Woman fights land seizure

Published 10:21 pm Monday, September 28, 2009

MONTGOMERY — A Chilton County woman is fighting to keep her home from being seized by the federal government.

Federal prosecutors are trying to take Mara Lynn Williams’ house and 40 acres of land in connection with a marijuana case against her husband, Royce, who committed suicide during his trial.

Williams, 56, is a cancer survivor and said she knew her husband used marijuana for chronic pain after multiple surgeries, but she said she did not know her was growing it on their property. She was not charged in the criminal case.

Royce Williams was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot in a car in May as a jury was deliberating the drug charges against him.

Mara Lynn Williams said it is wrong for federal agents to seek to take her home, which she and her husband built, and about 40 acres that have been in his family for generations.

“It is not morally right. My husband has paid with his life. What else do they want?” Williams told the Montgomery Advertiser in a story Sunday.

Asset Forfeiture Coordinator Tommie Brown Hardwick said it is standard procedure for the U.S. attorney’s office to seize property that is believed to have been used to contribute to a crime.

“(Williams’) death, which ended the criminal case, had no effect on the ongoing civil case,” said Hardwick.

“The bottom line is, we don’t want people to benefit from criminal activity,” Hardwick said.

Trial in the forfeiture case is set for early next year.

Williams’ attorney, David Karn of Clanton, said the government will have to show that Mara Lynn Williams took part in the drug operation.

Otherwise, she is protected by what is known as the “innocent spouse” rule, he said.

Karn could not be reached by Clanton Advertiser staff for comment Monday.

But he told The Mongtomery Advertiser a civil forfeiture case “is an uphill battle from any landowner’s perspective.”

Alabama Bureau of Investigation agents discovered the marijuana while flying over it in a helicopter.

The Montgomery Advertiser said court records show that 408 marijuana plants were found on the property behind a school bus a couple of hundred yards from the house.

Authorities seized 10 firearms, $18,400 in cash, vehicles, computers and other belongings.

Williams said several of the vehicles were returned and that she does not want the guns back, though one belonged to her father. She said her husband liked to keep cash handy and had expected to be out of construction work.

Mara Lynn Williams said she was diagnosed in 2003 with breast cancer that subsequently spread to her liver, lungs and bone, but is now in remission.

“It has been in remission before, so I know it will be back,” she said.