WEST JORDAN — Lisa Vilate Williams wanted to understand the woman who showed up to her job to harass her, wrote her a threatening letter and who would later become her killer.
Williams wanted to make peace.
“I won’t have you trying to tear me down,” Williams penned in a journal entry addressed to her boyfriend’s ex-wife, noting she had fostered a love for Chelsea Watrous Cook’s two children. “I really hope we can move past all this nonsense.” The letter was read aloud in West Jordan’s 3rd District Court on Monday, just before Cook was ordered to serve at least 34 years and up to life in the Utah State Prison for killing Williams.
Cook, 33, pleaded guilty to charges including aggravated murder in February, part of a plea deal that spared her a possible death sentence. Williams was making Christmas ornaments with her boyfriend and Cook’s 3-year-old twins on Nov. 25, 2018, when prosecutors say Cook sneaked in and shot Williams several times.
She had told Travis Cook she would drop off cold medicine for the children at his home in Midvale, but slipped into the apartment while he waited outside, court documents say. After he called police, she briefly went into a bathroom, then emerged, walked toward her coat and fired several rounds at Williams, shooting her in the chest, hip and back.
Travis Cook wrestled the gun away from her and she went and sat down with the two children, who had just watched her murder Williams, according to court documents. Once her ex-husband was back on the phone with 911, Cook moved again toward her coat but he pinned her to the wall until police arrived.
On Monday, a series of family members remembered Williams as thoughtful, hard-working and enchanted by rainstorms. A doting aunt to her nieces and nephews, she was a bank teller who loved caring for plants and had begun dating Travis Cook six months earlier.
Her siblings and parents fought tears as they noted they will never get to plan a future trip to France with her, see her start her own family or just sit down again to chat with her over a cup of coffee.
“Because of you, I no longer get to hear her contagious laughter bouncing around the house,” her brother Hyrum Williams said, addressing Cook. “When you took Lisa’s life, you took a light from this world.”
Her brother Jonathan Williams described feeling torrents of shock and disbelief amid a furious anger. Growing up, he and his sister had each other’s backs, he said, recalling her radiant smile.
“Then one day Lisa was stolen,” he said. “She was shot in a cold-blooded slaughter.”
Before the killing, Cook had been a health and yoga teacher at Skyridge High School in Lehi. She sobbed as she apologized to Williams’ family members and talked about the trauma she caused her children.
“I was only thinking of myself and the extreme emotional pain I was experiencing,” she said. “I’m so sorry they had to see me shoot and kill Lisa. All she ever did was love them.”
Her defense attorney Michael Peterson said she had originally bought a gun with the intention of taking her own life. He said his client felt she was being cut off from her kids, making her so anxious and depressed that she was no longer eating and sleeping. She had stopped taking her medication and was abusing Adderall, he said.
Her mother Lori Watrous urged leniency, describing Cook as an adoring mother who loved bringing her kids into her classroom and was experiencing “severe psychiatric distress.”
Deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Colleen Magee countered that Cook didn’t simply snap. She had long suffered from depression and had practiced driving and going to the house where she shot Williams, Magee said.
Because of you, I no longer get to hear her contagious laughter bouncing around the house. When you took Lisa’s life, you took a light from this world.
–Hyrum Williams, brother of Lisa Vilate Williams
At the request of Cook’s defense attorney, Hogan dismissed two counts of felony discharge of a firearm because the discharge was part of the murder charge. But he kept a third charge of discharging a firearm, noting a bullet from that crime had missed Williams and struck a wall, with the potential to have harmed someone else.
Travis Cook said he plans to ask Utah legislators to pass a law in Williams’ name that will prohibit such dismissals, saying Cook deserves the full length of a sentence on each charge.
Hogan ordered Cook to a term of 25 years to life in prison for the aggravated murder charge, six years to life for aggravated burglary, and a term of at least three and up to five years for felony discharge of a firearm. He ordered them to be served consecutively, telling Cook he was “shocked by the amount of time you spent talking about yourself” in papers submitted ahead of sentencing.
The judge gave Cook credit for time already served in the Salt Lake County Jail on two counts of committing a violent offense in the presence of a child, a class B misdemeanor.