Dent Williams was an attorney and the brother of Augusta and Nell Williams, who, along with a friend, were attacked while driving down Leeds Highway after a matinee on Sunday August 4, 1931. Augusta was shot in the abdomen and died. Nell suffered a wound to the arm but survived.
Weeks after being unable to identify any of the numerous suspects brought in for line-ups, Dent and Nell were walking downtown when she suddenly pointed out a man on the street, Willie Peterson. Dent detained the man at gunpoint until police took him into custody.
Serious doubts were raised about the accuracy of Nells identification. Her description of the killer didn't match Jennie Wood's, who died in the hospital. Peterson was seriously ill from tuberculosis and under a doctor's care at the time of the attack. Before the trial, members of the Williams family requested a private meeting with the prisoner in hopes of sparing Nell the ordeal of a trial.
Before the meeting, prison officials searched the Williams men, relieving Dent of a revolver. He had a second gun secreted away, though, and managed to fire three rounds into Peterson before the gun was taken away. Peterson recovered and, after a mistrial, was convicted in his second hearing, receiving a death sentence.
Dent was acquitted of attempted murder. Peterson later had his sentence commuted by Governor Benjamin M. Miller. He died in Kilby Prison of tuberculosis in 1940.
- Jones, Pam. (Winter 2006) "Alabama Mysteries: Williams/Wood Murders". Alabama Heritage.