since it first made headlines. Accused of beating his girlfriend to death with a wooden handle in their camper, Roberts had evidence stacked against him.

However, instead of trying to work with his appointed defense attorney, it appears that Roberts is doing everything in his power to add difficulty to his already difficult situation. He has openly expressed his dislike for his attorney, his desire to represent himself, has only showed up half the time to court, decided to waive his right to a jury trial, and has even denied his attorney’s wishes to apply mitigating evidence to his defense.

As a defendant, it is important to listen and work together with your attorney. A review of the murder case, as well as all of the events that transpired in the court room, will be covered.

The Girlfriend’s Murder Case

The initial arrest of Roberts took place on December 21st, 2017. Elizabeth Hellstrom, 55, was the girlfriend of Roberts, and her daughter reported her missing after not hearing from her for several days. Hellstrom’s car was spotted by police, with Roberts the only one in the vehicle. This led to  a high-speed car chase in Volusia County. Police eventually stopped and detained Roberts, and then found the body of his girlfriend in the trunk of her car. Roberts was arrested for the death of Hellstrom.

Two days prior to the car chase, Roberts had reached out to a friend via text message, writing that the couple had gotten into an argument and that he later found Hellstrom unresponsive with 30 prescription pills surrounding her. Roberts claimed he unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate his dead girlfriend.

After reviewing Hellstrom’s deceased body from the trunk, there was evidence indicating that her death was not just the result of an overdose. According to the medical examiner, she sustained broken ribs, severe head trauma, broken cartilage on the right side of her throat, a pierced kidney, and one of her ears was missing.

Roberts claimed he was not at fault, telling police, “It was an accident. I did not do it on purpose.” He was taken into Lake County Jail with no bond, and charged with second-degree murder, fleeing and eluding, and storing and transporting human remains. Roberts also had a previous violent record of convicted battery and burglary.

Upon investigation, there was security footage from the camper belonging to the couple, which show scenes from before and after the crime. Hellstrom appeared to be alive and well as of December 17th, 2017. On the following day, Assistant State Attorney Rich Buxman claimed that the footage depicted Roberts, “struggling to move her body out of the camper. Because of the angle of the camera, you can’t see her head.” Buxman also claimed you could see Hellstrom’s hair fall out of the white sheet she is wrapped in.

The chief deputy medical examiner in the case, Dr. Wendy Lavezzi, testified in court about Hellstrom’s injuries, showing multiple slides of the girlfriend’s decomposed body that was found inside the trunk. Dr. Lavezzi stated that the head injuries alone could have killed Hellstrom, who also experienced a subdural hematoma—or bleeding on the brain.

The main weapon in the case was a wooden handle. Buxman pulled it out of a bag in the court room to reveal the short and stout weapon that was claimed to be what rained down blows to Hellstrom’s head and body. DNA skin cells were found on the handle, belonging to both Hellstrom and Roberts.

A friend and fellow cell mate of Roberts’, David McQuilling III, agreed to testify in court. He stated that during their time together in the Lake County jail, Roberts confessed to the murder and said, “The b—h wouldn’t shut up, so I shut her up.”

Reasons for his Attorney’s Request to Leave

Since the beginning of the case, Roberts has been a rather difficult defendant. Roberts initially requested to represent himself, despite not being an attorney. He was then assigned Candace Hawthorne as his court-appointed attorney.

Roberts was not happy from the very start, telling then-Circuit Judge Mark Nacke that his attorney, “ain’t nothing but a plea-bargain attorney. She’s going to cop me out and get somebody else out of jail. It ain’t happening. Not on me. Tell her to go play golf down in Mission Inn. What’s that attorney going to do for me, get me a death sentence? I can do that on my own.”

Roberts’ trial started in March 2022, where he immediately waived his right to a jury trial, but then refused to attend the proceedings or leave his cell. He was only spotted in court on Thursday, March 24th, 2022, but was absent on both Friday and Monday. His only reasoning behind waiving the right to a jury trial was that the courtroom was “cold.”

Hawthorne was trying to build a defense to Roberts’ case for court, asking the pathologist if there was any way Hellstrom could have been knocked out before any other injuries were inflicted. Hawthorne questioned the testimony from McQuilling, arguing his motivations were probably to receive a lighter sentence for his own criminal convictions.

In addition, Hawthorne prepared to list mitigating factors for Roberts’ case, however, Roberts addressed that he did not want her to present any mitigating evidence, even if it would help to keep him off death row.

Hawthorne told Circuit Judge G. Richard Singeltary that she wishes to withdraw from the case altogether. Hawthorne expressed that she believed there was an ethical obligation to present the mitigating evidence, yet Roberts refused. An agreement was made to wait until the judge decided on the verdict for Hawthorne to withdraw from the case. Since Roberts waived the right to a jury trial, it would mean that Singeltary is the one in charge of determining whether or not Roberts will be convicted—and whether he receives life in prison or the death penalty.   

Mitigating Evidence

Mitigating evidence is typically used in a capital case to try and get defendants a sentence less than the death penalty. It is information about the background and upbringing of the defendant that may prove the existence of mitigating circumstances. It shows potential consideration of the defendant’s character and their record pertaining to the particular offense, and with the jury or judge considering the death penalty as a valid sentence.

Hawthorne had prepared mitigating factors to present in Roberts’ case, including that Roberts was under the influence of mental and emotional disturbance, meaning he was unable to appreciate the criminality of the offense.

Hawthorne listed additional reasons, such as experiencing a difficult life, having poor health, being unable to maintain a stable job, and that he had recently become aware he had a son and granddaughter. There was also the fact that both Hellstrom and Roberts were using methamphetamines. Roberts has refused on several occasions to speak with a defense psychologist.

However, Roberts pushed that he did not want any mitigating evidence used in his defense. The state also argued that the murder of Hellstrom was heinous, atrocious, and cruel, and that Roberts had a history of being violent.  

Roberts was convicted of the first-degree murder of Hellstrom on March 30th, 2022. Now, the judge will have to decide whether it is life in prison or the death penalty that awaits “Wild Bill”. Roberts told the judge he wishes for the death penalty sentence.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

While navigating the legal world can be extremely stressful, one thing is certain – you have a greater chance of success if you hire a skilled defense attorney. Roberts was trying to push to represent himself, which is never a good choice in a criminal case. Working with a knowledgeable defense attorney can ensure all applicable defenses to your case are explored and your freedom is zealously fought for.

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, make sure you prioritize seeking out a criminal defense attorney in Florida. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients of various cases and all walks of life. Don’t give up on your case or yourself. Call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today for a free consultation.

Written by Karissa Key

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