One month into the trial of a Berkeley man charged with two murders, who could face the death penalty, his defense attorneys are slated to begin to present evidence to the jury Monday.
Darnell Williams Jr., 25, is accused of killing 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine, who happened to be a guest at a sleepover at an apartment targeted by a man the prosecution has said was bent on revenge for the killing in Berkeley earlier that day — July 17, 2013 — of a close friend.
Less than two months later, Sept. 8, authorities say Williams opened fire on 22-year-old Anthony “Tone” Medearis III as Medearis ran from him, pleading for his life. The two were fixtures in the same West Berkeley neighborhood and hung out with the same group of friends. Authorities have said Williams planned to rob Medearis and considered him a snitch who deserved to die for talking to the police.
Alaysha’s killing — described by the prosecution as the intentional gunning down of children — horrified the broader Bay Area community. Medearis’ shooting, though heinous and senseless, did not strike the same chord. His family, a near-daily presence in the courtroom, has been the first to acknowledge it. But they’ve said they’ve come to see Medearis’ death as a path to justice for Alaysha.
“My baby was an angel,” said Medearis’ mother, Dolanda Medearis, during a recent break from court. “Had he [Williams] not killed him, he could have gotten away with killing that 8-year-old girl.”
Oakland Police detectives had already begun zeroing in on Williams when the Medearis killing happened. He’d become a suspect in late July, according to court testimony. A wiretap operation to monitor Williams and two others was live by Sept. 4. But the Berkeley case, and Williams’ subsequent arrest, gave investigators sudden access to him and ultimately helped break the Oakland case.
Prosecutor John Brouhard played recordings in court of Williams’ statements to Berkeley detectives. He said he believed in street justice and expressed disdain for snitches, while making claims about his whereabouts authorities say cellphone location data disproves.
The death of Anthony “Tone” Medearis III
Earlier this month, after presenting much of his evidence about Alaysha’s killing, Brouhard turned his attention to the other piece of his case against Williams: the fatal shooting of Medearis. According to testimony, the two young men had been at a dice game in the parking lot of a friend’s house, on Camelia and Eighth streets in West Berkeley, when there was a struggle over a gun, and Medearis took off running.
Sam Fortune Jr., 85, recalled how a young man had come up on his porch saying, “I need help,” as he banged on Fortune’s window, in the 900 block of Page Street, and left a bloody handprint. Medearis called for help two or three times, then walked back to the sidewalk before Fortune made it to the door.
When Fortune did get outside, it didn’t look good.
“We were praying, asking the Lord to spare his life,” Fortune recalled. “He was hurt. I thought he was gone.”
Defense attorney Darryl Billups asked Fortune how close he ever got to Medearis. Fortune said he never got too close. That ended the cross-examination, and Fortune was excused.
As the judge wished him a good day, Fortune replied: “I try to do all the good I can.”
Former Berkeley Police Officer John Ettare, now retired, testified about how Medearis would not, or could not, reveal who shot him when Ettare found him bleeding, face up, on the ground on Page. Ettare, a former firefighter and paramedic, tried to control the bleeding.
Ettare asked Medearis his name, and recognized him from prior contacts. He asked Medearis who was responsible for his injuries.
“He did not respond about who shot him,” Ettare told the jury. Medearis’ condition declined quickly as they rode in the ambulance to Highland Hospital.
“The only thing he could say was that he was hurting everywhere,” Ettare said. “By the time we got to the hospital he was not responding to my questions.” Medearis was pronounced dead at Highland.
Former police captain: “That moment where the world got really small”
Benicia Police Chief Erik Upson testified after Ettare and Fortune. In 2013, Upson was a captain in the Berkeley Police Department, one of its highest ranking officials. But Sept. 8, he had picked up a patrol shift to cover for another officer because “at the time, our staffing was pretty impacted,” he said.
