A trail of 15 cartridge casings led from the scene of a dice game in West Berkeley toward the corner where Anthony “Tone” Medearis III was struck by a bullet, fatally, in the back.
The 22-year-old was running for his life and pleading for mercy as his killer followed behind him, walking, as he fired his gun over and over. It was Sept. 8, 2013, at about 5:40 p.m.
Two witnesses, including his own 7-year-old nephew, identified Darnell Williams Jr. as the shooter. Williams of Berkeley is facing murder charges for Medearis’ death, and what authorities have described as the retribution killing less than two months earlier of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine at a sleepover in Oakland.
Closing arguments took place Monday and Tuesday, as prosecutor John Brouhard walked the jury through his evidence, and Williams’ defense team urged jurors to question that evidence and keep their emotions in check.
“Means, motive and opportunity,” said defense attorney Darryl Billups. “I question all three of those things and I think the evidence raises an alternative to what the DA is alleging happened.”
After final instructions from Judge Jeffrey Horner, which are scheduled to conclude Wednesday morning, the jury is expected to begin deliberations in what could result in a death penalty sentence.
Prosecutor: “In this group … you get credit for killing snitches”
Much of the trial has focused on the high-profile killing of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine, a shooting that also caused injuries to two other young children and their grandmother. Williams is facing murder and attempted murder charges from that shooting, on July 17, 2013.
Tuesday, Brouhard asked the jury not to forget about the importance of Medearis’ lost life: “These are two separate murders and these are two separate human beings,” he said.
According to Brouhard, Williams had sent a text to a friend, his getaway driver, at 5:43 p.m. Sept. 8 telling her to pick him up because he was “bout 2 rob tone” [Medearis].
That friend, Laquana Nuño, testified that Williams had been complaining about Medearis due to rumors and “paperwork” that indicated he had “snitched” to police about a 2011 robbery involving two other people: Julius Evans and Medearis’ cousin Calvester Stewart. (Stewart has been in custody since 2012 awaiting trial in his own murder case.)
Williams — in statements to Nuño as well as to police — made no secret of his disgust for snitches, Brouhard said. He’d been telling Nuño he wanted to kill Medearis because of that behavior, according to the prosecution. According to several wiretap calls, Williams was also broke, and on the verge of doing “some stupid shit” to get some cash the day before the shooting.
Witnesses described the scene that Sunday, at Eighth and Camelia streets, as the Solano Stroll was wrapping up not far away. There was a dice game going on outside “Meechie’s house,” an apartment building with a long driveway and parking area where the gambling was taking place. Williams and Medearis were there, as was Williams’ 7-year-old nephew EJ, another player named Charles Bridges, and several others, according to testimony.
Bridges said Medearis may have won a bet or taken money from the ground Williams did not think he deserved. EJ said there was an altercation between his uncle and “Tone” over some dice. Williams pulled out a gun, and there was “a tussle,” as Medearis tried to get the Glock out of Williams’ “clutch” to keep himself from being shot.
“Hey man, don’t shoot me. You trippin’,” Medearis told Williams, according to testimony. At some point, the weapon fires, sending a bullet fragment flying into EJ’s face, just under his eye. Others at the dice game scatter, hopping the fence by the driveway to escape the three gunshots that follow.
Medearis takes off running down the driveway, across Eighth to a nearby alley as he tries to flee south. He’s yelling for help. He’s yelling, “don’t shoot me.”
At first, there is a series of “precision shots,” said Bridges. Just before Medearis turns the corner, to go right onto Page Street, a cluster of last shots rings out “rapid fire.”
“And he hit him,” Brouhard told the jury. Police later found four casings close together on the ground north of Page. Brouhard said it was evidence that the shooter, seeing that Medearis was about to get away, stopped to get a better shot after missing his prior 11 attempts. “Immediately around the corner on Page is where the blood begins.”
Medearis tries to get help from a nearby resident, but collapses on the ground after leaving a bloody handprint on the man’s window. Medearis is able to tell the first police officer to arrive how much pain he’s in, but can’t say much more. He becomes unresponsive in the ambulance and is pronounced dead at the hospital. Police arrested Williams a short time later after a brief chase in the neighborhood.
Brouhard told the jury how the statements of Bridges and EJ, and the cartridge casings themselves, corroborated what they said had taken place. He reminded jurors about several photographs, taken from Williams’ phone, that showed Glock pistols, the type used to kill Medearis. And he reminded them of what Williams told police during an interview after his arrest: “You know I got a lot of robberies. I rob a lot.”
Brouhard urged the jury to bring back a guilty verdict for murder. Referencing the 15 expended cartridge casings that littered the street along the flight path, he added: “This is a diagram of ‘intent to kill’.… This is the pursuit of somebody begging not to get killed and is trying to get help.”
He also reminded the jury how Bridges had needed to be arrested before he would testify in court. Bridges said that was because testifying would make him a snitch.
“He knows all too well what the defendant did to Tone,” Brouhard said. “People get shot for this. People want to kill snitches. In this group, in this environment, you get credit for killing snitches. It’s something you should be proud of.”
