JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Gloria Williams, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to kidnapping a Jacksonville newborn in 1998, could face up to 22 years in prison. Testimony from a two-day sentencing hearing that began Thursday will help a judge decide if she'll receive the maximum penalty, or far less, as the kidnapping victim, now 20, would like.
Nearly two decades and 3,000 tips later, Williams was arrested in Colleton County, South Carolina, in January 2017. The break came when there was a DNA match between the kidnapped baby, Kamiyah Mobley, and the woman Williams had raised as Alexis Manigo.
Earlier this year, Williams admitted to kidnapping Kamiyah from what was then University Hospital, now UF Health Jacksonville, just hours after she was born. Now a young woman, she chooses to go by the name Williams gave her, and has asked the court to impose a light sentence.
The first witness Thursday was Charles Manigo, who was living with Williams when she brought home a baby 20 years ago and was made to believe it was their child. He said he didn't find out until January 2017 that she was not his daughter.
"In my heart, she is still my child," he testified. "I lost a child, some(one) I can’t get back. I wish this on no one."
The mother whose newborn was taken from her hospital room, Shanara Mobley, broke down on the stand. She said that after giving birth, Gloria Williams came into her room and spent hours with her. Williams, who she thought was a nurse, took Kamiyah's temperature, then walked out with Kamiyah.
Shanara Mobley said she became suicidal after the abduction and is still hurting.
"That is my child. I am your mother, Kamiyah," she said, addressing the 20-year-old woman sitting in the back of the courtroom.
Sharara Mobley said she never believed that Kamiyah was dead and had put birthday cakes in the freezer every year hoping that one day she could show them to her.
Sharara Mobley and Kamiyah's birth father had a reunion with the girl shortly after Williams was arrested, but the daughter remains loyal to the woman who raised her. The birth mother wants Williams to serve a long sentence to allow time for the mother-daughter relationship to grow.
"If I’ve got to have my child relationship go on, I need her away, far away, where she cannot contact my baby, where my baby cannot even get to her," Mobley said.
The kidnapping impacted the rest of the biological family, including Velma Aiken, Kamiyah's grandmother. She says she was in the hospital when Williams took the baby.
"When I was going in, she was on the way going out with the baby in her arms," Velma Aiken said. "So I said, 'Where grandmama's baby going? She said she had to go for a test; be back in 15 minutes."
Williams sat mostly expressionless during much of Thursday's testimony, but occasionally appeared to wipe away tears.
In exchange for her guilty plea on her kidnapping and interference with custody charges, Williams is asking for between zero and 22 years in prison on the kidnapping charge and zero to five years on the interference charge. Those sentences would be able to be served at the same time.
Williams' pastor, Sheriyette Base White, defended her, saying "She's a caring, God-fearing person."
But William's own father feels she must pay the price for what she did.
"Hard to understand why she did it, but ... you did the crime you got to do the time," W. Brown said.
Alexis Manigo interacted with both families during Thursday's hearing, but is sitting separate from them. Some of the testimony from both her birth parents and the family that raised her did bring her to tears.
The woman Williams raised as her daughter has appealed to the court, asking for a short sentence. Alexis Manigo was originally expected to testify, but late Thursday, the defense told the judge that her previous statement will be read in court.
Williams is expected to take the stand in her own defense on Friday.
The proceedings will be streamed on News4Jax.com.
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