A Long, Difficult Road to Truth

As snow fell outside his Menifee home in the early hours of Feb. 15, 2015, Ronnie Williams sat in his study, poring over documents he’d looked at hundreds of times before. 

It was the coroner’s inquest transcript that detailed his brother’s tragic, untimely death while in police custody some 55 years prior. But this morning, for some reason, Williams noticed things he’d never noticed before. 

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that transcript, many times,” he said. “But on that particular morning, I started to read the transcript again, just thumbing through pages, and there were nuggets of information that just started to flow.” 

Williams grabbed a nearby pad and began to write. Over the next five and a half years, Williams filled three journals with the story of his brother, Marvin Leonard Williams, and his tragic death at the age of 20.  

Marvin died May 6, 1960, in a third-floor jail cell of the Faulkner County Jail, now the former Faulkner County Courthouse, in Conway. The cause of death was officially ruled a brain hemorrhage, deemed the result of Marvin slipping on the courthouse steps and hitting his head after being taken into custody, police said at the time.  

That ruling would be called into question nearly a quarter century later when the Williams family received a letter from a fellow inmate. 

Charles Hackney wrote the Williams family in 1984, stating he witnessed and heard Marvin be beaten to death by police from a nearby cell. Hackney’s letter ultimately led to the reopening of Marvin’s case and a murder trial for two officers involved in 1985.  

The officers were acquitted in a jury trial.  

The result was a tough pill to swallow for a family seeking justice for their brother, son, husband and father. 

Following the trial and a subsequent civil case that closed in 1988, Williams tried to move on from his brother’s case and largely did until that February morning in 2015 when Williams said he was “called” to dig deeper into the coroner’s inquest transcript. 

“I’m a person of faith,” Williams said. “I believe things don’t just happen by themselves, there’s a higher power operating our lives. I was moved to dig deeper into that transcript.”  

The culmination of his work is his first book, Markham Street: The Haunting Truth Behind the Murder of My Brother, Marvin Leonard Williams. 

Markham Street chronicles Marvin’s childhood and upbringing, his military service, his death and its aftermath. 

"I’m glad I didn’t do it sooner,” Williams said. “I don’t think I was emotionally and psychologically ready to write the book.” 

The passage of time helped, Williams said. Although it was a long, arduous and often emotional process, Williams said it was a journey he had to make for his brother. 

“Doing this particular piece in handwritten format was good for me,” Williams said. “As I wrote, it was therapeutic – spiritually, psychologically and emotionally. It was good for me.” 

That doesn’t mean there were not difficult times, as painful memories resurfaced after years of being repressed. 

“I had my moments where I had to leave it and walk away,” Williams said. “I had my moments where I was angry, where I would shed tears thinking about my brother’s life being frozen in time just because of the hue of his skin.” 

Williams said he wants readers to understand that racism still exists and to finally see his brother for the man he was, not the person he was portrayed as after his death. 

“It’s not that we have to prove Marvin was a decent man, we know that,” Williams said. “But it’s important to see his life beyond what someone might have heard or read in 1985. That is not the sum total of his life. 

“I want the public to know Marvin,” Williams said. “I want them to know his goals, his aspirations, how he grew up, everything about him.”