Liz Williams’ prison walls have crumbled and her shackles are cut free.
She is a survivor. After years of worrying, Williams is now at ease in the knowledge that the man who raped her has been locked away for good.
It was her testimony in a Denton County courtroom earlier this year — more than 30 years after she was assaulted in Houston — that helped put Rory Keith Jones, 55, behind bars for life in the 2011 assault of a maid at a Lewisville motel.
“It’s like I can breathe again,” Williams recently told the Denton Record-Chronicle. “He is a very dangerous man and needed to be locked away. He wasn’t going to let someone live after he got to them again.”
Jones’ conviction was among a growing number of sexual assault cases in Denton County. While statewide data shows sexual assaults decreased nearly 1.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, Denton County saw a 27 percent increase during the same period. Some officials attribute the increase to the county’s growing population.
The Record-Chronicle generally does not name victims of sexual assault, but Williams authorized the use of her name because she wants to help other women who have been sexually assaulted.
Williams was 19 and working as a cocktail waitress in Houston when she was raped, robbed and her life threatened on her way home from work early one morning.
“It was Nov. 1, 1982, but I still remember it as Halloween night,” Williams said. “I was dressed in a nurse costume and it was 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning after my shift.”
Years later, as the mother of a little girl, she still struggled with celebrating Halloween because of the memories that continued to haunt her.
She identified Jones from a police lineup. He was convicted in her case in 1984 and sentenced to 45 years in prison. By then, he’d already been convicted in another case of aggravated rape, in 1983, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
He was released on parole on March 28, 2011, with a GPS monitoring device. Officials said he didn’t meet the requirements of the Civil Commitment Program, a statewide program that places some sexually violent offenders under ongoing supervision even after they have completed their sentences.
Jones moved to Carrollton and, just 87 days after his release, on June 23, 2011, he went to America’s Best Value Inn & Suites on Interstate 35E in Lewisville. He demanded money from a maid before assaulting her, dragging her to his blue pickup and threatening her with a screwdriver, according to Lewisville police.
The maid, who was 36 at the time, is also a survivor. She could not be reached for comment about the case, but Williams said they are linked forever through Jones’ decades-long history of violent offenses.
Williams said she had the opportunity to meet the woman and present her with a small cross necklace during a meal after the trial was over.
“He was not going to let his next victim live,” Williams said. “I am so happy she [the Lewisville victim] fought him off. … It took courage.”
Jones was found guilty in February of aggravated robbery, attempted aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault and sentenced to life in prison. Officials with the state prison system said Jones will also serve out the remainder of his sentence from Harris County as well, since he violated his parole.
“I can’t thank the Denton County District Attorney’s Office enough for all their due diligence,” Williams said. “They have helped me feel confident again.”
Bruce Isaacks, a Denton-based attorney and former Denton County district attorney, was appointed to represent Jones. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Being a survivor
Williams said it took her 10 to 12 years before she could fully cope and get her life back on track. Once she did, she decided not only to help herself but to help others.
“I have no idea what I would’ve done in the past, but that part of me was dead and it’s something I have been teaching women to learn to bury so they can start a new chapter in their life,” Williams said. “What was taken from them is gone, but you can move on.”
Move on is exactly what Williams did. For the past 19 years, she has worked as a police officer with the Flagler Beach Police Department in Florida. Now, as a detective, she has been assisting the agency in obtaining grants to aid women and children who have fallen prey to assailants.
Denton police Investigator Rachel Fleming said all women who overcome assaults are survivors, but it’s paramount that they seek some sort of assistance after the trauma they have encountered.
“Most experts agree that the most important thing for a survivor of a sexual assault to do is to talk about her experience, whether it’s to a counselor, a close friend or an understanding family member,” Fleming said. “Sexual assault is not usually about sex, rather about power and control. Giving control back to the victim as soon as possible is of utmost importance.”
Statistics tell a story
One rape occurs every hour in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s 2012 Crime in Texas report.
The state has seen a decline in sexual assaults, which range from consensual sex under certain circumstances to forced contact against men, women and children as defined by the Texas Penal Code, according to state records. In Denton County, however, sexual assaults have increased, from 245 cases reported in 2011 to 335 reported in 2012, according to the DPS report.
Statistics for 2013 are not yet available.
According to the FBI, which has tracked a narrower category that includes only forcible rapes against women, the state had a 3.3 percent increase from 2011 to 2012 and Denton County had a 4.8 percent increase, from 126 rape cases in 2011 to 132 cases in 2012.
Tom Vinger, a DPS spokesman, said the reporting of incidents for the DPS crime report is voluntary.
More often than not, sexual assaults go unreported. When a true sexual predator is put away, it’s a victory for all involved, law enforcement officials said.
“He [Jones] had on his GPS tracking device, and that obviously did nothing to deter him,” said Jamie Beck, Denton County’s first assistant district attorney. “We are glad to have him put away where he cannot harm women.”
While 271 sexual assault cases ended in convictions in the past 10 years, Denton County officials said stranger-on-stranger convictions — such as Jones — are a rarity.
Toni Johnson-Simpson, executive director of Denton County Friends of the Family — an organization that serves those impacted by rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence — said she believes the area’s population growth is the reason behind the increase in sexual assaults.
From 2010 to 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Denton County’s population jumped 10 percent, from 662,604 in April 2010 to an estimated 728,799 in 2013.
Johnson-Simpson, whose organization has been in operation in Denton County for almost 34 years, said the agency provides nurses to examine those who have been assaulted and gather evidence for rape kits for law enforcement authorities. She said Friends of the Family handles about 130 to 150 new cases each year. Of those, about half involve assault by an acquaintance, she said.
Education and awareness are key to avoiding an attack, according to law enforcement and advocacy groups.
Denton police have instructed an estimated 2,100 women in the department’s Rape Aggression Defense class since its inception in 1998. The women-only class trains routinely, with the only cost associated with the monthlong session being $10 for a manual.
Afterward, women can take the class as many times as they want and attend more advanced training, police said. The next session begins April 16 at the Denton Police Department. To register, contact Lt. David Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 940-349-7945.
“Women should consider taking a class such as RAD because mental preparedness is just as important to learn as physical techniques,” Fleming said. “If one can learn how to be aware of risks, recognize risks, reduce risks and avoid risks, that’s 90 percent of self-defense education.”
Walking confidently, not looking down at a cellphone and having keys in hand before heading out the door are just a few of the common-sense precautions that police recommend to avoid becoming a target.
“Remember to look after yourself, even if you are around people you think you might know,” Fleming said.
Johnson-Simpson said help and advice is always available from Friends of the Family at the group’s website, www.dcfof.org, or by calling the crisis hotline at 1-800-572-4031.
Now 50, Williams said she has fought a long time to not only keep the man who raped her behind bars but to preserve her sense of self. She said she has been unable to fully trust a man since.
But she is beginning to believe that Jones, finally, will stay behind bars.
“Despite him saying he will be exercising his right to appeal, for the first time in my adult life, I feel like it’s over,” Williams said. “Maybe I will find someone to share life with. … Everything seems more possible now.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.