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Diane Lynn MARSH





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 22, 2007
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1968
Victim profile: Brandon Williams, 5 (her autistic son)
Method of murder: Beating (blunt force trauma to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs)
Location: Pima County, Arizona, USA
Status: Convicted of negligent homicide and four counts of child abuse. Sentenced to 10 years in prison September 17, 2008
photo gallery

Judge: Autistic’s mom to serve 10 years for 'torture of her vulnerable child'

Judge to Marsh: ‘Torture,’ ‘his blood is on your hands’

By Sheryl Kornman -

September 19, 2008

Diane Lynn Marsh was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison for the March 2007 killing of her autistic son, Brandon Williams, 5.

Marsh sobbed through much of the sentencing by Judge Hector Campoy in Pima County Superior Court.

Campoy said Marsh must pay for the repeated “torture of her vulnerable child,” who looked to her for nurture and instead “must have been bewildered” by her actions.

The judge said he tried to imagine what the boy must have been thinking when he saw “the object of his love tie him down, allow him to be brutalized and to inflict a skull fracture.”

“You may be a good person to (fellow church members), but you were a horrible person to Brandon. You are responsible for his homicide.

“His blood is on your hands,” Campoy said.

Defense attorney Steve Sonenberg asked for compassion and for probation for Marsh on all charges, saying she is the one who suffers the most from Brandon’s death. A jury convicted her Aug. 4 of negligent homicide and four counts of child abuse in her son’s death. She was tried for first-degree murder and child abuse.

Sonenberg, pleading for leniency, said his client has “enormous community support from individuals who “know Diane better than we could determine over the course of this trial.”

Marsh, he said, was a “source of inspiration to others in her efforts to better her family,” whom her pastor describes as “always calm, gracious and quiet” and “a model of motherly love.”

Sonenberg said Marsh “regularly participated in all programming that was available to her. She’s not psychotic, she’s not immature, she’s not addicted to drugs. She was not in denial. She was seeking the services of the community.”

According to court records, Marsh stopped counseling and parenting classes and refused contact with Child Protective Services in 2006, took her son out of school in September 2006, and moved into a motel for a while with two homeless people. She also abused the boy over a period of six months, tying him up, scalding his feet and legs, and routinely giving him high doses of adult over-the-counter sleeping medication, according to records in the case.

A teary and angry Melvin Williams, Brandon’s father and Marsh’s ex-husband, asked the judge to sentence Marsh to prison for her crimes. He said he imagines his son wondering, “Why is my mom doing this to me? She’s supposed to protect me.”

Campoy told Marsh she is “in denial” if she believes her own testimony that she did nothing directly to harm her son. She blamed her co-defendant, Flower Tompson, who this week was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her part in the boy’s abuse and death.

Campoy said neither Marsh nor Tompson and her companion, Mark Lee Moss, a convicted child abuser, have told the truth.

He dismissed Marsh’s own teary plea for leniency, though he acknowledged her “genuine remorse.”

“I’m not the same person now that I was then,” she told the judge.

Campoy said the jury had showed her compassion enough, by finding her guilty of the lesser charge of negligent homicide, rather than first-degree murder. He also admonished her for not telling the court, even at sentencing, the truth about who killed Brandon.

Her recorded telephone conversations from jail showed no sorrow for Brandon, Campoy said, but talk about religion and casting out the devil.

She will get credit for 543 days served in the Pima County Jail.

In an interview after Thursday’s sentencing, Melvin Williams said that when he married Marsh in 1999, she was working full time as a medical secretary. She previously received a medical discharge from the Air Force after more than nine years of service.

He challenged the defense attorney’s assertion that cognitive issues made it difficult for Marsh to care for an autistic child.

She was smart enough, Williams said, to “test into the Air Force, smart enough to attend Pima Community College and work for five or six years as a medical secretary, and – as her own attorney said – smart enough to sell . . . cosmetics on the side.”

“After we got a divorce, she was OK for a while and then she just lost it,” he said. He last saw Brandon in September 2006.

