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First-degree murder charge filed in Columbia killing


A Columbia man faces a capital murder charge after a woman found shot Friday in the neck next to a truck died.

John L. Williamson III, 27, of Columbia was charged Saturday with first-degree murder, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon. First-degree murder is punishable by death in Missouri but it isn't yet clear whether prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.

Williamson is accused of killing Azairah Brownlee, 27, of Columbia. She was found lying on the ground Friday night with a gunshot wound to the neck, according to a probable cause statement. Police wrote that a witness to the shooting on Typhoon Court had tried to stanch the bleeding by applying pressure with a cloth.

Officers tried to save Brownlee but she died at the hospital, the Columbia Police Department said Saturday.

A witness told police that Williamson was Brownlee's ex-boyfriend, according to the statement. Williamson jumped into the bed of the truck that Brownlee and the witness were sitting in and began yelling, the statement says.

Brownlee got out and she and Williamson fell to the ground during a struggle, the witness allegedly told officers. The witness heard a gunshot then Williamson told the witness that he had shot Brownlee dead, according to the statement.

Williamson tried to conceal his phone calls after he left the murder scene and then turned his phone off, police say. Video evidence from the scene corroborated the witness' story, the probable cause statement says.

The Columbia Police Department's patrol officers and Street Crimes Unit found Williamson and arrested him Saturday. Police said Monday that a large police presence outside an apartment building in southwest Columbia was related to the investigation.

They have not said that the incident was related to Williamson's arrest.

A hearing hadn't been set as of Monday morning. Williamson did not appear on the Boone County Jail's inmate roster Monday morning. The court ordered him held without bond.

Boone County Sheriff's Capt. Brian Leer said Williamson had not been booked into jail.

Williamson has been free on bond since summer on allegations of stealing a gun and having drugs.

Williamson was charged in February with stealing a gun and drug possession. He was charged with in 2021 with unlawful use of a weapon for shooting at or from a vehicle, according to Case Net, in relation to an incident from 2020. He was also charged with third-degree domestic assault in 2015 and served 180 days in jail.

Other charges include driving while revoked and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia.

ABC 17 News spoke with Boone County prosecutor Roger Johnson, and he said that it is too early in the case to decide whether or not to pursue the death penalty.

Article Topic Follows: Crime

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.

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