‘Penalty trial’ begins in Berkeley-Oakland murder case

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

Darnell Williams Jr., found guilty earlier this month of two murders and several special circumstances, had a history of violent attacks both in and out of prison that make the death penalty the appropriate sentence for him, the prosecution said Monday.

In the next phase of the case, attorneys are set to present evidence to show aggravating and mitigating circumstances they hope will help an Alameda County jury decide what sort of sentence to recommend for 25-year-old Williams. He could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In 2009, nearly four years before the 2013 murders of Alaysha Carradine and Anthony “Tone” Medearis III, Williams tried to shoot down a childhood friend on Oregon Street after his own father ordered him to do it, prosecutor John Brouhard told the jury Monday during opening statements.

Read complete coverage of the case.


That was followed by three attacks on fellow inmates while he was locked up, the violation of his parole terms due to gun possession once he was released, and the discovery of a long shank in his cell during a surprise search once he was sent back to jail after his arrest in September 2013, Brouhard said.

Williams had been out of prison for about a month, following the earlier shooting attempt in Berkeley, when he gunned down 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine at an Oakland sleepover. 

Brouhard said, in the case that had sent him to prison, Williams and his father had been on Oregon Street near California Street when a childhood friend walked by Oct. 9, 2009, at 2:40 p.m. They struck up a conversation and the friend, Julius Evans, showed Williams’ dad a gun he had with him, according to Brouhard.

A verbal altercation ensued about allegations that Evans had sexually assaulted a woman Darnell Jr. knew, said Brouhard. The father ordered Evans to the ground and held a gun to his head, then robbed him. Next, he gave the gun to his son and ordered him to shoot Evans, saying, “You better shoot him… or I’m gonna do you.”

The younger Williams then tried to shoot Evans as Evans ran down Oregon toward Sacramento, said Brouhard, zigzagging to keep from getting hit.


“He can sense these bullets whizzing past him,” Brouhard told the jury. He was “running for his life.”

Two Berkeley officers happened to be parked at the end of the street, and Evans managed to reach them and avoid injury. The Williams men were later arrested; Darnell Jr. was convicted in January 2010 of assault with a semiautomatic firearm and sent to prison on a six-year sentence.

While in prison, Brouhard said, Williams and another inmate attacked a third inmate — named Johnny Walker — in the yard at Folsom in April 2011. They kept up their attack even after guards threw pepper spray canisters at them. Brouhard played video of that attack in court Monday.

In September of that year, Williams attacked another inmate, Marcus Carter, in the dining area of their housing unit at Folsom, according to Brouhard. Williams had been sitting at a table when he “jumps up and starts punching the guy,” said Brouhard. It took a rubber bullet and pepper spray to end that attack.

Brouhard also brought up cellphone photographs from after Williams’ release — between May and July 2013 — that showed him with firearms, a violation of his parole terms. The first photograph, from May 31, 2013, was a black-and-white picture presented previously to the jury that showed a shirtless Williams posing with two guns tucked into his waistband. He had been out of prison for eight days at that point.


There was also an incident in July 2014, at Santa Rita Jail, in which Williams and his cellmate attacked and robbed another inmate of his commissary snacks and other items. A surprise cell search about a week later turned up what Brouhard described as “a very concerning find” by a deputy in Williams’ mattress: an 11-inch piece of metal that had been painstakingly sharpened to a point at one end.

The jury can take into account the facts of the crimes, the suffering of the victims and the impacts of the murders on survivors as part of its decision. All six of the above examples, Brouhard told the jury, were evidence of a long pattern of problematic behavior — in addition to the guilty verdicts reached earlier this month. He asked the jury to return a verdict for the death penalty after it hears all the evidence over the next week.

Two victims take the stand

Evans, from the 2009 case on Oregon Street, took the stand Monday and denied much of the narrative, saying it would be difficult for him in prison — he is currently locked up — to be known as a snitch. He has three years left of a nine-year sentence.

“I don’t got nothin’ to do with this,” he said. “This ain’t nothin’ to do with me.”

Evans said he was walking on Oregon after “drinkin’, smokin’, poppin’ pills” when he heard what he thought were fireworks and started running. After repeated questioning by Brouhard, he did admit someone had been shooting at him. But he repeatedly denied he had identified Darnell Jr. and his father as those who were responsible.

Brouhard said Evans had told him on a recent Friday that he didn’t want to cooperate but would testify because he has a 6-year-old daughter himself and had been shaken by the conditions in the murder case. Evans denied that on the stand.

“I never seen him out there that day,” he insisted. He also described an earlier story from childhood when Williams had “saved him” from a homeless man who had tried to grab him after the boys had been throwing rocks at windows and breaking them. Evans said Williams had kicked the man “in the nuts” to allow them to escape.

After repeatedly denying having made prior statements about the Oregon Street incident that Brouhard said Evans had made, Brouhard observed: “You told me from the beginning that this put you in a tough spot.”

“I didn’t see nobody, I just ran,” Evans said, adding that authorities had pressured him to make certain statements. “They were trying to force me to do something that wasn’t right.”

Through much of Evans’ testimony, Williams watched him with his head cocked back and a critical look on his face. As Evans was escorted from the courtroom at the end of day, Williams grinned at him and said, “See you soon.” Observers in the courtroom said it clearly sounded like a threat.

In what Brouhard described as “an odd coincidence,” it’s not the first time Evans’ name has come up in the case. Brouhard had told the jury previously that one of Williams’ reasons for shooting 22-year-old Berkeley father Medearis was because of rumors he was “a snitch.” Medearis reportedly shared information with police about a 2011 robbery and carjacking case involving Medearis, Julius Evans and Medearis’ cousin Calvester Stewart. (Stewart has been in custody since 2012 awaiting trial in his own murder case.)

Evans’ testimony was slated to continue Tuesday morning.

Williams’ parole officer Agent Kenneth Madan also took the stand Monday, along with Berkeley Police Officer Veronica Rodrigues, who testified about the 2009 shooting attempt. A crime scene technician who was working that day also testified about his findings.

The former inmate from the commissary robbery also testified. He described how Williams attacked and punched him after he was “defenseless,” having already been jumped by Williams’ cellmate. He said he had not wanted the men to take his food, and described the regular inmate meals as “horrible.”

“It’s important,” he said of his commissary purchases, “because that’s all you really got to eat.”

Brouhard told the judge he expects to present witnesses through Wednesday morning. The defense team is then slated to put on its own witnesses Wednesday and Monday. Once the jury hears all the evidence in the “penalty phase,” it will deliberate again about a possible sentence which it will offer to the judge as a recommendation.

The defense attorneys told the judge Monday they would like to wait until after evidence is presented to make any sort of opening statement.

They did say one of their key witnesses, Dr. Gretchen White — an Oakland-based forensic psychologist who specializes in death penalty cases and related issues — would take the stand Monday and said her testimony would “take quite some time.”

Related:
Guilty verdicts in Berkeley-Oakland death penalty case (05.06.16)
Attorneys spar over evidence in death penalty case (05.04.16)
Closing arguments begin in Berkeley-Oakland death penalty case (05.03.16)
Sister of man charged with 2 murders takes the stand (04.26.16)
Berkeley killings get spotlight in death penalty case (04.25.16)
Newly found photo could bolster prosecution’s case in death penalty trial (04.15.16)
Ex-girlfriend of accused killer: ‘I feel scared to this day’ (04.11.16)
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)

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