Williams said he paid $488 a month in child support for his son and that, when Marsh invited Moss and Tompson to live with her, they survived on the child support and her Air Force disability payments.

“That’s how come she didn’t want to give him up,” he said referring to Marsh’s custody of Brandon. “It was the money.”

Williams said, however, he would have kept paying child support if Marsh had handed the boy over to him. “She could have the money, just give my son back to me, I don’t care.”

Williams said Marsh knew “she could bring Brandon to me or bring him to his grandmother.”

Glenda Jackson, a member of Marsh’s church, came to court in a wheelchair to show Marsh support during sentencing.

“She’s a good woman. She got involved with the wrong people,” Jackson said. “She needs therapy, not prison.”


Dad, grandma furious at no life terms in boy’s death

By Sheryl Kornman -

September 18, 2008

Who killed Brandon Williams?

Only Diane Lynn Marsh, the boy’s mother, and Flower Tompson, her friend, know and they’re not telling.

Neither Tompson, 28, nor Marsh, 40, admitted to inflicting the blow to the 5-year-old autistic boy’s skull that killed him on March 22, 2007. Tompson took a plea deal to testify against Marsh but never testified.

Hector Campoy, the Pima County Superior Court judge who presided over both women’s cases, said Tuesday he believes the boy died because one or both of them pushed Brandon’s head against a tile floor.

The most time either of them likely will spend in prison is 15 years.

Melvin Williams, Brandon’s father, and Mae West, the boy’s paternal grandmother, say they are furious that Marsh and Tompson won’t get more prison time.

Tompson and Marsh were each initially charged with first-degree murder. Tompson’s common-law husband, Mark Lee Moss, 48, was charged with four counts of failing to report child neglect.

Charges against Moss, a convicted child molester, according to California prison records, were dropped last year because there was not enough evidence to convict him and he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, David Berkman, the county’s chief criminal deputy county attorney, said Tuesday. Moss also refused to cooperate in the investigation without immunity from prosecution.

Tompson pleaded guilty to one charge of child abuse and was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison.

A jury convicted Marsh last month of negligent homicide and four counts of child abuse. Jurors were not made available to reporters to answer questions about why they found her guilty of the lesser charge.

Berkman said Marsh can’t be retried on the more serious first-degree murder charge because she can’t be tried twice for the same crime.

Marsh will be sentenced Thursday and faces five to 15 years in prison.

“Flower should get life, both of them,” paternal grandmother West said in a recent interview. “They tortured Brandon. They should get life.”

At Tompson’s sentencing Tuesday, Campoy said Tompson, Marsh and Moss are each responsible for what he called the “torture” and death of Brandon.

The judge gave Tompson the maximum number of years allowed in the plea deal. He wasn’t swayed by her claims of a rough childhood and “itinerant lifestyle” as sufficient reason to give her a lighter sentence.

The judge spotlighted instead “the extreme emotional and physical abuse Brandon had to suffer prior to his death, and the emotional harm and suffering by his family.”

“It’s extremely disturbing to see two women testify the other is more responsible,” he said.

Campoy said he didn’t believe Tompson’s assertion that she was manipulated by Marsh.

“The court rejects that,” he said, citing Marsh’s IQ of 70.

“You can’t be a master manipulator and have an IQ of 70,” Campoy said. “Ms. Marsh is a very malleable, very diffident and very conforming type of human being.”

The judge said the fact that Brandon was autistic “made the behavior of (Tompson) bewildering and terrifying” to the child. “She definitely had a hand in that terror that ultimately led to his death.”

Campoy also said he didn’t believe the defense attorney’s assertion that “she thought she would teach Diane to be a better mother and then things went terribly awry.”

According to prosecutors and the autopsy report, besides the head injury, Brandon’s feet had been scalded in hot water, he had numerous healing and healed wounds on his skin and he had been tied and suspended from a bed frame.

Tompson called 911 at about 11:30 p.m. on March 21, 2007, to report that the boy had stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a local hospital. Initially, it was said he died from a toxic dose of adult cold medication. But the autopsy showed recent skull fractures and brain bleeding sufficient to cause death.

