Ex-girlfriend of accused killer: ‘I feel scared to this day’

Darnell Williams Jr. mugshot, courtesy of NBC Bay Area
Darnell Williams Jr. mugshot, courtesy of NBC Bay Area

Testimony continued Monday in the case against a man with ties to a Berkeley gang who is accused of gunning down a little girl at a slumber party and fatally shooting a Berkeley father in the back as he ran for his life and pleaded for mercy.

Defense attorneys for Darnell Williams Jr., 25, have said hard evidence is lacking. They have questioned the credibility of two of the prosecution’s central witnesses and asked the jury not to be swayed by the heartbreaking killing of the little girl, for which they say their client is not responsible. That shooting sent shockwaves through the community and is still difficult for seasoned first-responders to discuss.

Williams could face the death penalty if convicted. He has been charged with the murder, during a sleepover in Oakland’s Dimond District, of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine, with a firearm, while “lying in wait,” which is a special circumstance that carries extra weight; the attempted murders of three other people at the sleepover, two children and their grandmother; and shooting at an inhabited dwelling.

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Williams has also been charged with killing 22-year-old Anthony “Tone” Medearis III in Berkeley less than two months later during a robbery, in part because of rumors Medearis had “snitched” to police in 2011. During that shooting, Williams’ nephew was also struck near the eye with a bullet fragment from Williams’ gun, according to the prosecution.

There’s also the special circumstance of multiple murders, and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. A 2010 felony conviction for assault with a semiautomatic firearm, which sent Williams to prison, made him ineligible to own guns.

Any first-degree murder case with a special circumstance allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty in California. But it’s not a common outcome, and the state has not executed anyone since 2006.

Last week, the jury and four alternates heard from Williams’ former girlfriend, Britney Rogers, who said he confessed to her about the Oakland shooting, then threatened her and her family with violence if she went to authorities. She went into the witness protection program after eventually telling police her version of events.

She is one of two people, along with Laquana Nuño, Williams told about the Oakland shooting, according to the prosecution. Nuño has not yet taken the stand during the trial. During cross-examination of Williams last week, defense attorneys pointed out inconsistencies in her story and tried to show how she had not been living in fear the way she had described.


Former girlfriend: “It was like he turned on me instantly”

Rogers said she was at a barbecue with Williams when he got the calls that prompted what the prosecution has termed a “rampage of violence,” culminating in the slumber party shooting. Over the course of two phone calls, Williams learned, July 17, 2013, that his good friend Jermaine Davis had been fatally shot. He set off for a meeting in East Oakland — with associates linked by authorities to what has been identified as West Berkeley’s Waterfront gang — to decide how to respond, Rogers told the jury.

Rogers said Williams told her his aim had been to strike back at the man who killed his friend, to harm “him or somebody close to him.” Williams went to an apartment where the man’s family lived, she testified. He knocked on the door and pointed his gun, she said, “waited until he heard someone twist the knob and then he just started firing.” Thirteen bullets pierced the metal security door, scattering casings on the ground outside.

“It was so fast that whatever blunt they were smoking was still lit” when Williams got back into the getaway car, Rogers said. When he got home, she recalls him being nervous, pacing the floor. He took off a camouflage bulletproof vest, and the two guns he regularly kept tucked into his waistband, she said. When she asked him what was wrong, he told her about the shooting.

Alaysha Carradine, courtesy of family
Alaysha Carradine, courtesy of family

She said he did not initially tell her he had killed a little girl. She said she didn’t think he knew that himself. But when the news came on early the following morning, reporting Alaysha’s death, Williams’ alleged response was chilling. A mother of two, including a young girl, Rogers said she had cried when she saw the news. As she remembered that morning and described it to jurors, she began to cry again.

Williams’ response to Alaysha’s killing? “‘Fuck that bitch,'” Rogers told the jury, as people in the courtroom, including Alaysha’s mother, gasped then began to cry. “It just made me uneasy, I have two kids,” Rogers added. Her daughter, who was 1½, shared a bed with the couple when Williams stayed with Rogers.


Rogers recalled that they had never gone to sleep that night, getting into “a debate” about what had happened. She said Williams took her response to the news as a threat: “It was like he turned on me instantly.” He was worried she was going to turn him in for the reward money, Rogers said. He made threats to shoot her parents, said he’d “kill everybody in this house,” and said she better not snitch, she testified.

“‘I [will] get the closest people to you,'” she said he told her. “I just played along so I could protect the people around me.”

Rogers testified that Williams became controlling and suspicious, requiring her to check in every two hours and, at times, switching phones with her. He sent her what she thought were threatening texts, which she forwarded to her sister. Prosecutor John Brouhard projected the texts on screens in the courtroom and had Rogers describe what she thought they meant.

Rogers said she was afraid to go to the police because of what she thought Williams might do, and also because she was on probation for felony grand theft and didn’t know what her terms and conditions were. She said repeatedly she was scared of Williams, and also of police.

It did not come up during her testimony at trial but Rogers testified at the 2014 preliminary hearing that she was particularly afraid because Williams had made statements to her that he’d “sold his soul to the devil,” and worshipped the devil. (Another preliminary hearing witness told police about tattoos of devil horns on Williams’ face.)

Former girlfriend: “I just want to give this family justice”

Eventually, Rogers made arrangements to send her two children away to stay with an older friend. Alaysha’s killing made her fear for the safety of her own kids. She cried as she recalled filling out paperwork to give control of the children away temporarily, and remembered thinking, “I can’t protect my whole family, but I can protect my kids, get them out of the way.”