Around 5:45 p.m., he heard the report over the radio about shots having been fired. Upson said he headed in the direction of the call but planned to keep some distance so he wouldn’t become the de facto person in charge as the highest ranking person on scene. Instead, he planned to stay on the periphery and help look for the suspect.
He “started drifting” toward Gilman Street, on San Pablo Avenue, when a woman flagged him down and said she had seen a young man who appeared to have blood on him go into Walgreens. Upson went inside and a store clerk said someone had matched that description but already left.
Hearing that, two younger officers who had followed Upson into the store ran back outside, jumped in their patrol cars and sped off. Upson, at that time a 15-year veteran with BPD, was “left standing there.”
He recalled thinking, “Let me just pause and look and think: Where would he go if he was leaving the store?” Upson reasoned, he wouldn’t head west, back toward the crime scene, or east, where officers were coming into the area. Upson began to walk north, toward a Chevron gas station at Gilman and San Pablo that was under construction.
“I had one of those moments when your eyes just get big,” Upson told the jury, as he saw a young man he thought could be the suspect on his phone, looking around furtively in every direction. “We had that moment where we saw each other.”
Upson said he recalled it as “that moment where the world got really small,” and he looked closely at the man’s face as he peered at him from the parking lot. In court, Upson identified defendant Darnell Williams as the man he had seen.
“I was surprised to see him. He was surprised to see me,” Upson said, and the man “quickly walked off” to the north, across Gilman, and out of view.
Upson immediately began to chase Williams as he radioed in the update, shouting “stop, police” as Williams ran across San Pablo.
“I start running across the street, dodging cars to get to him,” Upson said. But he sees Williams jump into a teal-colored vehicle that continues northbound before turning right onto Harrison Street, the next block up. Upson said he wasn’t concerned because he knew many officers were in the area who would be able to follow the car.
Eventually he got word that Williams had been arrested and went to the scene to identify him.
Prosecutor Brouhard also played Walgreens surveillance footage where a man who has been identified as Williams, by police and one-time friend Laquana Nuño, enters the store. The man has a bulge on his hip that could be a gun, according to testimony. In the footage, Williams can be seen entering the store but not leaving.
About seven minutes later, Upson walks inside. He can then be seen leaving, and pausing outside as he stops to consider which direction of flight would have been most likely.
Defense attorney Billups questioned Upson about how certain he was that his client was the same person he had seen that day. Upson said he was basing his identification primarily on clothing, build and facial structure. He said he was “very certain” Williams was the person he had seen.
Billups asked Upson how far he had been from the man on the phone at Chevron, and Upson estimated it to have been about 50 feet. He said he very briefly lost sight of him during the chase, but otherwise could see the man clearly until the car sped off. It was still daylight. Upson said about an hour passed before he saw Williams again, after he had been taken into custody.
No weapon found at Berkeley scene or during later search
Another BPD officer who testified — Ryan Murray — described following the getaway car, watching a man get out and run, and following that man onto Kains Avenue as he tried to open gates and eventually went over a wooden gate into a backyard.
Murray said he stayed on the scene in front of the house with the gate until El Cerrito PD could bring its police canine to help with the search. Murray and the canine officer eventually followed the flight path and announced themselves, warning the suspect to come out or risk being bitten by the dog.
“We hear somebody call out from the general area in front of us,” Murray said, which turned out to be the neighboring yard. He and another officer kicked some boards out of a fence to get through, and heard the voice coming out of a shed. They handcuffed the man inside, who Murray identified in court as Williams.
He noted that the man he saw run from the vehicle and the person he later arrested had a similar haircut, build and clothing. But he did not identify the runner beyond that.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Deborah Levy asked if Murray had seen the man discard a weapon. He said he had not. Levy asked if Murray had been the officer to search Williams. He said he had not. There were no further questions.
Another BPD officer, Jason Muniz, testified he conducted the search, and found $1.20 in coins in Williams’ pocket, as well as five “suspected hydrocodone pills” loose in his coin pocket. Muniz said he also helped with the search that ultimately led to what authorities have said was Williams’ phone nearby.
