‘I have cried almost daily’

Phillip Williams gets the maximum the law will allow for his role in Jessica Gomez’s death

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Phillip Williams listens in Webster County District Court during his sentencing hearing Monday. Williams received up to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted murder and abuse of a human corpse in connection with the death of Jessica Gomez.

The man who admitted he put Jessica Gomez in a chokehold and later helped burn her body to cover up her death was sentenced Monday afternoon in Webster County District Court.

Phillip Williams, of Lafayette, Indiana, will spend up to 30 years in prison.

At the hearing, Jacqueline McCollum, Gomez’s grandmother, fought back tears as she read her victim impact statement.

“I have cried almost daily through the entire ordeal,” she said.

“You have caused much heartache and pain to our family, Jessica and her children. I have had to try to explain for months why Jess is gone to her brother, who was 12 when she was taken from him.”

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Jacqueline McCollum, Jessica Gomez’s grandmother, reads her victim impact statement during Phillip Williams’ sentencing Monday in Webster County District Court. Williams admitted to choking Gomez in the summer of 2017 before her body was found in a ditch.

Gomez, of Fort Dodge, was 26 when she died. Her body was found in a roadside ditch along Indiana Avenue near Clare on Aug. 12, 2017.

Gomez’s sister, Clarrissa Halbur, said, “You took my best friend away.”

She added, “My daughter and unborn baby will never get to meet their Aunt Jess because you took her from us.”

Williams, the 26-year-old defendant, previously pleaded guilty to attempted murder, abuse of a human corpse, and accessory after the fact.

The sentences on each of those charges will be served consecutively.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Clarrissa Halbur, of Fort Dodge, the sister of Jessica Gomez, reads her impact statement in Webster County District Court Monday afternoon during the sentencing of Phillip Williams, of Lafayette, Indiana.

Attempted murder is a class B forcible felony. Abuse of a human corpse is a class D felony.

Williams will serve up to 25 years on the attempted murder conviction, and up to five years on the charge of abuse of a human corpse.

Judge Thomas Bice, of the 2nd Judicial District, sentenced Williams to the maximum periods of incarceration allowed by law on both counts.

Williams will not be eligible for parole or work release until he serves 70 percent of the maximum sentence for attempted murder, which amounts to 17 and a half years.

Accessory after the fact is an aggravated misdemeanor. That count carries a maximum two-year sentence and was addressed separately from Monday’s sentencing, in written form.

“Mr. Williams, the day of reckoning has arrived,” Bice said during the sentencing process. “This case, from this court’s perspective, has been most troubling. Frankly, we will have to wait for another day, but there are an awful lot of unanswered questions. But I am confident we will get to the bottom of this in time.”

Williams has been a member of the Vice Lords, a street gang, since he was 13, according to Bice.

He said Williams has had “an extensive history of substance abuse and violent criminal history.”

“Mr. Williams, this is serious business. We are talking about the loss of a life here. The way that body was disposed of is despicable. Total lack of respect for humanity itself and the basis of our very civilization. I have no sympathy for you, sir.”

In addition to the charges in Iowa, Williams also has an outstanding seven-year prison sentence in Indiana. He pleaded guilty to charges of robbery and being a habitual offender in 2018, shortly before he was extradited to Iowa to face the Gomez murder charge.

“The periods of incarceration shall run consecutive, in the state of Iowa, or any other state,” Bice said.

A no-contact order, directly or indirectly, is in place between Williams and Gomez’s immediate family. That no-contact order is active for the next five years.

Williams will be taken to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Oakdale.

He was represented by Public Defender Katherine Flickinger, of Nevada.

Flickinger said Williams suffered abuse as a child and was taken out of his home when he was 5.

“Mr. Williams understands this is troubling to the community and he has taken responsibility for what he did,” Flickinger said at the hearing.

She added, “We are hopeful the rehabilitation will help Mr. Williams become a better citizen.”

The case was prosecuted by Ryan Baldridge, first assistant Webster County attorney, and Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan.

“The state of Iowa, through the Webster County attorney’s office, is confident the outcome for defendant Williams is appropriate for what we believe to be his involvement in this case, especially considering the potential risks of taking a case to trial,” Baldridge said in a written statement following the hearing. “In making these decisions, we consider the likelihood of a conviction through trial, the strength of the state’s case and the risk of an acquittal inherent with all jury trials.”

Baldridge added, “It’s important to remember another individual is still facing charges for murder in the first degree for her involvement and that our office will take every step necessary to ensure she is held accountable. It’s also important for the public to know that Ms. Gomez’s family understands the purposes behind the agreement entered into relative to defendant Williams and supported our decision to enter into it. Due to the pending charges against Mackenzie Knigge, our office cannot comment further.”

Knigge, 27, will stand trial on June 10 in Story County.