A Berkeley man facing multiple murder charges may have inadvertently tipped off the prosecution to a notable piece of evidence by insisting he get access to material on his old cellphone.
Police had confiscated the phone of Darnell Williams Jr. at the time of his arrest in Berkeley in 2013. He has been charged with the murders of an 8-year-old girl in Oakland and a 22-year-old father with ties to the same West Berkeley neighborhood where Williams lived. The trial began two weeks ago. If convicted, Williams could face the death penalty.
Thursday, after excusing the jury until Tuesday morning, attorneys and Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner stayed on in the courtroom to update the written record following two conversations they’d had earlier in chambers.
The defendant’s cellphone was the topic of those conversations. The defense team had, for some time, been pushing prosecutor John Brouhard to turn over all material from the phone at their client’s urging. Police had tried in the past to download texts and other information from it, but been stymied by technical difficulties.
Defense attorneys “thought it was a really stupid and bad idea”
This week, the Fremont Police Department was able to download the entirety of the phone contents. Brouhard said a review of those records led to the discovery of a photograph that shows a pistol that could have been used to kill 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine in July 2013. She had been playing at a friend’s house during a sleepover and was not the intended target. Three other people, two children and their grandmother, were injured.
The cellphone image is significant because the prosecution previously had identified and presented in court several photographs from Williams’ phone of Glock pistols a firearms expert said could have been used in the September 2013 shooting in Berkeley of Anthony “Tone” Medearis III.
But no photographs had previously been found on the phone showing the type of pistol used in the Oakland shooting. (Police never found any guns they were able to link to the killings.)
Defense attorney Deborah Levy said she and co-counsel Darryl Billups had tried to convince Williams not to pursue the material on the phone because it could harm his case. But he was determined to get it.
“Both Mr. Billups and I thought it was a really stupid and bad idea,” Levy told the court. She said she and Billups had been “very concerned” about digging up the records, but also acknowledged they had signed the April 12 order that allowed the prosecution to search the phone further.
That order required the prosecution to find a way to get the phone records to the defense team as quickly as possible. Brouhard described how Oakland investigators in 2013 had only been able to get some of the photographs off the phone, not download its entire contents. After trying twice, they gave up.
At one point, more recently, all three attorneys had spent an hour going through texts on the phone as an officer paged through them, but it was an arduous process, and Williams wanted to look at the information too. His defense attorneys passed on the message, so Brouhard said he began looking into how that might work.
Brouhard said he considered having an officer sit with Williams to show him the contents of the phone, but was concerned about the resources that might take, and the officer’s safety.
Brouhard said he also spoke with someone in the county crime lab who said he could photograph every piece of information on the phone one screenshot at a time to “manually extract” the contents. Brouhard said he had been ready to get that done when a different investigator came up with the idea to ask Fremont for help.
Gun in photo could be Oakland murder weapon
Wednesday morning, Fremont was able to do the download. Brouhard said, as a result, all the attorneys got access to the data.
Brouhard said several text messages on the phone, which had photographs attached, came to his attention. All three were sent from the phone early in the morning of July 19, 2013, less than two days after Alaysha was killed at her best friend’s apartment. The prosecution has said Williams went there to take revenge on the family of a man he believed had killed his close friend earlier that day.
All three texts showed firearms, Brouhard said: an M1 rifle, a SIG Sauer pistol and a Glock. In connection with the third, Wiliams wrote that he had three guns and was trying to “get some more.” He had told his girlfriend at the time, she testified, he was intent on getting rid of the gun from the Oakland shooting.
Brouhard had a firearms expert look at the photograph of the SIG Sauer in particular. After test-firing that kind of gun, using the type of bullet found at the Oakland crime scene, the expert determined the SIG Sauer could have been the weapon used to kill Alaysha.
“They look the same,” Brouhard told the court, of the firing pin impressions and ejector marks — two indicators of consistency during forensic firearm analysis — on the casings from the crime scene and the test casings.
Brouhard cannot definitively say the SIG Sauer in the photo was the one used to kill Alaysha. But he can now present evidence to the jury to indicate Williams appears to have had access to a gun that could have been used in that shooting.
The jury, judge and attorneys are in recess until Tuesday morning. Brouhard said he plans to question several witnesses next week about the cellphone download and the phone’s location data.
Levy noted that there are more than 130 pages of text messages from the phone she hopes to review before then.
(All of the prior discussion took place as part of the official court record; the attorneys are prohibited from communicating with the media about the case due to a gag order.)
Much of the testimony this week has focused on the Berkeley shooting of Medearis. Stay tuned to Berkeleyside for an in-depth look at that testimony early next week.
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)
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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