Moss told detectives shortly after the death that he heard the child bang his head against the wall in his bedroom for 25 minutes and didn’t do anything to help him. He said he was watching TV, according to investigators.

He also told detectives that some weeks before, he changed the lock on the boy’s bedroom door so Brandon couldn’t open it from the inside.

Marsh testified at her trial that she met Tompson through a mutual friend in August 2006. By month’s end, Tompson had Marsh convinced she was involved in a satanic group that Marsh feared would kill Brandon, she said.

Tompson told Marsh “satanic groups had to kill a family member, persons who were true blood,” Marsh testified.

Within a couple of months of meeting Tompson, Marsh testified, she became estranged from everyone she knew, including a pastor she became convinced was part of the satanic group.

Campoy said he didn’t believe any of the testimony at Marsh’s trial that witchcraft and the occult were somehow at fault in the boy’s death. He said Marsh made up that defense as the case went on.

Marsh had a history of child neglect before Brandon was born, according to Child Protective Services, and had lost custody of her two older boys after he was born. Agency staffers had been working since 1995 with Marsh to improve her parenting skills.

That’s when she was found guilty of misdemeanor child neglect of the two older boys, then ages 4 and 5. Marsh, who was a senior airman at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, was referred to D-M’s Family Advocacy Program and she retained custody of the children.

In 2005 and 2006, CPS placed her two older sons in foster care after one child was accused of assaulting Brandon and Melvin Williams was charged with choking one of the teen boys. He received four years probation.

Marsh was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic pain and depression and became unable to work.

Melvin Williams said in a recent interview he would have taken his son if he knew Marsh didn’t want him and was abusing him, but he didn’t know. After Marsh’s house burned down in 2006, he lost contact with her.

Williams and Marsh divorced when Brandon was 2 years old. Marsh had physical custody and Williams saw the child on weekends.

In December 2006, court documents show, Marsh’s CPS supervisor knew Marsh was no longer cooperating with the agency. A juvenile court judge, out of concern for his welfare, demanded the agency find Brandon immediately. Agency workers failed to locate the family after a handful of tries.

But a week before Brandon died, a sheriff’s deputy investigating a missing person report by Marsh’s father, who had come to town looking for her after not hearing from her for weeks, found the family the same day. The deputy saw Brandon and interviewed Marsh.

The deputy left the child with Marsh but wrote a report of the visit, asking for CPS to follow up on the boy’s bandaged feet.

The report was sent by regular mail; Brandon was dead before it arrived.

West said both women eventually will face their final judgment.

“God knows who did it,” West said. “They still got their day set with the Lord. God will have a talk with them. God is looking down on them right now. They’re gonna suffer. Lord ain’t let you do something like that.”

West often cared for Brandon on weekends with his father.

West said when Brandon had “his routine and his medication, he was calm.”

“He loved to go to school,” she said, though he did act up sometimes because of his autism and she’d get a call from the school.

“His teacher called me and I came to pick him up,” she said. “I’d tell him, “You need to listen to the teacher.’

“He said, “OK, Grandma Mae.’ All you had to do was talk to him,” she said, covering her face with a tissue as she began to cry. “He was a very intelligent boy.”

Melvin Williams said his son “didn’t bang his head enough to kill himself.”

He said Marsh called him from jail shortly after her arrest and took responsibility for the death.

“She said ‘I’m sorry.’ She said she couldn’t give me the details,” he said.


Mom of slain boy, 5, guilty of abuse, negligent homicide

By A.J. Flick -

August 5, 2008

A Pima County jury Monday found Diane Lynn Marsh guilty of negligent homicide in the death of her autistic 5-year-old son, Brandon Williams.

She also was convicted of four counts of child abuse.

Deputy County Attorney Shawn Jensvold said Monday prosecutors will study whether Marsh can be retried for felony first-degree murder.

Jurors didn’t indicate on verdict forms that they found Marsh not guilty of felony first-degree murder, but instead found her guilty of the lesser negligent homicide charge on a second-degree murder form.

Jurors indicated on the fourth child abuse count that they found the state had proved Marsh guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of giving her son too much adult sleep medicine in March 2007, but hadn’t proved she caused the head injury that precipitated his death.

If sentenced on the convictions as they stand, Jensvold said Marsh could get up to 11.5 years in prison or lifetime on probation.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Hector Campoy set a status conference for Aug. 26.

Marsh, 41, testified Thursday that every bad act that happened to her son – being tied to his bedposts, having his feet scalded in hot water and dying from a blow to the head – was the result of her housemate Flower Tompson’s power over her.

Jensvold told jurors in his closing argument that Marsh “probably snapped” because she wasn’t taking her medications for depression and wasn’t giving Brandon his, which caused him to be more hyperactive than usual.

Jensvold labeled as a smoke screen testimony by Marsh regarding Marsh’s fear of a murderous satanic cult that was supposedly after her and her son.

Tompson, 28, who didn’t testify, was indicted on first-degree murder and child abuse charges, and agreed to plead guilty to child abuse. She faces five to 15 years in prison when she is sentenced Sept. 2.

This case and an unrelated one involving two Tucson siblings were the focal point of an investigation into whether state Child Protective Services could have prevented injury and death to the children.


Mom blames housemate, fear of satanic cult for son’s death

Autistic boy tied up, scalded, struck on head

By A.J. Flick -

August 1, 2008

Diane Lynn Marsh, a Tucson woman accused of abusing and killing her 5-year-old autistic son, isn’t to blame for Brandon Williams’ death in March 2007, her defense attorney says.

“She loved her son,” Pima County Assistant Public Defender Steve Sonenberg said in his closing argument Thursday.

“She was a victim herself of mind control,” Sonenberg said.

The jury received instructions Thursday and was to start deliberations Friday.

Marsh, 41, testified earlier Thursday that every bad act that happened to her son – being tied to his bedposts, having his feet scalded in hot water and dying from a blow to the head – was the result of her housemate Flower Tompson’s power over her.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Shawn Jensvold told jurors in his closing argument that Marsh “probably snapped” because she wasn’t taking her medications for depression and wasn’t giving Brandon his, which caused him to be more hyperactive than usual.

“She clearly loved her son,” Jensvold said. “A mother is supposed to love her son.

“Loving people do bad things when the circumstances get tough,” Jensvold said.

Jensvold labeled as a smokescreen testimony by Marsh regarding Marsh’s fear of a murderous satanic cult that was supposedly after her and her son.

“The defense and anything else Miss Marsh said to minimize her behavior is not a defense. They’re excuses,” Jensvold said.

“There’s no excuse for tying a boy to a bed frame, whether it’s to get out the satanic influences or teach him a lesson, or put a child in scalding water until the skin on his feet peel off. And it’s certainly no excuse for pushing a child down on a tile floor and killing him,” Jensvold said.

Marsh is accused of first-degree murder and four counts of child abuse in the death of her son.

Brandon was taken to a hospital March 22, 2007, where he died of blunt force trauma to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs, according to an autopsy report.

Tompson, 28, who didn’t testify, was indicted on first-degree murder and child abuse charges, but agreed to plead guilty to child abuse. She faces five to 15 years in prison when she is sentenced Sept. 2.

Marsh testified she met Tompson through a mutual friend in August 2006. By month’s end, Tompson had Marsh convinced she was involved in a satanic group that Marsh feared would kill Brandon, she said.

Tompson told Marsh “satanic groups had to kill a family member, persons who were true blood” Marsh testified.

Within a couple of months of meeting Tompson, Marsh testified, she became estranged from everyone she knew, including a pastor she was convinced was part of the satanic group.

At one point, Marsh testified, she and Tompson took a three-day trip to New Mexico, Colorado and Utah in search of “high priests” whose license plate numbers they would give to a mysterious juvenile probation officer in Tucson who would have them arrested.

Marsh never met the probation officer, saying she just heard about him through Tompson.

Marsh testified she told friends she feared Brandon would be killed by the satanic group.

“I was told Brandon was worth $3.4 million dead,” Marsh said. “The groups wanted to kill him.”

“Groups?” Sonenberg asked.