Muniz described Williams at the time of the search as quiet and “spaced out,” following instructions and, overall, “just calm.”
Levy asked Muniz what he meant by spaced out and he said Williams just wouldn’t look directly at him, and kept his gaze forward. Muniz said Williams didn’t seem high, but just “in a zone, not interacting with me.”
Levy also asked Muniz if he had found any discarded money or weapons in the area. He said he had not. (The prosecution has said Williams planned to rob Medearis before the shooting, but the defense has pointed out through questioning that Williams did not have much money with him.)
BPD Sgt. Jennifer Wilson described getting a call from a Berkeley police detective who said officers needed to find Williams’ phone, since he did not have it on him at the time of his arrest. Wilson asked Muniz to call the number provided by Williams during his search. (Muniz had collected some basic information from Williams at that time.) Wilson said she saw the phone light up in the yard next to the one with the shed where Williams had been found.
She had an officer — Ettare — watch over the phone until it could be taken into evidence. The defense had no questions for Wilson.
Another key witness: Laquana Nuño
Prosecutor Brouhard has said Williams told two people about the Oakland killing of Alaysha Carradine: his girlfriend at the time, Britney Rogers, and a woman he had just come to know named Laquana Nuño, who was also identified on the stand as Juana Ramirez.
Nuño, who is 26, first described to the jury how she had run away at age 13 due to a “bad situation at home,” after which she “pretty much became a prostitute.” She said that had basically been her primary way of earning money ever since.
Before he was killed, Nuño had been the girlfriend of Jermaine Davis for two years. Davis was fatally shot in Berkeley on July 17, 2013, and the prosecution has said Williams wanted to avenge Davis’ death when he went to Oakland and fired 13 bullets through the security gate at the apartment Alaysha was visiting. According to testimony, Williams believed the family of the person responsible for killing Davis lived at that Oakland apartment.
Nuño described her relationship with Davis as “the best thing that ever happened to my life,” adding: “I loved him and I still do.”
Initially, police charged Nuño along with Williams in connection with the Medearis killing because she was the one who picked Williams up on San Pablo. In exchange for cooperating with police, they agreed to reduce the charge to being an accessory after the fact, which would result in no further jail time.
Nuño said Davis was not her pimp and was not involved in her prostitution business, but that he would sometimes drive her to jobs in the Bay Area and help provide protection while she worked. At the time of his death, she was working in New Jersey, however. She flew home July 18, 2013, the day after the shooting, which had already been her plan.
She described going to a friend’s house in East Oakland where people had gathered to mourn Davis and hold a candlelight vigil. She said it was there she learned who had reportedly killed Davis, a man named Twanny York. (He was charged but later released after a witness vanished.)
That was also the first night, she said, she saw Darnell “DJ” Williams, who was also at the vigil. She saw him sitting in a car talking with someone, but did not meet him herself.
Nuño said she went back to New Jersey to make money for Davis’ funeral. But while she was there, a woman she knew from Oakland robbed her of $1,500. She called a friend — Davis’ cousin Joe Carroll Jr. — to ask for advice.
“He told me to come back home and he was going to get my ticket,” she recalled, describing him as “the only male figure after Jermaine died that was protecting me still.”
She continued: “He told me he had somebody he wanted me to be with that was going to protect me…. He wanted me to be with DJ.”
Nuño clarified later that the two were just friends, and that his role was to assist her as far as protection while she was working.
She said it was a difficult time as she was still grieving Davis. She recalled driving around with Williams for about a week, in late August and early September, talking about how they wanted to kill York. They were doing “lots of drugs” as they shared theories on where York might be.
Nuño said Williams told her about the Oakland shooting less than a week before the Medearis homicide. According to her testimony, he said that, after identifying York as Davis’ killer, Williams went to the home where York’s children and their mother lived, rang the doorbell, and started shooting as soon as the handle began to turn. She said someone had told him to go there because someone close to York lived there.
