Pubdate: Sun, 27 Sep 2009
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2009 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing
Author: Scott Johnson
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


A widowed cancer survivor faces the prospect of being homeless unless
she can fight off federal seizure of her house and land.

Mara Lynn Williams' husband, Royce, killed himself in May while
awaiting a verdict in a federal drug case against him.

The U.S. attorney's office accused Royce Williams of growing
marijuana on his Chilton County land with the intent to sell it. They
now are attempting to seize his land -- about 40 acres -- and the
house where Mara Lynn Williams still lives.

Mara Lynn Williams, 56, said she didn't know that her husband was
growing marijuana, and she said federal authorities should not be
trying to take the land, which has been in her husband's family for

"It is not morally right. My husband has paid with his life. What
else do they want?" Williams said.

Asset Forfeiture Coordinator Tommie Brown Hardwick said the U.S.
attorney's office is following standard procedure.

"(Williams') death, which ended the criminal case, had no effect on
the ongoing civil case," said Hardwick, who added that she could not
comment further on the case.

Civil Forfeiture

Authorities routinely seize property if it is believed that the
property was used to contribute to a crime.

In forfeiture cases, U.S. attorney's offices take into account
whether statutes allow forfeiture and whether there is sufficient
evidence to support it, Hardwick said.

Other factors can be taken into consideration as well. For instance,
the government would not take property that would end up being a
liability down the road, she said.

"The bottom line is, we don't want people to benefit from criminal
activity," Hardwick said.

Usually, such seizures are "cut and dried," but this case is
different, said David Karn, a Clanton attorney who is representing Williams.

Civil forfeiture generally differs from criminal forfeiture in that
the burden of proof is on the property owner and not the government.

In this case, however, the government will have to show that Mara
Lynn Williams took part in a drug operation, Karn said. Otherwise,
she is protected by what is known as the "innocent spouse" rule, he added.

The case, which goes to trial early next year, will not be an easy
one for Williams, he said.

"It is an uphill battle from any landowner's perspective," Karn said
of civil forfeiture cases.

A Difficult Road

Williams, who works as a nurse at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery,
said her husband smoked marijuana because it helped ease the chronic
pain he suffered following multiple surgeries.

"I didn't know he was growing marijuana. I knew he was smoking it. If
I knew he was growing it, I would have made him stop," she said.

Williams said her husband tried a number of different medications for
his pain, but nothing worked as well as the marijuana. She also said
her husband did not sell the marijuana.

"My husband was not a marijuana dealer. My husband was in pain," she said.

Williams has two grown sons and has lived in her house near Clanton
since 1994. She said the house is there thanks to the combined effort
of her and her husband.

"He and I built the house together on that land. I paid as much into
that house as he did," she said.

Mara Lynn Williams said she was diagnosed in 2003 with breast cancer
that subsequently spread to her liver, lungs and bone.

The cancer currently is in remission, but Williams said she expects
it to return.

"It has been in remission before, so I know it will be back," she said.

Authorities Move In

Williams said she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment when federal
authorities raided the property.

Alabama Bureau of Investigation agents had discovered the marijuana
growing on the Williamses' land while they were flying over it in a

Authorities seized 10 firearms, $18,400 in cash, vehicles, computers
and other belongings from the property. Williams said Drug
Enforcement Agency officials recently returned several of the
vehicles they had seized.

Williams said she does not want the guns back, even though one of
them belonged to her father.

Williams said the cash was there because her husband liked to keep
money handy and recently had taken out a loan in preparation for lean
times. He worked construction and knew there would be stretches when
he was out of work for as long as six months, she said.

Court records show that the 408 marijuana plants that were found on
the property were behind a school bus a couple of hundred yards from the

The marijuana found on the property was confined to that one patch of
land behind the bus, according to documents.

Williams said the land that authorities are trying to seize is part
of a larger plot of land that was divided between her husband and his
siblings when their father died.

The land has been in the family for years, Williams said. The
Williams family was one of the first peach growing families in
Chilton County, she said. Last days

Royce Williams' body was wracked with pain and he was in constant
discomfort after his arrest, Mara Lynn Williams said.

She said that while he was in jail, he had to sleep on a concrete
floor with nothing but a blanket.

The thought of as much as 10 years in prison was simply unbearable to
him, she said.

"I think he just didn't want to live that way," Williams said.

It was Memorial Day weekend when Williams realized that her husband
might be contemplating suicide.

"He was so miserable. He was so uncomfortable," she said.

Chilton County deputies arrived at the Williamses' house the
following Tuesday, about an hour before the jury was scheduled to
restart deliberations in his trial.

They found Royce Williams inside a car, dead from a gunshot wound to his

Royce Williams was 53 when he died. He and Mara Lynn Williams would
have celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary in November.

Williams said that despite all that has happened, she still has
things to be thankful for, including that she has been able to
maintain employment despite illness and other hardships.

"I have been very fortunate to work through all of this," she said.

She also remains optimistic about her chances of avoiding the loss of
her home.

"I am very hopeful that this case will come out the way it should," she
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