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Man charged 20 years after girlfriend's death loses appeal again

A Trenton man blamed for the beating death of his partner in 1981 has lost an appeal seeking a reduced prison sentence 20 years after the crime.

Walter Townsend, 80, is serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 25 years for the murder of Norma Williams, whom he bludgeoned to death in her North Trenton home with a 2×4-inch piece of wood with nails protruding from the top.

Williams had two young sons, then ages 7 and 3. They witnessed the crime but initially told investigators that their mother had been hit by a car outside their home. According to previous court rulings and news reports, that is exactly what Townsend told police.

At the hospital, a fatally wounded Williams used head motions to indicate to police that she had been hit by a car and denied that Townsend had hit her. After her death, her sons told police that Townsend had hit their mother with a stick, but Townsend stuck to his car story and was not charged.

Inspired by an investigation into unsolved murders in Mercer County published in the Times of Trenton in early 2001, one of the sons asked the Mercer County District Attorney's Office to reinvestigate the crime, which they did. In August 2001, he gave a new statement that he had witnessed the crime. Detectives arrested Townsend that same day.

Townsend was tried and convicted of Williams' murder in late 2002.

His murder conviction was overturned by an appeals court in 2005 because of the admissibility of testimony from an expert on battered women's syndrome, but the state Supreme Court reinstated it in 2006.

Since then, there have been several appeals against this decision.

This latest ruling, handed down Thursday, upholds a 2023 ruling by a Mercer County Superior Court judge that Townsend could be sentenced as a “repeat offender.”

Townsend, who himself filed an appeal, argued that the crimes that made him a repeat offender were committed in 1986 and 1987, after the murder.

The case law is clear, the appeal decision states, that the chronology of the crimes is not relevant in determining a repeat offender. They must be within 10 years of the crime for which the person is convicted, and that is the case in this case.

Townsend is currently incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton and will be eligible for parole in January 2030.

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You can reach Kevin Shea at kshea@njadvancemedia.com.

Anna Harden

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