“What he told me was that he shot through that door,” she said. Nuño said during the preliminary hearing that the confession “shocked” her: “I didn’t think he was capable of doing something like that.”
She said it was during this time that Williams also told her, several times, he wanted to kill Medearis “because he was a snitch.” Davis had shown various people “paperwork” that connected Medearis to police. Nuño said, whatever Medearis might have done, she knew him to be a friend of Davis and did not think killing him was right, but Williams “was really serious about doing it.”
Once, she said, she gave Medearis a ride home because she didn’t want him to be at risk.
“I didn’t want to be in the middle of it,” she added.
Nuño: “I didn’t know the severity of the situation”
Nuño was actually one of the targets of the original Oakland wiretap investigation into the retaliation shooting at the York family home, along with Williams and Joe Carroll, who is Davis’ first cousin.
Authorities initially charged Carroll in connection with Alaysha’s death, but he was in Antioch confronting York at a gas station when that shooting happened. During the preliminary hearing in 2014, Nuño testified that Carroll was angry at the candlelight vigil — the day after Alaysha’s shooting — because he said no one was doing anything to avenge Davis’ death; she said no one brought up the shooting at York’s family’s home to try to convince him otherwise.
Brouhard himself moved to dismiss the murder charge against Carroll during that hearing because, he said, there was not sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove Carroll had anything to do with the shooting at York’s family’s home.
Earlier this month, Brouhard played recordings of calls between Nuño and Williams, and projected texts between them onto screens for jurors to see.
The day of the Medearis shooting, Williams texted Nuño to come pick him up because he was “bout to rob tone.” She said, in her way, she tried to discourage him from doing it, by reminding him that Medearis was in touch with police.
Prosecutor Brouhard played calls between the two where they are trying to find each other in West Berkeley as police swarmed into the area. Nuño confirmed that the recordings accurately reflected the conversations that had taken place. She said she could tell Williams was out of breath, and seemed to need her help urgently.
“I thought he had robbed [Tone],” she testified. “I didn’t know the severity of the situation.”
She said he was only in her car for about 30 seconds before he jumped out again: “My car was broken. I couldn’t do a high-speed chase if I wanted to.” She said he didn’t say anything while he was in the car. And she only said one thing to him, upon seeing “the 500 police officers that were chasing my car.”
“We’re going to jail,” she told him.
After he jumped out, she drove a short distance, parked, then got out and ran. To her surprise, police did not follow her. She later went back and got her car. Nuño wasn’t arrested until the end of September, when police came to take her into custody at her motel room.
Brouhard played her the Walgreens surveillance video and she identified Williams as the person on screen. He was wearing jeans and a tight white tank top, which is what he was wearing when he got into her car, she said. Nuño said Williams also appeared, in the footage, to have a gun on his left hip, under his shirt.
How do you know that’s a gun? asked the prosecutor.
“It’s sticking out,” she said, of the bulge under the shirt. “And he always kept his gun there.”
Nuño said she wasn’t sure what happened to the gun, but noted it was not in her car when she went back to retrieve the vehicle after the police chase. (Police did not recover either weapon, from the Berkeley or Oakland homicides.)
Nuño: “This has really been haunting me”
Brouhard also asked Nuño a series of questions about her prostitution background, contacts with police and brief criminal history. She was arrested twice on suspicion of loitering with intent to prostitute, and twice in connection with drugs. At the time of her first arrest, she lied to police about her date of birth so they wouldn’t know she was a minor and wouldn’t notify her parents.
Her only other arrest was Sept. 28, 2013, when detectives from Berkeley and Oakland questioned her, she said. She told them what she said Williams told her about shooting at the Oakland apartment door. She was charged with murder in connection with the Medearis killing. She agreed to cooperate fully and testify truthfully in exchange for time served and probation.