Brouhard also played a phone call — recorded during an OPD wiretap investigation — where Rogers sounds flirtatious and tries to make plans to see Williams. She told the jury she was just playing along to make sure he still trusted her, for her safety and the safety of her family.

On the call, Williams also tells Rogers to go into San Francisco to “do a date” to make him some money. She testified that he repeatedly asked her to do that but said she never followed through.

Police picked up Rogers on Sept. 10, 2013. According to Brouhard’s opening statements, investigators had planned to arrest her publicly, then see if that arrest prompted any discussion over the wiretapped phones about Alaysha’s killing. But police had already arrested Williams for the Sept. 8 killing of Medearis, so that plan had been somewhat derailed since he no longer had access to his phone.

Rogers said she initially did not cooperate during the police interview. But, once they showed her a photograph of Alaysha, she said she broke down and told them what she knew. Two days later she moved out of Oakland to “a faraway county” through the witness protection program.

Brouhard asked Rogers, looking back, what she thought of the situation: both what had happened to Alaysha and what Rogers herself had been through.

“I feel scared to this day,” she said. “For the most part I just want to give this family justice.”

Defense attorney Levy: “You were scared of him but you said ‘no’?”

Unlike with earlier witnesses — most of whom focused on Alaysha’s killing itself, rather than any connection to Williams — defense attorneys Darryl Billups and Deborah Levy took their time with their cross-examination of Rogers.

They questioned Rogers’ version of events and cast doubt on whether she had real reason to fear him. Billups asked whether Williams had ever contacted Rogers since his arrest or tried to see her after she left Oakland. She said he had not.

Billups brought up the flirtatious phone call, pointing out that Rogers was trying to make plans to see Williams, and told him she “wanted his time.” “Again you were playing a role?” asked Billups. Rogers said she was.

Billups pointed out that, at the time of Alaysha’s killing, Rogers and Williams had only been dating for about a month. He asked whether Rogers ever wondered why Williams would have trusted her with such sensitive information — a confession to such a high-profile shooting — so early on in their relationship. Rogers said she had not.

Both defense attorneys noted that Rogers had testified that Williams told her he “knocked on the door” at the home where the shooting took place. Authorities and other witnesses have said the shooter rang the doorbell. Rogers said she couldn’t remember his exact words but indicated that what had followed had been of more significance to her: “He fired the shots. The door opened. He seen the lady. He keeps shooting. He knows somebody got shot, he just didn’t know who.”

Billups tried to poke holes in Rogers’ story. He brought up testimony she gave during the preliminary hearing in the case, in 2014, when she said she had been awake, probably watching television, when Williams got home. During the trial, she said she had been asleep when he arrived.

The attorneys used their questions to indicate Rogers had more control in the relationship than she let on. They confirmed with her that Williams moved out of the apartment, for good, when she asked him to do so after they discussed Alaysha’s killing. He never spent the night there again. The attorneys also confirmed Williams had never put his hands on Rogers. Levy asked if Williams had ever come by the apartment to check on her and Rogers said he had not.

Deborah Levy. Photo: NOLO
Deborah Levy. Photo: NOLO

Levy asked Rogers why she had waited until September to leave Oakland, noting there were “allegations of fear”  but no signs of departure, despite the fact the Rogers had friends and family in other parts of California. Rogers said she had been “working on leaving.”

Levy noted that Rogers repeatedly said “no” to Williams: when he asked her to commit a robbery with him, when he told her to have sex with other men to make money for him, when he told her to take out her IUD so they could have unprotected sex. When asked if anything had happened to her as a result of those refusals, Rogers said it had not.

“You were scared of him but you said ‘no’ to him at least two times we know about?” asked Levy. Rogers concurred.

Levy also asked Rogers how she had known what Williams meant when he asked her to go on a date in San Francisco because he needed money.

“Cuz I knew what he meant, m’am,” Rogers replied forcefully, without providing further detail. Rogers said she would just tell Williams “I’ll try” when he asked her to make money through prostitution, even though she wasn’t planning to follow through.

“He just took your ‘I’ll try,’ and moved on?” Levy asked.

“Yes,” replied Rogers, who said she has never exchanged money for sex.

Levy also asked whether Rogers ever actually filed paperwork with the court to turn over temporary custody of her children. Rogers said she had filled out paperwork, with signatures from her and the other guardian, but never turned in the documents to court.

After Rogers stepped down, a series of witnesses testified about the fatal shooting in Berkeley of Medearis, whose family has attended court daily since Williams’ trial began March 28. That testimony continued Monday with Berkeley Police Officer Shan Johnson, who was the lead detective on the Medearis homicide. Stay tuned to Berkeleyside for continuing coverage.

The trial could extend into June, though it is moving more quickly than attorneys predicted it would. After the “evidence” phase of the trial, if there is a guilty verdict, the jury is expected to weigh in on whether Williams should get the death penalty. At that time, there can be additional testimony as well as the presentation by the defense of mitigating circumstances that would support life without parole rather than the death penalty.

Read complete coverage of the case.

Related:
Judge orders Williams trial to continue after defendant threatens suicide, violence (04.04.16)
Years on, Alaysha Carradine killing is still haunting (03.31.16)
Defense says lack of evidence will cast doubt in double murder trial (03.29.16)
Prosecutor: Berkeley killing sparked ‘rampage of violence’ that left little girl dead (03.29.16)
1 held to answer in Berkeley murder of ‘Lil Tone’ (01.13.14)
‘Snitch’ rumor leads to Berkeley dad’s murder (01.09.14)
2 testify in Berkeley murder hearing against Oakland man (01.08.14)

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