“(For a) sacrifice,” Marsh said.

“Did you believe that?”

“Yes,” she said.

In late February or early March last year, Tompson told Marsh to stick Brandon’s feet in hot water to teach him a lesson about disrespecting her, Marsh said.

Brandon began crying and Marsh took his feet out, she said.

“Flower said, ‘Get out of the way, I will show you how to do it.’ She picked him up and stuck him in there,” Marsh said.

Brandon was screaming and thrashing for several minutes while the skin burned from the bottom of his feet, Marsh testified.

“I just stood there frozen,” Marsh said.

This case and an unrelated case involving two Tucson siblings were the focal point of an investigation into whether Child Protective Services could have prevented the children’s injuries or deaths.

In the other case, Christopher Mathew Payne, 30, and his live-in girlfriend, Reina Irene Gonzales, 24, are charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Payne’s children, Ariana, 4, and Tyler, 5. Payne and Gonzales could face the death penalty if convicted.

Prosecutors aren’t seeking death if Marsh is convicted. If she is convicted of first-degree murder, she faces either life in prison without parole or with parole possible after 25 years.


M.D.: Body of autistic 5-year-old covered in bruises

By Sheryl Kornman -

May 25, 2007

The body of a 5-year-old autistic boy who died March 22 was covered in bruises and more than two dozen white marks on his skin that may have been old injuries, Pima County Medical Examiner Bruce Parks said Thursday.

Parks was asked to explain some of the findings of Dr. David C. Winston, who performed the autopsy March 23.

Brandon Williams’ body showed more than 30 flat skin lesions on his shins, feet, the bend of his arms, his neck, forehead, upper arms and elsewhere.

The marks, hypopigmented macules, were meticulously measured and noted in Winston’s autopsy report.

Parks said the lesions are areas of “abnormal skin” that may be the site of earlier healing.

What caused them? “That’s the big question,” he said. “If (Dr. Winston) knew the cause, he would have said so.”

Causes of bruises on the boy’s forearms and bends of his arms at the elbow could include “pressure by a ropelike object,” Parks said. “I’m not saying that’s what caused it.”

Clothesline rope was among the items taken from the boy’s home by investigators executing a search warrant, Sheriff’s Department records state.

Brandon’s mother, Diane Marsh, 39, and Flower Tompson, 27, who lived in Marsh’s home, have been charged with first-degree murder and child abuse.

Winston declared Brandon’s death a homicide and the result of blunt force trauma to the head, which fractured the back of his skull and caused his brain to bleed, according to the autopsy report released Wednesday.

Initial police reports stated the suspected cause of death was an overdose of adult cold medication.

The autopsy report did show several drugs in Brandon’s system, including five times the maximum therapeutic level of Benadryl, an antihistamine that can also act as a sedative.

How the child died will be discussed at trial, Parks said.

Marsh told investigators she tied him up to discipline him, according to sheriff’s reports.

She also told investigators she put the boy’s feet in scalding water. However, the autopsy report does not note burn injuries to the feet.

Parks said “if there were obvious signs of burns that would have been noted.”

Mae West, Brandon’s paternal grandmother, said Thursday she was “shocked” to learn the boy died from a skull fracture.

“It’s so sad. I can’t believe it,” she said in an interview. “No kid deserves that.”

West said Diane Marsh, her former daughter-in-law, had always taken good care of Brandon.

“When I knew her, she didn’t do that crazy stuff.”

She said she, Brandon’s father, Melvin Williams, and his uncle, Paul West, last saw Brandon in September 2006.

Liz Barker Alvarez, the state’s spokeswoman for Child Protective Services, said she could not comment directly on the autopsy report.

“Any person who heard a child had been injured that way would be horrified and sad,” she said Thursday.

She said the agency did not have an open case file on the boy at the time of his death.

However, a Pima County sheriff’s deputy investigating Brandon’s death wrote in a report that a CPS investigator told him on March 22 that the agency had an “open” case file on Brandon’s family as of Oct. 31.

Barker Alvarez was asked on Thursday to provide a summary of CPS involvement with the boy. State law says summaries must be provided after a child’s death if requested.

