In closing statements Tuesday in the murder trial of Darnell Williams Jr., attorneys on both sides said the 25-year-old Berkeley man was a psychopath. But they disagreed in their advice to the jury about what his sentence should be.
Prosecutor John Brouhard told jurors the death penalty would be the fair and just punishment for Williams, who fatally shot two people in separate incidents in 2013, and tried to kill three others.
Defense attorney Deborah Levy agreed with the assessment of her client as a psychopath, but said the jury could still choose to show him mercy.
“Was he born that way?” she asked the jury. “I don’t think so.”
She noted that Williams had not shown remorse or emotion throughout the trial process.
“I know you’ve seen it,” she told jurors. “It’s part of his emotional illness, that’s why. Psychopaths, they are unable to feel for others.”
The Alameda County jury found Williams guilty about a month ago but, because he could face the death penalty, jurors have been hearing evidence in the “penalty phase” of the trial. After deliberations, they are expected to recommend a sentence to the judge, either life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
After receiving legal instructions Wednesday morning, they are slated to begin deliberations.
Closing statements in the case took place Tuesday, after the presentation of evidence in recent weeks showing both aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the case.
Levy told the jury her client never had a chance in life because his parents were criminals and most of his male role models were felons, too. Williams was in foster case for about six months when he was a child after his mother was incarcerated. After that, he was largely raised by his grandfather in Berkeley.
Prosecutor John Brouhard said Williams’ grandfather made every effort to take care of all the boy’s needs and wants, even as he got into more and more trouble.
According to testimony last week, Williams was 9 when he committed his first known burglary. He was inside a Berkeley home when the resident came back. That same year, he climbed over a gate in another Berkeley home and stole a motorized scooter used by a disabled person.
Two years later, he got caught in another home burglary when he and two other people spray painted the interior and broke windows before leaving. A week or so later, he approached someone on the street and demanded money while brandishing a knife. When the victim did not comply, Williams punched him in the face. He was 11.
Several other burglaries followed the next year. When he was 14, he got caught stealing a moped in Modesto — where he had moved to live with his mother — and faced expulsion in school after he reportedly got into a fight and threatened to attack a teacher.
As penalties for the various crimes, he first was sent to counseling through Berkeley Mental Health, then later was put in residential treatment homes. But he stole things and repeatedly ran away.
At 15, he was put in a weekend work program and juvenile hall before getting sent to the California Youth Authority in Stockton for three years after a burglary involving an iPod. In all of those places, he received extensive services and treatment, according to testimony last week.
When he was released as an 18-year-old, he was involved in trying to shoot down a childhood friend in Berkeley. He was sent to prison until 2013, the year of the murders in the current case.
“The defendant had chance after chance after chance, but what he did was he chose criminality,” Brouhard said. He urged jurors Tuesday to sentence Williams to death.
He reminded jurors how, last week, a forensic psychologist testifying for the defense agreed with his assessment that Williams was a psychopath who had issues with authority from the time of his youth.
Brouhard called the murders sinister and horrific and said nothing Williams faced in his life could mitigate the severity of the crimes. He said, though Williams’ mother was absent — incarcerated — throughout much of his childhood, and his father was not involved, “to say he had a bad childhood … may be going too far.”
Williams’ grandfather was deeply involved in his life, going to school-related meetings, spending time with Williams on the weekends, and working hard throughout the week so the boy always had money and the things he wanted. Even when Williams was sent to residential treatment centers after getting into trouble, his grandfather would visit often and bring him special food.
Brouhard described for the jury in graphic detail how 8-year-old Alaysha and, less than two months later, Anthony Medearis III, 22, died from gunshot wounds inflicted by Williams.
“We’re here this morning because Alaysha Carradine is not here,” he said. “She’s not here because that man took a gun and, in the interest of revenge, shot that girl in the neck … and left her to die.”
He described the emotions and sensations both Alaysha and Medearis must have felt after they were shot.
Using his hands to illustrate a scale, he held one arm high up in the air, indicating what he believed were the challenges Williams faced, while his other arm stretched down toward the ground, showing the weight of what Brouhard repeatedly described as the enormity of Williams’ crimes.
“I don’t have arms long enough to illustrate the imbalance,” he said. “The death penalty is the only just verdict in this case.”
He continued: “You should show the defendant as much mercy as he did to the victims in this case, which is none.”
Defense attorney Darryl Billups acknowledged that Williams’ victims had suffered, but told jurors his client had not gratuitously inflicted pain.
“They were shot,” he said.
Billups said Williams had struggled, even though his father wasn’t around, with living in the shadow of his reputation. The man was reportedly a repeat felon who struggled with drug abuse and may have had Oakland gang ties.
“He somehow had to live up to or be subject to the path that his father had come down,” Billups said, in brief remarks. “The decision you have to make here today is whether or not you want to kill Darnell Williams Jr.”
Levy, his co-counsel, said choosing the death penalty would be a form of vengeance and street justice, and urged the jury not bring back that verdict.
She said her client was not a mass murderer or the Boston bomber, and said life in prison would be the more appropriate sentence.
“I think you can have justice with some mercy, with some understanding and with a punishment that will take Mr. Williams off the street,” she said. “We’re not asking you to let him go home.”
She said Williams had been traumatized emotionally before he had even finished kindergarten by the incarceration of his mother and his placement in foster care. She said living in the Bay Area had left him with PTSD and that, even though he received counseling, “it was basically too late.”
She said Williams ended up living “in the streets” and had no choice but to live by the code of the streets as a result. She said Willams’ father was part of a violent gang that sold drugs, and later was hooked on drugs.
“Darnell was not raised by his parents, he was raised by the streets. And that’s where he learned street justice,” she said. “I don’t think Mr. Williams had much of a chance other than to move to the streets, which became his family.”
She told jurors that the two deaths, of Alaysha and Medearis, had been enough killing. And she repeatedly said her client’s life was in the jurors’ hands.
“If you want, you can put another life to be snuffed out,” she said. “It’s your choice.”
She also reminded jurors that no one had attended the court proceedings, which began in March, on behalf of Williams.
“Nobody cared, nobody came and watched. Nobody supported him,” she said. “Is that a reason not to kill him? That’s something you all have to decide.”
Read complete coverage of the case.
Williams decides not to testify; defense rests (05.26.16)
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