JURY FINDS WILLIAMS GUILTY OF LONCZAK'S MURDER

JOHN CAHER Staff writer
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Saturday, May 20, 1995

ALBANY Jeffrey D. Williams may have been hanged by his own necklace.


``It's not the luckiest charm Jeffrey ever acquired,'' prosecutor Paul A. Clyne wryly remarked after a weird piece of jewelry linked the defendant to a vicious murder.


Williams, who beat a murder rap six years ago and has been a suspect in several abductions and killings, was found guilty Friday of murdering 18-year-old Karolyn Lonczak, a college student he hunted and killed, apparently for fun. There is no suggestion that Williams' and Lonczak's paths had ever crossed before the fateful night of Jan. 23-24, 1988.


Lonczak, a Hudson Valley Community College student working an overnight shift at a Cohoes group home, was strangled and then repeatedly stabbed before her remains were dumped near the northwestern end of the Tomhannock Reservoir a place where Williams rode his minibike as a kid in rural Rensselaer County. It took six weeks to find her body, and six years before authorities could get an indictment.


Clyne and defense attorney Terence L. Kindlon agreed that the luckiest charm for the prosecution was a medallion a macabre depiction of a spider consuming a red-eyed human skull that was found at Residential Opportunities Inc., where Lonczak worked and was last seen alive. Several witnesses placed the medallion, apparently lost during a struggle with Lonczak, around Williams' neck.


Aside from the medallion, all Clyne had to work with was the word of snitches, criminals who bought plea bargains by selling their story of Williams' alleged jailhouse confession, and two highway workers. The highway workers testified that they saw Williams at the precise spot where Lonczak's body was eventually discovered, but their original description of the perpetrator didn't fit the suspect.


Friday's verdict Williams was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree kidnapping could bring to an end the lengthy criminal career of a man authorities suspect is a serial killer.


It also brings to a close the torment of a closely knit family who, together, endured Lonczak's disappearance, the eventual discovery of her body, the years during which no one was arrested for the crime and, finally, a trial in which the facts of the brutal slaying were vividly and painfully displayed in a public forum.


``None of this is going to bring Karolyn back,'' the victim's mother, Mary Ann Lonczak, said tearfully. ``But we know that he is not going to hurt anyone else and no one else is going to have to go through this. She was a loving, caring individual; she was our daughter.''


Mary Ann Lonczak said the family is grateful that her daughter's remains were found, although it took six weeks.


Another abduction victim, Karen Wilson, a University at Albany student who disappeared in 1985, is still missing. Some officials suspect Williams was involved in that case, although they admit there is no evidence.


``At least this way we know, we know where she is,'' Mary Ann Lonczak said. ``We know now that she is happy.''


Lonczak's father, former Lansingburgh school board President Edward Lonczak, praised the police agencies and District Attorney Sol Greenberg's office, which worked closely to build a case brick by brick. He also speaks fondly of Residential Opportunities Inc., even though that is probably where his daughter was killed.


``She just wanted to help people,'' Edward Lonczak said. ``She loved working at ROI. ROI made her the kind of person she was also. They contributed to bringing her out and making her a special person. They worked well together, Karolyn and ROI. It's so sad.''


If the snitches can be believed, Williams, who lived about two blocks from ROI, had his eye on ROI because he knew women worked there alone at night.


On the night of Jan. 23-24, 1988, Williams knocked on the door and forced his way in when Lonczak responded. He brandished a knife, initially said he just wanted a television and then demanded sex, according to the informers' recitation of Williams' jailhouse tale. However, Williams was too excited to perform sexually, so he killed her, they said.


Williams, now a four-time felony loser, claimed that he was framed by the State Police, particularly Investigator James Horton, the detective who spent years tracking the suspect. Officials have said Williams attracted the attention of police because he has an uncanny tendency to be in the vicinity of abductions and murders. In 1989, he was acquitted of charges that he murdered Rose Tullao, a neighbor in Troy, and then raped her corpse.


But this jury obviously didn't believe Williams' story and the convict is facing 25 years to life and possibly twice that when he is sentenced June 30 by Albany County Judge Thomas A. Breslin. The murder convictions, one for intentional homicide and the other for causing a death while committing another felony, run concurrently. But officials said the kidnapping count could run consecutively.


The panel deliberated about nine hours over two days and elicited two distinct gasps from either side of the courtroom when the verdict was announced: Lonczak's family cried in relief; Williams' family cried in pain.


Clyne, a low-key, matter-of-fact assistant district attorney who rarely gets rattled, seemed unusually tense and worried during this trial, a case to which he had devoted months of labor. Clyne knew the case was far from airtight, but said he had no question that Williams is a predatory killer of at least one woman. If Clyne had lost, Williams would have walked.


``It was the most complicated and challenging case because, in a case such as this, little things mean a lot,'' Clyne said, referring to the medallion and other seemingly small pieces of evidence. ``It was emotionally draining because it is one thing to be an advocate for a cause, and another to be an advocate for a family who has suffered through what this family has gone through.''


Kindlon, appearing drained after resenting an aggressive defense, said he was ``not shocked'' by the verdict. ``My instincts were that the jury would find against us,'' he said solemnly.


Kindlon took a gamble by laying out the defendant's extensive criminal record before the jury in an effort to show why Williams was a favorite and convenient suspect for the State Police.


But if he had to do the case over, Kindlon said he'd do it exactly the same. And he's hoping to get that chance. He said he would appeal the conviction on multiple grounds. He disputes several evidentiary decisions by Breslin and also claims to have new evidence, which emerged during deliberations, that could suggest someone else, one of Lonczak's co-workers, committed the crime.