Initially, she did not tell police about Williams having said he wanted to kill Medearis because he was a snitch. She said she just didn’t feel like cooperating at first, as far as that case. She didn’t bring up the snitch discussions until the preliminary hearing in January 2014. Brouhard asked her why she had waited.
“I just wanted to get this over with,” she said. “I just wanted to be truthful.”
She continued, about the Medearis shooting: “I didn’t want to have nothing to do with that. I didn’t want him to do that.”
Brouhard asked Nuño if she had, generally, wanted to cooperate with the prosecution. It was at that point she broke down, crying, on the stand.
“I don’t want to do this,” she said, three times, adding that she was ready to be done with the case. “This has really been haunting me…. I’m not free. Because people really just treat me really bad, even in jail. I can’t even walk down the street and get juice.”
Defense attorney Billups asked Nuño if she knew what had caused the disagreement between Davis and York. She said she’d been told York had done something to a female cousin of Davis’ — put his hands on her — and Davis was sticking up for her. Davis had wanted to meet to talk to resolve the situation. Nuño said Davis just wanted to talk; he was already on an ankle monitor and had stopped “messing with guns.”
Billups asked if Carroll, at the candlelight vigil the day after the York family shooting, had been upset. Nuño said “we all were.”
“He wanted some action and he let that be known,” Billups said. Nuño agreed. She recalled that Carroll and Williams had left the vigil together. Billups asked whether anyone brought up the shooting of Alaysha to make him feel better. “Nobody said it,” Nuño said.
Billups brought up the confrontation between Carroll and York at the Antioch gas station and asked why Carroll hadn’t handled the beef then. Nuño said, despite the rumors, “no one had conclusive evidence” that York had been the shooter.
“They were friends all their lives,” she said. “Nobody thought he would do something like that.”
Billups asked if she and Williams had “stayed loaded” for most of their time together, and she said they had. He asked if she and Carroll had also wanted revenge for Davis’ death and she said they did. She admitted she, herself, had wanted York dead.
Billups asked about how she and Williams would ride around talking about trying to kill York, and why nothing had come of it.
Nuño said no one really knew where to find him. There were rumors he was in Las Vegas. Other people said he was in Marin. She described it as a “big back and forth of where is Twanny?”
Other evidence in the prosecution’s case: Ballistics, cellphone data, child witness
Jurors also watched a recorded interview, from September 2013, of a statement made by Williams’ nephew, who was struck by a bullet fragment near his eye just before the Medearis shooting.
A ballistics and firearms expert testified the Medearis shooting could have been done using a Glock. The prosecution showed the jury photographs taken from Williams’ phone that showed him to be in possession of at least three Glock pistols prior to Sept. 8.
Initially the expert, Mark Bennett, who works at the Oakland Police Department, said he wasn’t sure what type of weapon had been used in the Oakland shooting. But new evidence came to light earlier this month that pointed police toward a photograph on Williams’ phone of a SIG Sauer pistol Bennett said could have been used to kill Alaysha.
Bennett also discussed the bullet trajectories in the Oakland case. He said the shooter was pointing down when he fired all 13 shots: “Every shot is at a downward angle to various degrees.” Brouhard said in his opening statements that this would not have been the case if Williams had been aiming at an adult.
Bennett also said the inner wooden door to the Oakland home where Alaysha, two other small children and their grandmother were shot “couldn’t be closed for any of the shots” because of the way the trajectory holes lined up between a locked metal security gate and the inner door. Prosecutor Brouhard has been trying to make the case that the shooter waited for the door to open before he opened fire, and would have been able to see inside at who he was shooting at when he pulled the trigger.
Defense attorney Levy asked whether the security door could have changed the bullet trajectory significantly but Bennett said it could not have.
Sgt. Robert Rosin, the lead investigator for OPD on the Carradine case, testified he could see through the security door when he was on the scene after the shooting. Rosin said OPD worked closely with BPD from the beginning, due to the Davis killing in Berkeley that authorities believe set the chain of events in motion.
