ITHACA, N.Y. — The sentencing hearings for William Marshall commence Thursday, with the Ithaca resident and area native facing significant jail time after pleading guilty to killing Alan Godfrey in July 2021. Marshall has pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter, carrying with it a sentence of between 5-25 years in prison. The exact length of the sentence will be decided by Judge Joseph R. Cassidy, who will hear evidence and testimony from both the defense and the prosecution on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
But the case has laid bare a deeply tragic story of years of alleged blackmail that eventually turned violent, leaving the Godfrey family “devastated” over his “brutal” murder in the words of Van Houten, and Marshall headed back to incarceration after what looked like an inspirational redemption arc. A warning: this story contains a description of surveillance video footage of the killing of Godfrey.
The case is unique, not just for its dramatic and tragic circumstances detailed here but for the legal avenues they present. Marshall and his legal team, led by Jacob McNamara of the Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk law firm, were planning to employ the extreme emotional disturbance defense. That defense, if successfully proven, automatically drops a murder charge to a first-degree manslaughter charge. In the interest of avoiding a trial, the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office sought a plea deal on the manslaughter charge, with the reluctant blessing of Godfrey’s family.
Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten said after Marshall’s guilty plea in February that he intended to seek the maximum sentence, which would be 25 years with five years of supervised release afterward.
Marshall is a well-connected person in Ithaca, having emerged from a stay in prison after a cocaine distribution charge in the early 2000s to attend Cornell University through its Prison Education Program. He became a prominent figure in the program, and even befriended former Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick (Myrick recused himself from the investigation while it continued during his last five months in office). Godfrey was also a well-known figure in the community, having worked at both GIAC and the Southside Community Center, where he used his passion for cooking to feed staff and families.
Marshall laid out his narrative of the crime at his plea hearing in February—the only narrative of the crime that has been publicly available to this point, though that will change during the sentencing proceedings. He talked about he and his siblings’ difficult upbringing, which included a sometimes-absentee mother in the throes of drug addiction.
That upbringing led to Marshall helping raise his younger brother, who was born with significant developmental and certain physical disabilities documented back to his time in grade school. Marshall painted himself as his younger brother’s protector, in so many words, throughout their lives. Considering the circumstances of the situation, The Ithaca Voice is not naming the younger brother at this time. When contacted through his attorney, the younger brother declined to comment for this article. In this story, the younger brother will be known as “Steve.”
It was that deep familial connection, the defense claims, that led William Marshall to kill Godfrey during a rage early in the morning of July 20, 2021. Godfrey and Steve had been involved in a romantic relationship on some level, which played out sporadically over the last decade. However, the full extent and timeline isn’t quite clear. At some point during that time, Godfrey began to ask Steve for money, usually $100 or $200 each time, which Steve would frequently give to him, according to bank records the Marshall family plans to present. While it has been floated that Steve was capitulating with these demands because he was afraid of being outed as gay, that appears unfounded, as the young man was openly homosexual and had been for quite some time. However, Godfrey did allegedly possess sexually explicit pictures of Steve and used those as leverage, saying he would post them online or send them to Steve’s work if he didn’t comply with Godfrey’s financial requests. On one occasion, it’s also alleged that Godfrey and another person robbed Steve.
Godfrey’s family contests some of these accusations against the deceased Godfrey, with his sister Latishia Abdellatif insisting that her brother wasn’t forcing “anybody to do anything,” and that she believes race and sexuality played a role in the killing. She does acknowledge that Godfrey had explicit photos of Steve and may have used them to pressure him, but counters that he didn’t deserve to die over such behavior. Abdellatif, after the plea hearings, denied that extortion was taking place.
Around late 2017 or early 2018, Steve’s family had gradually become more and more aware of Godfrey’s treatment of Steve, documents say, and began to take steps to end the alleged abuse, including changing Steve’s number, though these attempts were not successful. Steve himself had also reported the situation to police on two occasions in fall 2017, according to records from the Ithaca Police Department obtained by The Ithaca Voice though it is important to note that at that time, Steve said no threats were being made against him and no further action was taken.
The night of the murder
Around midnight on July 20, 2021, Godfrey was outside of Steve’s apartment on Taughannock Boulevard again, making demands for money. During this instance, Godfrey was periodically on the phone with his mother. Steve would not let Godfrey into the apartment and was ignoring his requests for money. Godfrey’s mother said that Alan told her on the phone that Steve was staring at him through the window but not answering him. While Steve did not make very extensive comments to police, it is believed he called his brother, William Marshall, nicknamed “Willie,” to tell him that Godfrey was outside again.
Footage from the apartment building’s parking lot shows Godfrey grabbing a trash can and carrying it out of view of the camera, possibly to stand on to better reach the apartment’s window. The video viewed by The Ithaca Voice does not show Godfrey actively attempting to break into the apartment. Some time later, Godfrey is walking around, holding the phone to his ear outside of the apartment when Marshall, who parked nearby, strides down an alley around the corner with a gun in his hand. The gun used in the shooting has never been found, according to all publicly released information.
Godfrey and Marshall appear to lock eyes for a moment and maybe have a very brief verbal exchange, but it is difficult to tell. The incident itself is very quick: Marshall continues to walk towards Godfrey, raising the gun and firing five times. He clumsily manually pumped the handgun at one point. Godfrey appears to be hit two or three times, a glancing wound to the head and at least one wound to his chest. He falls to the ground after the first shot, while Marshall continues to walk towards him and fires four more times. Godfrey stops moving on the ground. Marshall then pauses, takes something out of his own sock or pants leg and sprints back down the alley toward his car.
From beginning to end, the incident takes about 5-10 seconds. Notably, Godfrey appears to only be holding his cell phone at the time of the shooting. Marshall said during his personal statement at his guilty plea hearing that Godfrey was holding a brick when Marshall began shooting him. It’s possible that Godfrey had a brick at some point while he was outside the apartment, since it’s been reported he was throwing small objects at Steve’s window to get his attention—and that Marshall was informed of that before he arrived. But, in the video of the murder reviewed by The Voice, Godfrey was not holding a brick when he was killed. Godfrey’s family had emotionally objected to Marshall’s claims about the brick during his statement in court.
While Godfrey’s mother stated that she was on the phone during her son’s murder, and heard a commotion on the other end of the line, she interpreted it as Godfrey joking. She didn’t know of the severity of the incident until six hours later, when police arrived at her door telling her they’d found a cell phone with several missed calls from her number next to an unidentified deceased man.
Questions That Remain
There are several questions of varying importance that could be answered during the evidentiary proceedings. They include what, if anything, is known about Marshall’s mental state at the time of the shooting, what Steve told him on the phone in the hour or two leading up to the crime and how much it influenced his actions that night, especially since that would have been the primary evidence used for the extreme emotional disturbance defense. Also, more context may be provided regarding the dynamic between Marshall’s brother and Godfrey, exactly what kind of extortion was going on and how much money Godfrey was able to receive from Marshall’s brother over the years which could potentially be in the range of several thousands of dollars.
There could also be more information that comes forward regarding the police response the night of the homicide. It has not been officially stated if, or how many times, police were called to the scene prior to the shooting, or how long before the shooting took place that they were notified Godfrey was outside of the apartment. One family friend who was not in Ithaca that night has claimed they called the police when informed that Godfrey was outside of the apartment again, but was told by emergency dispatchers that because the call was being placed from outside of Tompkins County for a situation within the county, police would not respond.
There’s also some confusion stemming from an interview that Godfrey’s mother gave the morning after the crime. While she spoke with her son on the phone the night he was shot and killed, she claims that Godfrey, standing outside the apartment after midnight, told her that someone was coming after him with a gun. She also reports Godfrey was crying and talking quietly like he was pleading with someone, and hearing another voice that she characterized as “taunting” Godfrey. But the video of the crime shows Godfrey didn’t see Marshall and the gun until a second or two before the shooting began, leaving almost no time for that interaction, as described, to take place. The video does not appear to show Godfrey pleading for his life. Godfrey’s mother says she ended the call with her son, thinking that Godfrey was messing around with her.
The Godfrey family, while acknowledging at least some of the circumstances described by the Marshall camp, has also argued that the case would be tried differently if the racial roles were reversed, implying that the District Attorney’s office would not have consented to a plea deal for first-degree manslaughter if the killer was Black. Considering how rare homicides are in Ithaca, their reaction to whatever length of sentence Marshall receives could resonate for a long time in the community.