As testimony began Tuesday in the Darnell Williams Jr. murder trial, veteran first responders were overcome by emotion on the stand as they recalled the 8-year-old girl fatally shot during a sleepover in 2013, and the courtroom was captivated by the sweetness of the little girl who survived the violence.
Most of the adults who testified Tuesday at times teared up as they thought back to July 17, 2013, and described how they knew or came into contact that day with Alaysha Carradine. Carradine was simply a visitor at an Oakland apartment targeted by a man bent on revenge for a fatal shooting earlier that day in Berkeley, authorities say. The estranged girlfriend of the man later charged in the Berkeley case lived at the apartment with their two children, but the couple had no contact.
Defense attorneys say Williams is not the shooter, and that there just isn’t enough evidence to link him to the crime. Williams, 25, has also been charged with the murder of Anthony Medearis III in Berkeley in September 2013 and could face the death penalty if convicted of both murders at the conclusion of the trial, which could last into June.
“I just wanted her to get up”
Alaysha’s best friend, Amara York — now 10 — at times fell silent when asked to describe the gunman who opened fire as she opened the front door that night expecting to see her mother. Her then-4-year-old brother and Alaysha were by her side. All three were shot, as was the sibling’s 63-year-old grandmother. Only Alaysha died.
“I had my eyes on each child and I was watching them scurry away,” recalled the grandmother, Clara Fields, during testimony Tuesday. “I was fine until I saw Alaysha drop. I said, ‘Alaysha baby, get up, get up, Alaysha, get up.’ It hadn’t really dawned on me what happened.”
Fields, who has worked at Kaiser for more than 30 years, said she would work her shift — sorting mail and doing billing from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — then rush to the apartment to watch the kids while her daughter, Brea Colbert, went to work at Children’s Hospital. Alaysha was a frequent guest.
Earlier in the day, Fields had taken the kids to the mall. They got ice cream and played at a playground inside. Shortly after 11 p.m., Fields was dozing on the couch in the darkened apartment with the TV on. The kids were upstairs playing.
Then the doorbell rang. Everyone assumed it was Colbert coming home from work. She had a key but would often ring the bell.
As Amara opened the door, Fields said she heard what she thought were firecrackers. She saw flashes of light, and the children retreated. Then Amara rushed back to the door and slammed it closed. Alaysha fell to the floor. Fields recalled calling 911 but said her memories of what she may have said were not clear.
“I just wanted her to get up,” she said, of Alaysha.
Fields, in an elegant black suit jacket and white collared shirt, began to cry as she recalled, growing up, how her parents had drilled it into her never to answer the door for a stranger.
“I wish I’d told them not to go to the door,” she said. “I live with this day in and day out in my life, every day.”
She didn’t realize until later she, too, had been shot. She still has the bullet inside her. Doctors said it would cause more damage to remove it. Fields offered precise, focused answers and was exceedingly polite throughout her testimony, which lasted nearly two hours. She brushed away tears often as she spoke, and as prosecutor John Brouhard asked her to look at crime scene photographs that showed the living room where the shooting took place.
Defense attorneys — Williams has two because it is a death penalty case — only questioned Fields briefly. Deborah Levy said in opening statements that no one saw Williams at the scene, and that there is no evidence, such as DNA or fingerprints, to place him there. She asked the jury to try to focus on what is missing from the evidence rather than the “horrendous” nature of the shooting itself.
When Amara took the stand, after her grandmother, she at first completely hid her face in her hands so as not to see the courtroom full of people. To get her to uncover her eyes, prosecutor Brouhard asked her to hold, with both hands, a drawing she had given him.
For several minutes, Brouhard stood directly in front of the little girl, blocking her view of the courtroom, as he tried to help her settle in. Judge Jeffrey Horner also tried to put her at ease, describing himself as looking like “a big penguin” in his black robe.
Brouhard asked about her favorite subjects in school (“science and math”), and about the difference between the truth and a lie.
Even after uncovering her face, Amara spoke quietly, often looking down. Most of her answers were brief, and ended with a rising inflection as though they were questions. She said she and Alaysha had gone to Fruitvale Elementary together, where they were both in the after-school program.
They played together a lot, though Alaysha was one grade older. They liked to play “school,” and “doctor” and would sometimes — though her mother didn’t know it, Amara said — dress up in Colbert’s clothes. A huge smile came over her face when Brouhard asked Amara about the sleepovers they used to have.
That smile vanished when he asked her to recall what happened when she answered the door the night of the sleepover. She fell silent, and looked down toward her lap. After a long pause, and several tries by Brouhard to urge her gently to speak, she said she had been able to see through the metal security door: a black man with short hair wearing all black, holding a “black thing” she later acknowledged was a gun. She said she heard “loud sounds.” Many of her answers were monosyllabic.
Brouhard asked Amara about whether she and her brother had to go to the hospital that night.
“Did you get an owie?” he asked, sparking a sudden burst of giggles that prompted the entire courtroom to laugh along with her. Brouhard smiled, and asked playfully in response: “Oh, are you too old for that?”
Amara had been shot in the right shoulder; the bullet went all the way through. Her brother was grazed in the stomach. Both children were in the hospital for a week recovering, their mother Brea Colbert testified. She took the stand next, after Brouhard walked Amara out of the courtroom.
As she stepped down from the witness box, Amara again covered her face with her hands completely, so as not to see the jurors or those in the audience on her way out. Brouhard told her to follow the sound of his voice to guide her as they walked.
“I left everything in that house. I never went back”
Colbert recalled, the night of the shooting, being at work at Children’s Hospital and, at some point, realizing she had missed 30 calls. A neighbor told her there had been screaming and gunshots at the apartment. She rushed home but the kids had been taken by ambulance to Children’s, so she ended up back there too.
She teared up as Brouhard asked her about the long scar that remains on her son’s stomach, “where your baby got grazed by a bullet.” He asked her if she had been back to the Oakland apartment since that night.
“I left that apartment,” she said. “I left everything in that house. I never went back.”
Colbert said Amara’s gunshot wound still bothers the girl. After the shooting, her daughter had trouble lifting her arm. The injury still hurts when she gets cold. Colbert looked hard at Williams, at the defense table, as she spoke.
“I had to give her pain medication,” she said. “A lot of it.”
Colbert said that, though Amara still talks a lot about Alaysha, she doesn’t say much about the night of the shooting: “She tries to forget it.” She said her daughter’s demeanor has changed. She panics at night. Colbert has to keep the doors locked and the blinds down.
“When the doorbell rings, she runs upstairs to the room,” Colbert said.
She testified that the man implicated in the Berkeley killing believed to have prompted the shooting at her home — Antiown “Twanny” York — had never been to her apartment, where she had lived for about a year. He wasn’t part of their lives, she said. She had previously gotten a restraining order against him. They had been together for five or six years beginning in 2004, she said.
Levy asked her if she knew Darnell Williams. Colbert again looked straight at him.
“I never seen him in my life,” she said, frowning and focusing on him with intensity. (“If looks could kill,” observed a woman seated in the gallery.)
Officer: “She was dying in my arms”
Earlier that day, two Oakland Police officers and the paramedic who rode with Alaysha to the hospital, and witnessed her final words, also testified.
Officer Jason Mitchell had to choke back tears and couldn’t speak for more than a minute when prosecutor Brouhard asked him to describe what he saw when he entered the apartment where the shooting took place. Mitchell and his partner were the first officers on the scene. Mitchell said Tuesday he’s been a police officer for more than 10 years.
When he and his partner pulled up to the apartment, on Wilson Avenue, they began to look for the shooting. Someone had reported that a woman in the street had been shot in the head. But no one seemed to be around. The officers knocked on doors but no one seemed to know anything.
“Some people in the area do not like to talk to us,” he said.
After several minutes of canvassing, Mitchell encountered Fields outside Colbert’s apartment, on the back patio. She appeared to be in shock with “a thousand-yard stare,” he said. She was talking about firecrackers.
She said someone was hurt in the apartment. It had been 7 minutes and 20 seconds since the original call about the shooting, at 11:14 p.m. Mitchell couldn’t see inside because the vertical blinds were closed, but he knew he needed to move quickly.
“I went right through those vertical blinds like they weren’t even there,” he remembered.
“I looked to my left,” he said, then stopped. He was blinking. Seconds passed. He held up his forefinger, unable to speak. More time passed before he was able to continue. “I looked to my left. I saw a small child shot in the chest bleeding.”
As he was processing that, another girl ran up to tell him she too had been shot. A boy ran up, tugging on Michell’s uniform, and said “I’ve been shot too.”