Barker Alvarez denied the request, saying the Pima County Attorney’s office asked CPS not to release the summary. But Rick Unklesbay, chief trial counsel in the Pima County Attorney’s Office, said the county attorney has “no legal authority over CPS.”

He said the county attorney’s office wrote to CPS asking it not to release information that “would be detrimental to the prosecution of the (Brandon Williams murder) case.”

Barker Alvarez said Thursday she could not disclose why a CPS investigator tried to visit Marsh’s home in October 2006 after Brandon failed to show up for school for eight days.

The investigator said she saw the boy’s mother driving away from the family home and she lost the vehicle in traffic, according to a sheriff’s investigator’s report.

Barker Alvarez said Thursday the investigator asked both the sheriff’s department and Tucson police for help in tracking the vehicle.

A March sheriff’s report, however, states that the CPS investigator said she contacted only the sheriff’s office and that deputies lost the vehicle in traffic once it entered Tucson police jurisdiction. Barker Alvarez said the attempt to see the boy in October was not the only one, that CPS investigators had made “numerous” attempts in the fall of last year to contact Marsh.

A week before Brandon died, a sheriff’s deputy responding to a 911 call from Marsh’s father, Donald Marsh, and a family friend, who were concerned about Marsh’s and the boy’s welfare because they hadn’t seen them for weeks, contacted Marsh and Brandon at their Northwest Side home.

The deputy saw the boy wrapped with cloth bandages around the legs and noted Marsh appeared “nervous,” according to her report.

Marsh told the deputy he fell on cactus, the report said. The deputy wrote that Marsh and Brandon appeared well fed and well rested and she closed the “welfare check” case.


Authorities: Dead boy was heavily medicated, showed signs of being tied up

By David L. Teibel -

March 22, 2007

At the time of his death, 5-year-old Brandon Williams had marks on his wrists and ankles, “ligature marks” showing he had been tied up a times, said Sheriff’s Bureau Chief Richard Kastigar, head of investigations for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

The boy had blisters on his feet and some bleeding, Kastigar said.

Brandon’s mother Diane Marsh, 39, who was arrested this morning on suspicion of first-degree murder, told detectives she had bound her son and at times immersed his feet “in scalding hot water” to discipline him, Kastigar said.

She also told detectives she gave him large amounts of sleep-inducing pain medication, five or six adult strength pills in the morning and a similar dose at night, Kastigar said.

But on the night Brandon died, Kastigar said, Marsh told detectives she had given Brandon some cold medicine and 12 Tylenol PM pills, all at one time, around 7 p.m. Wednesday.

When medics were called to the home, they found the boy unresponsive and in full cardiac arrest, Kastigar said. They tried to resuscitate the boy while rushing him to Northwest Medical Center.

A forensic pathologist called to the hospital after Brandon died said the medications the boy was given would be an overdose amount for a child, Kastigar said.

Marsh’s live-in friend, Flower Tompson, told detectives that at times she helped “medicate” the boy and that she also had seen Brandon’s mother beat him at times with a clothing hanger, Kastigar said.

Tompson’s common-law husband, Mark Lee Moss, Kastigar said, is not suspected of abusing the child, but he never reported the abuse he witnessed, as required by law.

Tompson told detectives she never reported the abuse because she and Moss had been homeless and were taken in by Marsh. Tompson said she didn’t want to do anything that would endanger her and Moss’s living arrangement with Marsh, Kastigar said.

Marsh has two other sons, one 17 and the other 15, who have been removed from her custody by state Child Protective Services, Kastigar said.

That stemmed from an incident at another home Marsh and her children lived at in the 1000 block of West Wheatridge Drive.

In that Aug. 29 incident deputies were called to the home and found that the older son, who then was 16, had grabbed Brandon by the face. The older boy was arrested on suspicion of assaulting Brandon, Kastigar said.

The Wheatridge Drive home caught fire in December and an insurance company placed Marsh and Brandon in the Silver Stream Way home until the burned home could be repaired, Kastigar said. He said the fire was not of suspicious origin.



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