TX TX - Paula Belonga, 51, Tyler, last seen leaving her apt, may have been headed toward Chapel Hill, 7 Apr 2023 *arrest*


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TYLER, Texas — The affidavit for a Tatum man who was recently arrested for reportedly murdering a Smith County woman who's been missing since April 2023 sheds more light on the incident.

The Tyler Police Department confirmed the U.S. Marshals arrested Jesse Lee Williams, 40, for the murder of Paula Belonga, 51, after officials obtained evidence allegedly pointing to Williams' involvement.

********
This is a very long article with details from the arrest affidavit.

 
An arrest affidavit shows that two key pieces of evidence were found. A necklace belonging to Belonga and a small bone about 50 feet away from it. Both were found after a search of Williams’ phone revealed internet searches that mentioned general locations such as “Body found in Rusk County,” “Henderson Daily News,” and “Rusk County Breaking News.”

Other searches included, “How to muffle a gun with a sock,” and “Will hitting a person in the head with a gun kill them?”

There were also searches for “How do the cops trace a cell phone,” “How long does it take for a body to decompose to bones,” and “How long does it take for a body to decompose in hot weather?”
 
Thanks for sharing the articles. I had hoped that LE was working this case in the background and it seems they were. I am not surprised by the outcome, but am pleasantly surprised there has been an arrest - so many times there isn't. RIP Paula.
 
Horrifying. :(

Rest peacefully, Paula.

AFFIDAVIT: Necklace, bone found help lead to arrest of Tatum man for murder

When the forensic analysis of Williams phone had been completed, officials say Williams' previous search history revealed the following:
  • How to muffle sound of gun with sock
  • Will hitting a person in the head with a gun kill them
  • How do cops trace a cell phone
  • Body found in Rusk County Texas
  • Henderson Daily News
  • How to write a check for 1445
  • Ruck County most wanted
  • How to unlock my iPhone passcode without computer
  • Body found in Rusk County Texas
  • How long does it take for a body to decompose to bones
  • How long does it take for a body to decompose in hot weather
  • Body found in Henderson Texas today
  • Body found in Rusk County today
  • Missing woman Tyler TX
Williams was booked into the Smith County Jail where he remains on $750,000 bond.
 
Thank you for the updates in this case. Clearly the public had only a fraction of the case information available to LE. Before this affidavit was released, the facts as presented in MSM made Paula's case difficult to piece together.

A tragic outcome for Paula, her family, and friends.
 
Are you kidding me? How stupid is this man?? He was on her cell texting...

"The next day, an officer texted the phone number that Williams had said was Belonga’s. Someone responded: “Please leave me alone. I’m fine out of state with my man so please leave me and my friend alone.”

 
This whole case is maddening. Poor Paula seemed to have trusted this man (invited him to stay with her for 5 days?) and all along he was planning to kill her. I hope this guy goes away forever. But we all know that isn't likely.
 
Noting:
  1. Belonga’s car was found parked at a mobile home in Tatum where Williams was staying with a woman he was dating.
  2. The woman who lived in the mobile home gave officers Williams’ contact information and told them he had parked Belonga’s car there, claiming he was housesitting while Belonga was out of town.
  3. She alleged that Williams had physically assaulted her and her teen daughter two weeks earlier.
  4. No arrest was made at that time, and Williams left voluntarily.
  5. Williams was taken into custody at another mobile home in Angelina County.
  6. A search of his wallet found a personal check belonging to Belonga and allegedly forged checks made out to Williams dated April 10, the day after Belonga was reported missing.
  7. Williams told police that he’d met Belonga in New York several years ago, while working as a door-to-door salesman.
  8. He allegedly told police that she arrived at his home on the day she was last seen, and that she had a suitcase and seemed to be in a hurry to leave.
  9. Williams said Belonga gave him the keys to her apartment and car and then left with another man, whom Williams identified as Corey Smith.
  10. Williams gave LE the passcode to his phone, and the digital data revealed that Williams had actually spent April 6 and 7 at Belonga’s apartment.
  11. Digital forensics showed the two had met on FB and started speaking daily on Dec, 12, 2022.
  12. The two would send each other photos, and Williams referred to Belonga as “beautiful” and “sweetheart.”
  13. The messages showed they’d exchanged addresses on April 3, and Williams traveled from Tatum to Tyler with plans to spend five nights with Belonga at her apartment.
  14. Before and after Williams left, he allegedly made a series of internet searches that police described as suspicious, including “How to muffle sound of gun with sock” and “How do the cops trace a cell phone?”
  15. Forensic evidence showed that on April 9, the day Belonga was reported missing, Williams searched online for “Body found in Rusk County Texas,” and the day after, he searched “How long does it take for a body to decompose in hot weather.”
  16. Based on the locations mentioned in his internet history, LE conducted a search, and on May 22, they found Belonga’s gold necklace on the side of the road and a “small bone” about 50 feet away.
 
JUN 30, 2023
[...]

In a CBS19 exclusive, Belonga's brother, Robert Baldinell, spoke about his sister publicly for the first time and says she was everything to his family.

"My sister was my best friend growing up," Baldinell said. "My parents were in the military, and she was my travel partner. She was my playmate, she was everything."

The family is still asking themselves why someone would talk Belonga's life.

"We still don’t know exactly everything and we’re not going to until the trial," Baldinell said.

[...]

Arrest documents explained how investigators used GPS and phone data to link Williams to her death. Baldinell says he can't think of a reason as to why Williams could have killed his sister.

"We thought about this, and we talked about it and (we don't) really know him to figure out what the motive is, we just don’t know," Baldinell said.

[...]

"You know hopefully somebody will find her. It’s always a possibility and that’s kind of what we’re hoping her, that she is found," Baldinell said.

Until then, Baldinell hopes justice is served as they continue to celebrate her life and hope for closure.

[...]
 
OCT 19, 2023
[...]

... In court Thursday afternoon, Williams’ lawyer Kurt Noell said that his client is not cooperating in the case.

“I think he’s written a letter (saying) that I’m supposed to be racist. And it’s my understanding that his dad is trying to talk to another lawyer,” Noell said.

[...]

Presiding Judge Austin Jackson affirmed that Williams is free to seek new counsel, but reminded him that his deadline is quickly approaching.

“You have the right to hire anybody you want, but you need to get that done because your case is now set for trial on March 4,” Jackson said. “So, if you’re going to hire a lawyer, you need to get that done in the very near future so they have time to prepare.”

[...]
 
NOV 17, 2023
[...]

On Friday, Williams appeared for a hearing, where the defense presented a motion to lower his bond from $750,000 to $300,000. Williams claimed his family does not have enough to pay, so he requested a PR bond and a monitor.

Judge Austin Jackson denied the motion due to Williams’ criminal history, stating the current bond is reasonable.

[...]

In Williams’ last hearing in October, he claimed he was unsatisfied with his legal representation, saying his court-appointed lawyer, Kurt Noell, was supposedly racist.

But, at Friday’s hearing, it was apparent he has decided to keep his current counsel and is now willing to begin discovery.

[...]

Williams’ next hearing has been set for Jan. 19, with trial to begin Mar. 4.

 
His trial was supposed to happen in March but I can't find any updates.
I haven't been able to find any updates either, Eli.

But I did find the court site just now and it looks like there's another status hearing coming up on Apr 15 and trial scheduled early May.

Case No. 114-1484-23
STATE OF TEXAS VS. JESSE LEE WILLIAMS
Date Filed:08/24/2023
Location:114th District Court
Charges: MURDER

03/04/2024 Status Hearing (8:30 AM) (Judicial Officer Jackson, Austin Reeve)Result: Hearing Held
03/04/2024 Order Setting Hearing
03/05/2024 Felony Supplemental Discovery Form
03/12/2024 Subpoena Duces Tecum
03/12/2024 Subpoena Duces Tecum Issued
03/18/2024 Felony Supplemental Discovery Form
04/15/2024 Status Hearing (8:30 AM) (Judicial Officer Jackson, Austin Reeve)
05/03/2024 Pre-Trial (9:00 AM) (Judicial Officer Jackson, Austin Reeve)
02/23/2024Reset by Court to 05/03/2024
05/13/2024 Jury Trial (9:00 AM) (Judicial Officer Jackson, Austin Reeve)
03/04/2024Reset by Court to 05/13/2024

 
I can't find any update but the court site is still showing trial scheduled for 5/13.

Case No. 114-1484-23
STATE OF TEXAS VS. JESSE LEE WILLIAMS
Date Filed:08/24/2023
Location:114th District Court
Charges: MURDER

05/03/2024 Pre-Trial (9:00 AM) (Judicial Officer Jackson, Austin Reeve)
05/13/2024 Jury Trial (9:00 AM) (Judicial Officer Jackson, Austin Reeve)

 
MAY 13, 2024
On Monday, the defense told the 114th District Court Judge Austin Reeve Jackson that they recently received new evidence items and they're in need of an expert. Williams' case was originally scheduled to go to trial on Monday.

The state and defense agreed on the new date of Sept. 23 that was proposed by the court. Williams' next status hearing is set for July 8, and a pre-trial hearing will happen on Sept. 13 ahead of the jury trial.
 

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