By that time his partner was inside the apartment. Alaysha was losing a lot of blood. Her breath was labored. Mitchell said he knew he had to move quickly. As he was moving to pick her up, blood was everywhere. He asked for gloves from his partner, then instantly rejected the idea.
“I don’t care about blood,” he said, describing his thought in that instant. “I knew what I was seeing. I knew she was dying because I’d seen it before.”
He picked Alaysha up and secured her neck, holding her tightly against him as he ran to the ambulance. She moaned. “Watch out, get out of my way,” he yells, sounding frantic in the chest camera footage — played in court — that Mitchell recorded that night at the apartment.
“She was dying in my arms,” he said, breaking down in tears. He ran back inside to grab Amara and get her outside. “Come on honey, come on, come on,” he tells her. “I got you.”
His partner carried out Amara’s brother. They called for more ambulances. It was only then Fields told Mitchell she had been shot, and the officers got her outside and to the hospital, too.
Paramedic: “The whole medical team just descended on her”
Paramedic Julie Silva said, when she got to the scene, not long after Mitchell, “everybody seemed to be going about their evening.” There was just one police car there. She could hear the officers knocking on doors, trying to figure out what was going on.
She got out of her ambulance to try to hear the police radio traffic to find out what to expect. She overheard something, she thought, about a child having been shot.
Then she saw Mitchell running toward her holding a child. He gave the little girl to Silva.
“She looked dead,” she said. “I was trying to see if she was alive.”
Silva assessed Alaysha’s injuries, found the bullet wounds, found a pulse. She asked the girl her name and thought she said, “Alisha.” Silva kept talking with her as she worked. She asked if Alaysha knew what happened. Alaysha said she’d been shot. Silva asked if she knew by whom. “It was a man,” Alaysha said.
Silva recalled that Alaysha had been wearing “cute little clothes” — pajama pants covered with pastel hearts, a blue T-shirt that said “LOVE” with a large peace sign on it — that made Silva think the girl had been at a pajama party.
Silva recalled how Alaysha’s condition deteriorated on the short ride to the hospital. She stopped answering questions, and closed her eyes, became lethargic. About 30 seconds went by.
Then, said Silva, “she let out a scream that will haunt me to the day I die,” and said: “I’m dead.”
Silva tried to reassure her, and told Alaysha she was just hurt, that they were going to see the doctor. She kissed her forehead. Alaysha was still in a panic.
“The doctor? Well that means I’m dying. I’m dying!” Alaysha wailed. When they got to the hospital, 10-12 staffers were waiting: “The whole medical team just descended on her.”
Officer Corey Hunt, an Oakland Police officer who works as an evidence technician, responded to the hospital to photograph Alaysha to collect evidence for the case: “There was a whole bunch of people around her trying to save her life.”
He recalled photographing the medical team as they worked. Brouhard displayed one of those photos in the courtroom. Doctors are crowded around Alaysha, one holds a breathing tube, another is using a bag to help her breathe. Many pairs of hands surround her.
“There was a a lot of blood coming out from underneath her,” Hunt recalled, as he looked at the photograph projected on a screen. His voice trembled and he took a sip of water. “It was soaking the sheet.”
Silva — who has been a paramedic for 21 years — said she was in the room when Alaysha died, but also as the team worked on her. At times she had to step out, when it got too emotional: “It was hard to watch.”
She told defense attorney Levy, during cross-examination: “I was hopeful that she could be saved.”
Before testimony began, during opening statements Tuesday, Levy minced no words in describing the horror of the shooting. But she said her client did not do it.
“We all want to find somebody and blame somebody,” Levy told the jury. “It’s heart-wrenching, but that doesn’t give you any information for who is responsible for shooting through that door.”
Testimony is set to resume Monday.
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)
Case dismissed in Jermaine Davis homicide (09.17.14)
4 with Berkeley ties held to answer in alleged murder plot (04.10.14)
Alleged murder plot hearing set to end this week (04.01.14)
4 men with Berkeley ties face murder plot charge (03.26.14)
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)
Police announce arrest in Berkeley homicide (01.07.14)
Berkeley community turns out for march against violence (10.08.13)
Robbery attempt led to Medearis killing; 2 charged (10.01.13)
Relatives remember Berkeley shooting victim ‘Lil Tone’ (09.10.13)
Man dies after shooting in West Berkeley (09.08.13)
Killed man was brother of man killed by gangs in 2009 (07.18.13)
Man shot and killed on Derby Street in Berkeley (07.17.13)
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