Teen indicted in slaying of Lowndes County Sheriff 'Big John' Williams

William Chase Johnson indicted in slaying of Lowndes County Sheriff 'Big John' Williams

Marty Roney
Montgomery Advertiser

HAYNEVILLE — William Chase Johnson has been indicted on capital murder charges in the line of duty slaying of Lowndes County Sheriff "Big John" Williams.

Court records show Johnson has been indicted by the Lowndes County Grand Jury. The panel met this week in Hayneville

Williams was shot and killed the night of Nov. 23, 2019, while trying to disperse a large crowd playing loud music at the QV Convenience Store in downtown Hayneville. The store is just across the street from the courthouse that now bares Williams' name and is about two blocks away from the popular lawman's home.

William Chase Johnson is suspected of shooting Lowndes County Sheriff "Big John" Williams.

Johnson, 19, of Montgomery, being held under no bond in the Elmore County Jail. No bond is common on a capital case. He is the son of a Montgomery County Sheriff's Office deputy.

Capital murder is the most severe charge the state can bring. Upon conviction the only sentencing options are the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. There is gag order in the case, barring attorneys and participants from commenting outside of court proceedings or court filings.

Williams, who was 62 at the time of his death, spent more than 40 years serving his community. He started out as a reserve deputy in 1978 under then-Sheriff John Hulett. Then it was three years at Hayneville PD before going back to the sheriff’s office as a “road deputy.” He worked his way up to chief deputy and was elected sheriff in 2010.

If there is one word that describes Williams, from Black or white, young or old, outlaw or deacon, it’s respect. Williams, the son of sharecroppers, transcended race and class in a region where that can be difficult at times.

“You respected Big John because he deserved it,” Earl Goodwin, a Lowndes County native said, recently for a story about the one year anniversary of Williams' death.  At the time Goodwin was shopping at the Associated Grocers in Hayneville. Goodwin, a retired truck driver and now cattleman lives near Letohatchee. “He was the sheriff in every way. He was fair, but he didn’t allow any foolishness. He kept a lid on things here just on the force of his personality.

“He was a good man, a fair man.”

Williams got his moniker from his towering height. Some say he stood 6 feet 6 inches tall. Others say it was more like 6 feet 4 inches. Either way, he was a man who took on the role of a mythic figure.

Prosecution in the Williams case is being handled by Charlotte Tesmer's office, she's the district attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit which includes Lowndes, Butler and Crenshaw counties. Her office is being assisted by the Alabama Attorney General's Office.

Retired Escambia County Circuit Judge Bert Rice has been appointed to preside in the case, after local judges recused themselves

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Marty Roney at mroney@gannett.com.