Louis Williams II is frantic, speeding toward Wednesday morning when, he fears, a great error could occur in court.
His ex-girlfriend is expected to plead guilty in the death of their daughter, Skylar, a 1-year-old who died of the summer heat in a car while the mother was getting her hair done at a DeKalb County salon last June 15. The father said the prosecutor told him Dijanelle “DJ” Fowler will likely get 13 years in prison and seven years on parole, a sentence that could make her eligible for parole well before 13 years if she behaves.
That would be far too short for Williams. Williams doesn't have an alternative sentence in mind, but he thinks the one proposed is simply not long enough and won’t send a strong enough message to other parents about the consequences of neglect.
“She baked my daughter,” the Air Force reservist, 26, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday.
Judge Linda Hunter could, of course, divert from that as she sees fit. The most serious crime 25-year-old Fowler faces, second-degree murder, carries a penalty from 1 to 30 years.
Police have said Fowler, who was in the process of relocating to Atlanta from South Carolina, told them she left the air conditioning running in the car and emerged more than five hours later to find the battery dead, with Skylar too far gone.
Fowler's attorney, Charles Brant, said she intends to accept responsibility in court.
“She’ll pay for this mistake in more ways than most people will ever appreciate," Brant said Tuesday.
He said he isn't concerned with Williams’ opinion of the sentence, because he claims Williams wasn’t as present in the child’s life as he should’ve been and didn’t assist with finances. “Why do we care about what he thinks when he never participated?”
Williams, as well as his mother, Mishica Stephans, disputed any notion that he wasn't a loving and helpful father. He was deployed in the Middle East a few months after Skylar’s birth but said he kept in touch remotely and was driven to succeed to make a better life for the child.
Williams and Fowler had had trouble even before Skylar was born and decided they would never work together.
But they wanted to “co-parent.”
Williams said he recalls Fowler as sometimes overcome by the stresses of life, someone who made bad decisions, though never on the level of what happened with Skylar. He actually remembers her fussing at him one day for leaving Skylar asleep in a car, even though he was standing right there, keeping watch.
“That’s the type of mother she was. Very good to Skylar. Very protective,” he said.
“But,” he went on, “that doesn’t mean she’s incapable. One thing I’ve learned is, a human is capable of anything, given the right situation. At the right time, anybody can be capable of anything. And I don’t know what it was that triggered this, but it was a bad decision.”
He knows that the police have said from the beginning that the child’s death was an accident, but the word “accident” feels like an insult to Skylar.
She was a joyful little girl with “Chia Pet” hair, he said, and a “John Gotti” scowl if you crossed her. Even after all that’s happened, you can mention her name and watch him break into an uncontrollable smile and stare off into space, or at the carpet, remembering, as his eyes grow wide and wet. He’s not crying. He’s close.
“People do accidents all the time. But this?” he said, incredulously.
He’s not saying he believes Fowler meant to kill the child. But he is troubled because, as police have said, Fowler gave conflicting accounts of what happened.
Her attorney has argued that she was hospitalized for a seizure during some of those statements, which meant she was medicated, in addition to being traumatized by the death of her child.
Williams carries the pain too and tries to keep it stifled. He has duties in the Air Force reserve once a month and has a day job giving estimates for a construction firm. He goes out with friends and puts on a show, laughing and everything, then he goes home to a house with a bookshelf, a desk, a bed and rooms full of space he fears he might never fill.