Prosecutors: 5-year-old Taylor Williams tortured by mother

Brianna Williams accused of aggravated child abuse, tampering with evidence

VIDEO: The mother of 5-year-old Taylor Williams, who reported her daughter missing last year in what investigators say was a lie from the start, is now charged with aggravated child abuse and tampering with evidence.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mother of 5-year-old Taylor Williams -- who reported her daughter missing last year in what investigators say was a lie from the start -- is now charged with aggravated child abuse and tampering with evidence.

Court records show the charges were added Friday to the two counts of child neglect and one count of lying to law enforcement that Brianna Williams already faced.

Court documents suggest that Brianna Williams tortured, maliciously punished or caged Taylor sometime between the last time the girl was seen alive in April and Nov. 6 -- when Williams reported her missing.

According to evidence released last week, investigators found possible bloodstains in six locations in the apartment, including inside a closet.

Prosecutors have charged Williams with tampering with evidence because investigators believe she dumped Taylor’s remains in Alabama before saying the girl had disappeared.

Williams has not been charged with causing her daughter’s death. Based on Florida sentencing guidelines, if Williams were to be convicted on all five charges, she could face decades in prison.

Jacksonville attorney Randy Reep, who is not connected to the case, said those who are waiting for additional charges in Taylor’s death need to understand the complexities of the case.

“It doesn’t take a big leap to figure out where a child abuse or a child neglect may result in a murder charge, but they have to prove that the activity resulted in the death of the child," Reep said. “The state will charge people with the highest crime they believe at that time they can prove. And they have to be able to prove all the elements of a homicide, that it was the actual actions of the mother that resulted in the death of the child. If they get it wrong, that can be a very, very problematic issue for the case.”

Reep pointed to the Casey Anthony trial, saying part of the reason Anthony was not found guilty of murder in her daughter’s death was that the state couldn’t prove how the child died.

“Even at the lowest end, the actions of the mother had to result in the death of the child (to prove a murder charge),” Reep said. "To be able to prove something beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt is a very, very high burden.”

The Department of Children and Families had no contact with Brianna Williams or Taylor and DCF said the family was not involved in any prior abuse complaints before Taylor was reported missing.

Williams will be back in court on March 24 for a pre-trial hearing.

Evidence released

Last week, prosecutors released mounds of evidence against Williams, showing that she returned to Jacksonville from Linden, Alabama -- where her 5-year-old daughter’s remains were later found -- six hours before placing a Craigslist ad asking for help to move out of her apartment.

Investigators later searched that apartment after Williams reported her daughter, Taylor, missing from the Brentwood home she moved to. According to records, in addition to the bloodstains in the apartment, they found soiled children’s clothes, fecal matter, cans of soup with small openings in them -- and a scent of decay.

That same scent was noticeable in the trunk of Williams’ Honda Accord, records show. The trunk was empty but a rubber liner inside smelled of cleaning fluid. A cadaver dog picked up the scent of decomposition in the trunk and the driver’s compartment. According to records, dead maggots, fecal matter, soiled clothes and assorted sex toys were also recovered from the car.

According to court records, a search of Williams’ cellphone found she made three trips to and from Linden, Alabama, on Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 last year. She returned to Jacksonville at about 5:28 a.m. Nov. 3. Six hours later, she posted the Craigslist ad seeking help moving out of her Southside apartment.

The couple who helped, Tiffani Robinette and Chris Bonaventure, said they were in the apartment for an hour but they never saw a child at the apartment or new home. Williams told Bonaventure, who heard running water at the apartment, that her daughter was taking a bath.

Taylor reported missing

Three days after the move, Williams called police to report her daughter missing, saying she woke up and the back door was open and Taylor was gone.

A massive search for the 5-year-old extended from Brentwood to the Southside. Records show police recovered a handgun, shotgun, rifle and ammunition from the house in Brentwood where Williams moved.

Records show Williams had told her commanding officer she was taking Taylor to her parents’ house in Alabama the first week of November, but when police interviewed both parents, they said they did not see Brianna or Taylor during that time.

RELATED | Timeline: Key events in the search for missing Jacksonville girl | Warrant: May last time anyone other than Taylor’s mother saw girl alive

When detectives confronted Williams with the discrepancy in her story, she stopped cooperating with the investigation, records show.

Records show the day care at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, where Williams worked, and the Kinder Garden day care told the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office they hadn’t seen Taylor since April.

Taylor’s remains were found Nov. 12 in a wooded area of Marengo County, Alabama, where Williams’ GPS had been tracked, according to court records. In the rural area where Taylor’s remains were found, investigators also found pieces of plastic, fabric, three kinds of rope, blue gloves, a knife, cardboard, wire, papers and a Punch drink can.

Remains found in Alabama have been identified as those of Taylor Rose Williams (WJXT)

The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences also listed a shower curtain, a black plastic bag and a shirt in its laboratory evidence list.

Investigators suspect Taylor -- whose name is redacted from the evidence reports due to Marsy’s Law -- was dead before Williams moved to the Brentwood home from the apartment on the Southside. Among the evidence released Tuesday were search warrants for Williams’ iCloud account and a cellphone that said investigators hoped to pinpoint the last time Taylor was alive using photos, videos, text messages, messaging apps, call logs and emails.

More evidence coming

According to a nine-page summary of discovery in the case obtained by News4Jax, evidence that could appear in trial includes the 911 call where Williams claimed her daughter was kidnapped, Taylor’s autopsy report, thousands of photos, surveillance video, police body camera videos, her Amazon order history and information uncovered during search warrants at Williams’ apartment, her home in Brentwood and of her car, cellphones and computers.

The list shows investigators have thousands of pieces of evidence: nearly 4,000 crime scene photos and dozens of videos of Williams and her car on base at NAS Jacksonville and in Alabama, near the spot where authorities found Taylor’s body.

Prosecutors also have Uber and Lyft records, documenting Williams’ activity with the ride-sharing services. Additionally, they pulled her Navy records, including when she accessed the base, and surveillance from stores in Jacksonville, Georgia and Alabama.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.

Veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor