Attorney of Islamorada vice mayor’s alleged attacker is fellow village councilman

A man who allegedly attacked Islamorada's vice mayor is being represented by her colleague on the Village Council.

Councilman Dennis Ward, an attorney and a former Keys state attorney, is the defense attorney for William Douglas Roberts, a 66-year-old man accused of beating Vice Mayor Deb Gillis with the stick of a toilet plunger severely enough that the 63-year-old hotelier suffered a busted lip, bruises and abrasions to her head.

Ward said Thursday he does not see him Roberts' attorney as a conflict despite his client's alleged victim being a colleague.

"I don't think so," Ward said.

He added that if he determines a conflict exists, he will transfer representation to Miami criminal defense attorney Edward J. O'Donnell. The two men frequently work together and have known each other for 40 years, Ward said.

"That's the direction we're going to go," Ward said.

O'Donnell might best be known in the Keys as the defense attorney for Nicholas Ferro, a 28-year-old Broward County man convicted in September 2013 of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Marquis Butler of Key West.

Roberts referred all questions to Ward.

"I'd rather not discuss this right now," he said.

According to a Monroe County Sheriff's Office arrest report, Gillis heard a knocking sound around 12:30 a.m. Sunday coming from the downstairs of her mile marker 82 apartment where she parks her cars. When she went down to see what was causing the noise, a man, later identified as Roberts, grabbed her and began beating her with a wooden stick, according to the report.

While being attacked, Gillis asked Roberts why he was hitting her. His response: Because he loved her. He continued to hit her.

Gillis said in an interview that the attack lasted a few minutes, but "it seemed like hours."

She was able to get away by ripping Roberts' sweater off his body and run inside and lock her door. Other than the purple sweater, which it turned out Roberts took from Gillis' unlocked car, Roberts was only wearing white underwear, according to the arrest report.

A Sheriff's Office deputy found Roberts further south down U.S. 1 near Cheeca Lodge at mile marker 81.9.

Gillis, a hotelier, has lived in Islamorada for 21 years and nothing even close to this situation has ever happened to her or anyone she knows.

"I've never had a problem here,” she said. "It was such a random thing that happened."

Gillis added that she had never met Roberts, who was in the Keys vacationing from Marion, Tenn., before.

"I don't know the guy," she said. "He had no idea I was a public official."

Ward said his client doesn't remember anything about the alleged attack.

"He just doesn't understand what happened," Ward said. "He's very sorry about what happened. He is a retired state worker who has never had so much as a traffic ticket."

Williams faces one count of aggravated battery, a second-degree felony, and one burglary charge, a third-degree felony. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 10 at 9 a.m. in front of Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia.