Racist convict checks out

Convicted synagogue arsonist and known white supremacist Benjamin Matthew Williams may have saved the taxpayers of California the cost of an execution. He was found dead in his jail cell in Redding on Oct. 23, an apparent suicide.

Williams, 34, along with his brother Tyler, 31, was in jail awaiting trial for the alleged murder of a gay couple from Happy Valley. According to the Sacramento Bee, he apparently confessed to the crime in media interviews, saying he killed the couple because he wanted to be a “Christian martyr.” Despite the apparent admission, both brothers pleaded innocent to murder charges.

Williams and his brother were serving sentences of 30 and 21 years, respectively, for intentionally setting fires at three Sacramento synagogues and a building housing an abortion clinic in the summer of 1991. The pair, who grew up in Gridley, pleaded guilty to the arson charges, saying in court that they were acting on their religious beliefs. The fires caused almost $3 million in damages to the Congregation B’nai Israel, Congregation Beth Shalom and Knesset Israel Torah Center and are considered by many one of the most egregious acts of anti-Semitism in California history.

Williams had been in the Shasta County Jail’s segregation ward since his conviction Oct. 31 of trying to murder a correctional officer with a homemade hatchet. In that assault, he and another inmate reportedly hid in a shower stall with the crude device and ambushed correctional officer Timothy Renault, 24, as he made his rounds.

Though jailers checked on Williams often, he was somehow able to obtain a disposable razor, which he apparently used to slash his arms, legs and neck. An autopsy, required by jail policy, will be conducted this week to determine the final cause of death.

Jury selection in the Williams case is still scheduled for January, when Tyler Williams will face murder charges in the deaths of Gary Matson, 50, and Winfield Mowder, 40.