Rosin said that, despite working “tirelessly for this investigation from the onset,” OPD was not able to find any eyewitnesses to the Oakland case, or any video of evidentiary value. There was also no DNA on the doorbell police tested.
Lead Oakland detective: “That particular detail” had to come from someone at the scene
Rosin said Williams “became a suspect” in late July but did not initially say how. In later testimony, he said Britney Rogers‘ sister had contacted police because she was concerned for Rogers, which helped move the investigation forward. After focusing in on Williams, Rosin said he sought cellphone records — and later wiretaps — linked to Williams, which also helped guide the case.
Rosin recalled listening to the wiretaps Sept. 8, four days after they went live, and seeing texts from Williams to Nuño. When he saw a message about plans to rob “Tone,” and heard a call about being at Walgreens and needing a ride, “I knew something bad had happened and I began to communicate and coordinate” with BPD, he said.
Rosin was able to use the hookup to Williams’ phone to point BPD to Walgreens during the search, and help BPD find the missing phone after Williams’ arrest.
Brouhard asked Rosin about his interview of Nuño in late September, and the earlier statement of Britney Rogers. Rosin said he had been struck by the fact that both women said Williams had gone with another person to the Oakland apartment where York’s family lived, and both said Williams told them he had been getting high around the time of the shooting.
Rosin said he had not shared those details with either woman because he was constantly evaluating the information he was receiving to determine how reliable it was.
Rosin said he had also been struck by something Rogers had told him about how — according to her — Williams said he had seen the door opening, seen a woman on the couch, and had shot at her, thinking it was York’s “baby mama.” He said he found that detail “very significant” because it had never been released to or reported by the media.
“I knew that particular detail had to come from somebody who was present at the scene,” he said.
Defense attorney Levy asked Rosin repeatedly about Joseph Carroll: If he knew Carroll and Davis were first cousins, and how Rogers said she thought Carroll had actually driven Williams to the Oakland apartment.
Rosin said he had heard about the relationship and heard the driver theory, but had thought it needed further investigation to prove. (It later turned out not to have been possible, because Carroll was in Antioch confronting York right before the shooting.)
Levy asked, through the wiretaps, if Rosin knew whether Carroll was aware that York was believed to be responsible for the Davis shooting, and Rosin said Carroll believed that to be the case. Levy also asked whether Carroll had been one of the initial wiretap targets, and Rosin said he was.
A district attorney’s office inspector, Shawn Knight, testified that cellphone records placed Williams in the vicinity of the Oakland shooting at 11:10 p.m., around the time the shooting took place. Knight said someone had called Williams’ phone, which connected to a tower near the scene, but the call went to voicemail. The phone was then off for about an hour.
Billups asked Knight whether he could tell if someone had powered down the phone, or if it might have simply run out of battery life. Knight said he did not know. Both defense attorneys also questioned the reliability of the cell antenna mapping, noting that phones are always looking for stronger signals and can change towers and antennas unpredictably depending on a variety of factors.
Wednesday, when the prosecution rested at 2:15 p.m., Judge Jeffrey Horner said, as per a conversation earlier in chambers, the defense team planned to put on an affirmative defense and call witnesses of its own. Horner said the attorneys planned to take Thursday to prep, and ordered jurors to return Monday at 9:30 a.m. to hear their case.
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)
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)
Breaking: Police announce arrest in Berkeley homicide (01.07.14)
Robbery attempt led to Medearis killing; 2 charged (10.01.13)
‘Ceasefire Walk Against Violence’ comes to West Berkeley (10.01.13)
Relatives remember Berkeley shooting victim ‘Lil Tone’ (09.10.13)
Man dies after shooting in West Berkeley (09.08.13)
Murdered man was brother of man killed by gangs in 2009 (07.18.13)
Breaking: Man shot and killed on Derby Street in Berkeley (07.17.13)
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