Remains likely those of missing Florida mom, sheriff says

Police: Ex-husband confesses to killing missing woman
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Story highlights

  • Investigators discover body tissue and "items of interest"
  • Williams could violate the plea deal if not all remains are found

(CNN)Tricia Todd's family is finally getting some closure.

The Florida mother has been missing since April 26, when she was last seen in a grocery store near her Hobe Sound home.
    Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said Friday that he believes remains found buried in a buried container filled with a corrosive liquid belong to Todd, though confirmation from the medical examiner will probably take several weeks.
    Steven Williams faces 35 years in prison.
    Todd's ex-husband, Steven Williams, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder, Snyder said Thursday. He confessed to killing his ex-wife during an argument over finances.
    Under the terms of a plea agreement, Snyder said, Williams, an Air Force staff sergeant, will spend 35 years in prison.

    Williams led authorities to the body

    Williams allegedly told authorities that Todd was buried in a shallow grave in a remote part of Hobe Sound's Hungryland State Preserve. Williams, along with his public defender, led law enforcement officials to the area.
    Investigators at the scene have so far discovered small remnants of body tissue and some "items of interest" at small burn sites, Snyder said, but "none of the significant missing parts."
    He said investigators are "trying to understand how much damage the acid would do, how much of the missing body parts and bones should be completely gone" by sitting in acid for so long. He said they are consulting homicide units throughout Florida "that have experience (with the disposal of) bodies with acid, and we'll see what we get."
    If it turns out that Williams did not lead authorities to all of his wife's remains, that would violate the terms of the plea deal, Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl told CNN.

    Bound by the plea deal

    Under law, however, Williams cannot be charged with a higher offense if he violates the agreement, Bakkedahl said. The only thing that could change is his sentence.
    "His term of years of 35 years is conditional upon him taking us to the body and the remains of Tricia," Bakkedahl said. "And if all of the remains are not present at the location to which he directed us, then it's our position ... that the court would be free to sentence the defendant up to and including life in prison," which is the statutory maximum in Florida.
    Such a change would be litigated at the sentencing hearing, scheduled for June 24, Bakkedahl said.
    Snyder said the plea arrangement was offered in the hopes of bringing closure to Todd's family. "In a perfect world, this wouldn't have happened. I think we've done the very best we can," Snyder said. "The family's agreed with what we've done and we make a decision based on what we knew at the time."

    Why was Todd killed?

    While Snyder said he considers the method and motive a mystery, he says Williams confessed to arguing with his ex-wife over finances and pushing her. She hit her head when she fell, he said.
    But even after the confession, Snyder and Bakkedahl said, Williams changed his story about what he did with the body.
    At one point, Williams said he left his unconscious wife on the side of the road "at some undescribed location" and assumed she was dead, Bakkedahl said.
    As chances for finding Todd's body grew more remote, authorities negotiated the plea deal. "A body buried in an area this big, we could not roll the dice," Snyder said. "We wanted to get the body back and bring closure to the family."
    Williams returned to Florida from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina at the request of authorities. He could face additional federal penalties under the Uniform Code of Military Justice as he was an active member of the armed forces at the time the crime was committed.
    A preliminary records review did not turn up any military justice actions against Williams, who works as an F-15E Strike Eagle crew chief instructor, an Air Force statement said.
    "Seymour Johnson's focus at this point is to provide full support to civilian law enforcement authorities as they complete their work," the statement said. "The Air Force will determine the appropriate actions based in part on the outcome of the investigation and any associated legal action."
    Todd's family thanked authorities for their efforts. "We are grateful to know that we will now be able to lay Tricia to rest with the grace and dignity that she deserves," family spokesman Shaun Plymale said. "Although this is not the outcome we wanted, we are incredibly grateful that Tricia is now home."
    The couple's daughter is with other family members and doing well, Plymale said.
    Williams is being held in the Martin County Jail without bond, where he is on suicide watch, Snyder said.