JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On the stand at her sentencing hearing, Gloria Williams admitted to kidnapping newborn Kamiyah Mobley from a Jacksonville hospital nearly 20 years ago, naming her Alexis Manigo and raising her as her daughter.
Williams testified Friday, hoping to convince a judge to give her a sentence less than the the 22 years she could face in a plea agreement.
Williams addressed the victim's family in court and offered an emotional apology, saying she knows she can't return the 18 years that were taken from them.
"I know you hate me right now," she said. "... I hope you can find it in your heart to one day forgive me."
Williams said she had no plans to kidnap a baby on July 10, 1998, the day she left Walterboro, South Carolina, and drove south on Interstate 95 to Florida.
While she acknowledged her life was spiraling out of control at the time, fueled by depression and heartbreak over an abusive relationship and a miscarriage, she said the trip was spontaneous.
So what was on her mind? "It was definitely not to take a baby, that's for sure," she said.
But after arriving in Jacksonville, Williams went to University Hospital, now known as UF Health, where she spent time gazing at the babies in the maternity ward and befriended Shanara Mobley.
When Mobley's daughter was later brought into the room, William wondered if the baby might be the solution to her problems, a source of peace and stability in an otherwise stormy relationship.
"It definitely wasn't logical," she said, "but for what I was thinking at that time, it seemed right. It seemed right."
Williams said it was a joy to raise the child.
"She was a doll baby. Alexis was a joy," she said.
Williams said her love for the new newborn girl was a selfish love since she had stolen the child from her real mother.
Williams told the shocked courtroom that she escaped the hospital by putting Kamiyah in a bag.
"I believe, at any time, someone could have grabbed my arm and said, ‘Hey, what do you have in the bag?'" Williams said.
Though Williams admits she kidnapped Kamiyah, she doesn't believe she harmed the now 20-year-old woman.
"You had brainwashed (her) into thinking you were her mother," the prosecutor told Williams.
Gloria Williams didn't tell anyone her secret, but said the guilt loomed.
"I thought someone would find out the week that I stole Kamiyah Mobley. I kept a baby bag for Alexis for the police," she said.
She said the girl was a joy to be around and grew up happy and healthy, adding that she raised the girl to work hard and to be kind and respectful to those around her.
But whatever notions Williams had about the child being the antidote to her relationship woes, she said she soon figured out that wasn't the case. She said the couple's problems didn't miraculously end with the baby's arrival.
"I just thought, you know, this would bring peace to, you know, the house," she said. "The abuse would stop, the violence would stop, and it didn't."
Because she believed the girl deserved a better environment, Williams said she eventually worked up the courage to leave the relationship. As a single mother, she testified, she made sure Alexis was well taken care of.
She said Alexis received medical treatment as needed, had regular visits to the dentist and excelled in school. Outside of class she said the child took part in dance and cheerleading and volunteered her time at church.
"She was the princess, but she still had rules," Williams said.
At one point, the defense introduced a photo album filled with family pictures taken over the years. Williams paged through them one by one, recalling each of the memories, including one image from the baby girl's christening or another from a Spring Fling dance. She recalled each of the memories.
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There was another emotional moment in court when the defense played surveillance video from the Colleton County jail following Williams' arrest in January 2017. The video shows that, hours after the arrest, Williams and Alexis broke down in tears when they were allowed to visit.
Under cross-examination from the state, Williams said there was nothing in her background that justified taking someone else's child. She acknowledged that she was educated, raised well and loved enough to make sound decisions.
"You said you were not thinking right, but you did not want to get caught?" asked Assistant State Attorney Alan Mizrahi.
Williams appeared resigned to the fact that she will be incarcerated for her immediate future. She said her goal now is to be able to help people, specifically abused women, because she says she also suffered abuse.
"I just want to try to make it right, if it’s possible," Williams said. "I just want to try to make it right."
Just before 4 p.m. Friday, the sentencing hearing concluded with Judge Marianne Aho announcing that she'll review transcripts of all the testimony and will review the evidence. She set a June 8 hearing to announce Williams' sentence.