IM this article to a friend!

July 2, 2004

Stepfather gets 30-year sentence

From: San Antonio Express, TX - Jul 2, 2004

Tom Bower
Express-News Staff Writer

It took jurors more time to decide Duane Wilson's punishment than it did to find him guilty of murder in the strangulation of his stepdaughter.

When it was over, the 45-year-old civil servant was sentenced to 30 years behind bars in the death of Trishawn Fifer on Dec. 26, 2002.

After eight hours of deliberation, the jury of eight women and four men found Wilson guilty Wednesday afternoon of slaying of his deaf stepdaughter.

Late Thursday, after nine hours of deliberation and after hearing from six additional witnesses, they issued a sentence that could see Wilson released from prison before his 61st birthday.

Jessica Byars, Trishawn's aunt from Dallas who has been acting as the spokeswoman for the victim's family, said she was not disappointed by the sentence.

"Justice was served here. He will be confined to prison," Byars said by phone after the trial.

After the sentence was pronounced, the judge allowed members of the victim's family to speak directly to Wilson, and Byars used the opportunity to question why Wilson would have done such a thing.

"Why did you take Trishawn away from us?" Byars said to Wilson. "We did everything as a family and you took her away from us!"

Afterward, Byars acknowledged she saw some irony in the jury's sentence. Trishawn would have been 30 on Tuesday.

The earliest Wilson will be eligible for parole is in 15 years.

"It's not a light sentence," said Phil Bozzo, Wilson's defense counsel. "He would be eligible for parole when he is 60 years old. At that age, he would still be able to lead a productive life."

Wilson could have been sentenced to life in prison.

"I think we showed the jury that Duane was a candidate for a lesser sentence. I think that they struggled with this. He is a good, productive member of society," Bozzo said. "I believe that the jury believed that what he did was an aberration."

In the seven-day trial before 399th District Judge Juanita Vasquez-Gardner, prosecutors Christina Playton and Chris De Martino brought forward witnesses who testified that Wilson's motive for killing his 28-year-old stepdaughter was to get back at his estranged wife, Marilyn, who had left him just before Thanksgiving of that year.

The murder has torn apart the family. Duane and Marilyn were married more than 20 years before they divorced last year.

Each of them had a child before they married, and the marriage produced two children. In addition, testimony showed Wilson had a fourth biological child by another woman.

De Andra Wilson, the defendant's oldest child by Marilyn, said she grew up as Trishawn's younger sister and best friend.

"I knew sign language before I could speak English," De Andra Wilson said. "I have lost a sister, and now I have lost my father. It could have been a lot worse, but I think the worst thing was what (Byars) said. She didn't even know my sister."

© 2004 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News. All rights reserved.