That’s why, Brouhard continued, Williams would not have balked at killing Medearis in broad daylight in full view of numerous witnesses: “The killing of a snitch, it’s no good to do that in secret… because you want to get the credit for it.”
As he did during his opening statements, Brouhard projected a slide with six photographs onto screens in the courtroom showing Medearis and EJ, from the Sept. 8 killing, and Alaysha and three others who were shot July 17: 7-year-old Amara York, her 4-year-old brother Antione and their 63-year-old grandmother, Clara Fields.
The images of Medearis and Alaysha were from the autopsy room, while the others showed the survivors when they were first injured. EJ, a blank look on his face, has a bloodied bandage under his eye. Fields is lying beneath covers in a hospital bed, seen from below the foot of the bed. Amara has a frightened look on her face; her pajamas are pulled down over her right shoulder to show a bullet hole. The photograph of “Baby Antione” (pronounced “Antwon”), swaddled in some kind of yellow hood or blanket, is perhaps the most chilling. As someone out of frame holds him, the little boy smiles widely, but stiffly in a sort of forced grimace, at the camera. His eyes, too, have a blank look.
Brouhard said the gunshots could easily have resulted in much graver wounds had the circumstances varied even slightly: EJ could have lost an eye. Amara’s shoulder injury could have struck her head or nearby arteries. Antione’s graze wound could have torn through his abdomen, striking vital organs, had his body simply been turned at a different angle to the shooter’s.
“These could have been six autopsy photographs on the slide instead of two,” he told the jury.
Defense attorney: “If you’re not convinced, return verdicts of not guilty”
Williams has two defense attorneys, Darryl Billups and Deborah Levy, because of the potential death penalty sentence he could face. At 11:10 a.m. Tuesday, Billups addressed jurors for about 3o minutes before the court recessed for lunch. Billups and Levy continued their arguments in the afternoon for about an hour before handing the floor back to Brouhard — as required by law — for a final rebuttal.
Billups, right off the bat, asked the jury to remember that it’s Brouhard who has the burden of proof to make his case due to the presumption of innocence, and said there was plenty of room for reasonable doubt: “If you’re not convinced then you should return verdicts of not guilty.”
He focused his morning remarks mostly on the Medearis killing, trying to make the case that there had been no robbery, or even an attempt at one, based on the testimony in court about the struggle and what followed. Billups said a loose $20 bill had been left on the ground, and Medearis still had $100 in his pocket when he collapsed.
Said Levy: “I’m a really bad robber if I let my victim get away with a hundred dollar bill.”
“Where was the attempt?” Billups asked, adding that the jury should disregard Medearis’ text about his plans to rob Tone because there was no apparent effort to follow through. “What happened in that 10 minutes [between the text to Nuño and the first dispatch about the shooting] was a fight over a dice game.… It’s only after this fight over a dice game that all these feelings flare up.”
If that was the case, he argued, then it was not a murder. Billups urged for a verdict of manslaughter, where a homicide takes place in the heat of passion with no cooling-off period.
“You have a fight and you start shooting at somebody… Is that willful, deliberate, premeditated?” he asked, which are the elements of murder. “Is that what the law envisions? I submit to you that it is not.”
Defense attorney: “The streets are talking”
After the lunch recess, the attorneys turned to Alaysha’s killing.
“Let’s face it, ladies and gentlemen, that’s why we’re here,” Billups told the jury. “This crime caught the attention of the community.”
During jury selection, he recalled, potential jurors said they would be able to separate the facts of the case from their emotions, and would be willing to make a not guilty finding if they believed that was the right decision.
But since then, Levy noted, some jurors had cried at times when confronted in the courtroom with information about the little girl’s death. Levy said they needed to look at what evidence actually tied Williams to the crime and avoid getting caught up, blindly, in the idea that “somebody has to pay.”
Levy said, further, there were no fingerprints, no DNA and no eyewitnesses to the crime who identified her client.
Billups said the evidence “boils down to four things”: the statements of Nuño and Britney Rogers, Williams’ former girlfriend; the recovered bullets and casings; and the cellphone information. Billups first took aim at the latter. He said cellphone data that had Williams’ phone pinging off a tower near the apartment where Alaysha was killed, on Wilson Avenue, was not precise enough to be the smoking gun.
Billups also questioned the timeline. Williams’ phone pinged off that tower at 11:10 p.m. The first 911 call about the shooting was recorded at 11:14 p.m. Billups said — depending on the exact location of the phone, and factoring in time for the shooting, and for the subsequent 911 calls to come in — he wasn’t convinced someone could have gotten to the scene and committed the crime within the available window. Without being able to determine where the phone was, he said, it wasn’t possible to know for sure.
A cellphone expert had testified that Sprint includes no “degree of accuracy” information in its location results, and estimated that a radius could extend perhaps a mile from a cell tower in an urban area, Billups added.
Defense refrain: “You need more than that”
Billups also said the bullets and casings found at both shooting scenes said nothing about the actual identity of the killer: “Bullets without a gun are just bullets without a gun.”
As for photographs from his client’s cellphone, showing weapons the firearms expert said were the same types of guns used in the murders, Billups said those images alone could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams was guilty. (Neither murder weapon was recovered.)
Levy said there was no direct link between the gun photos on the phone and either homicide, adding: “You need more than that.”
Turning to the statements of Nuño and Rogers — who both said Williams claimed responsibility for the Oakland shooting — “both have real serious reasons to make stuff up,” Billups said. “There are reasons not to believe what they say.”
He criticized Nuño’s statements about Alaysha’s killing as vague information that could have been picked up anywhere in the months after the girl’s death. Billups said Nuño — who initially was charged with Medearis’ murder, too — had reason to fabricate a story to get herself out of trouble.
“Would you make up a little stuff not to have to be sitting next to Mr. Williams?” he asked the jury, as he gave a look toward his client at the defense table.
As for Rogers, Billups said the retaliation motive she described made no sense. Authorities have said Williams was trying to get back at Antiown “Twanny” York who is alleged to have killed Williams’ good friend, Jermaine Davis, in the hours before the Oakland shooting. York’s family — his children and their mother — lived in the Wilson Avenue apartment, though he was no longer in touch with them.
Billups said Davis’ cousin, Joe Carroll, actually confronted York that same night at a gas station in Antioch. If the motive was to retaliate, and if someone else was actually confronting York, what motive would there be to show up on Wilson Avenue, Billups asked. Both attorneys said authorities dropped the ball in looking for other people who may have been upset about Davis’ death who could have been responsible for the shooting on Wilson.
Police did not speak to either Nuño or Rogers until months after Alaysha’s death. Billups said that was a problem, because details about the shooting could have made their way out into the community through another adult — Fields’ son — who was at the Wilson Avenue apartment during the shooting but was not injured. He could have told people, for example, that Fields had been shot while she was on the couch, a detail Brouhard said would have been known only to the killer.
“People are talking about this case. The streets are talking,” Billups said. “Word gets around. Things get out.”
He also played a phone call between Williams and Rogers, from Sept. 7, 2013, to undermine her assertion that she was terrified of Williams and — further — to diminish her credibility. In the phone call, she and Williams are flirtatious, and she expresses interest in getting more of his attention.
Rogers has said Williams had threatened to harm her family if she told police what he’d done on Wilson, and testified that she was “playing along” to disarm him until she could move her children out of the area and make sure they were safe.
Defense attorney Levy was even more critical of Rogers, and pulled no punches.
“Ms. Rogers lied to you on the stand, bold face,” Levy said, about a text message to Williams that indicated prostitution activity. Rogers said she had never sold sex in her life. Levy said that wasn’t true: “She didn’t want to tell everyone she was a hooker.”
And she said Nuño, an admitted prostitute, romanticized her relationship with her longtime boyfriend, Jermaine Davis, when she said he wasn’t her pimp.
“They’re not reliable. They’re liars under oath,” Levy said. “Both of these women have things to gain.”
She concluded by describing the murder of Alaysha Carradine as a tragedy and a travesty that “never should have happened.” But she asked jurors to stay focused: “Objectively look at the evidence. There’s just not enough, ladies and gentlemen, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt Mr. Williams is responsible for the murder on Wilson.”
Brouhard: “There’s too much corroboration”
In his final remarks to the jury, Brouhard said the cellphone map — showing location data from July 17, 2013, at 11:10 p.m. when Williams got a call that went straight to voicemail — absolutely put Williams near the Wilson Avenue apartment minutes before the murder.
He disputed claims that Nuño had anything to gain by telling authorities about what she said Williams told her. When she described the confession about Alaysha, Brouhard said, Nuño had not been charged with anything, so there was no reason for her to bargain.
She ultimately was charged as an accessory after the fact to the Medearis murder, for which she agreed to testify and cooperate with the prosecution. But that deal was already established when Nuño told the DA’s office what she knew about Williams wanting to kill Medearis.
Brouhard also defended Rogers, and said she had “answered tough questions” on the stand, and been cooperative and consistent. He pointed out how, in her first interview with police — which was recorded, and which Brouhard played in court — she described a black pistol with a chrome top that looked just like one authorities discovered in a photograph on Williams’ phone just last month. A firearms expert tested that type of gun and the variety of bullet found at the scene and determined the gun to be a match for the kind used in the Wilson Avenue shooting.
Brouhard roundly dismissed the defense theory that both women made up their stories for personal gain, and told the jury to focus on the way the women’s statements fit together. Neither woman knew the other one prior to the case, or shared information about what they knew. Police said they were careful not to share details about the statements between the women either. Cellphone location data from Williams’ phone also backed up the events they described.
“It’s crazy how both of them concocted the story in similar ways,” he said, making light of the defense’s theory. Both women told police Williams had gotten a ride to Wilson Avenue from someone who knew where York’s “‘baby mama’ house” was. Both said he smoked marijuana around the time of the shooting, and that he walked up to the door alone. “There’s too much corroboration. There’s too much of these parallels.”
Brouhard continued: “There are coincidences and they happen in the world, and sometimes they’re a little crazy. But it doesn’t happen like that.”
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