BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Peter Williston broke down in tears Monday as he asked an Alabama judge for mercy.
Williston, a former Birmingham police lieutenant, was convicted in February of first-degree rape for sexually assaulting his stepdaughter for years, beginning when the girl was 14, according to AL.com. The now-26-year-old victim was one of four witnesses who testified at Williston’s trial.
Williston, 50, was sentenced Monday to 21 years and three months in prison.
At his trial, Williston testified that he was helping his stepdaughter take care of her sexual needs. He claimed that she approached him when she was 16 – the age of consent in Alabama – and told him about a problem she was having in school.
Williston said they entered into a “mutual agreement” for him to help her with her sexual needs so she would no longer have to worry about her issues at school.
“I knew that it was not the best thing to do,” Williston testified, according to AL.com.
According to testimony, Williston had been the girl’s stepfather since she was 6 years old. Jessica Hebson, assistant district attorney for Jefferson County, said Monday that Williston abused his multiple positions of authority.
“He became a father figure to her. He was a law enforcement officer,” Hebson said, according to AL.com. “He was in charge in the home and the children were taught to do as he said.
“In 2008 he decided he was going to start having sex with her. She was 14 years old.”
Morris police obtained a warrant against Williston after his stepdaughter went to the police department May 31, 2018, and reported that Williston had sexually abused her from 2008 to 2011.
Detectives arrested Williston the following month on a charge of first-degree rape, according to ABC 33/40 in Birmingham. The 17-year veteran of the Birmingham Police Department was taken into custody at UAB Hospital, where he had been admitted for psychiatric evaluation after the charges against him were made public.
He resigned from the police force the following day, AL.com reported.
Williston’s stepdaughter, now a married mother of three, testified that the abuse began days after Williston forced her to break up with her then-boyfriend, with whom things had “gotten serious” while they were alone in a basement.
Williston had a solution, she testified.
“He said he wanted to have sex with me so I wouldn’t have sex with other people and get pregnant,” the woman said, according to AL.com.
She testified that the abuse took place two or three times a week for the next four years.
Williston testified that the sex stopped when his stepdaughter told him her problem had been solved and she didn’t want to continue the relationship. The stepdaughter eventually told her mother about the abuse in 2012, when she was 18.
She continued to live at home with her mother, Williston and Williston’s two children after the abuse was out in the open, Williston testified, according to AL.com. She moved out in 2013 to relocate to Georgia with her husband and first child.
The victim said she ultimately reported the abuse in 2018 after returning to her family home in Morris and becoming concerned for the safety of the children still living there, AL.com reported.
It took a jury about 30 minutes to find Williston guilty, the news site said.
Williston was initially scheduled for sentencing in April, but restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back.
The defendant’s view on his actions appeared to have changed by the time he was sentenced on Monday.
“If I could take her pain away and carry (it) myself, I would,” Williston said in court. “I admit I was wrong by being involved with her. It’s caused more pain than I could have ever imagined.”
Hebson said Monday that Williston and his defense attempted to “victim shame” his stepdaughter during the trial. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Stephen Wallace agreed with that assessment.
“It’s troubling and I want to put it to rest,” Wallace said, according to AL.com. “The argument that she somehow invited this is not recognized legally (or) morally, and it does not make sense. The idea that (Williston and the victim) are on an equal plane, as far as her being able to consent, is ridiculous.”
Wallace was also unmoved by Williston’s contrition. AL.com reported that Wallace sentenced the former police officer to the maximum under the law.
At the time of his arrest in 2018, Williston was serving as interim commander of the city’s East Precinct, the news site said. Before that, he served as a public information officer for the police department.