Darrent Williams murder trial, day five: Bullets and blood
Prosecutors say Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams (left) was shot and killed by 26-year-old Willie Clark (right) on New Year's Day 2007.
Westword is covering the trial of Willie Clark, accused of murdering Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams early on New Year's Day 2007. The most recent updates for the day will be at the top; to check out the account chronologically at day's end, read from the bottom up. Click here to read Friday's blog, which includes links for the entire week's worth of testimony.
5:41 p.m.: Daniel "PT" Harris took the stand next. He's been described as the prosecution's star witness. Harris is currently in prison on federal drug charges; he wore a beige jumpsuit and wrist shackles. He said he used to sell drugs, in addition to selling cars at a legitimate car lot. Harris also said he's not a member of the Tre Tre Crips gang, although he's friends with several people who are, including Clark and Brian Hicks. He cut a deal with prosecutors in his own pending case to testify in this case against Clark.
Harris testified that on New Year's Eve 2006, he went to dinner at around 9 p.m. with several friends, including his brother Marvin "Coffee" Bragg, Felix Abram, Henderson Abram, his two sisters, a friend named Ben and Ben's girlfriend. They went to the Dolce Vita restaurant, which is located between 10th and 11th on Lincoln Street. Harris said he drove there alone and parked his BMW behind a deli on Lincoln.
After dinner, at about 10:30 or 11 p.m., Harris said they went to the Safari club, which was a block away on Broadway. He said he doesn't remember getting into any arguments while waiting in line to get into the club, and he doesn't remember seeing any professional athletes or celebrities inside the club. He said he also doesn't remember getting into any altercations or seeing anyone spray champagne. Several people have identified Harris as one of the men who got into an altercation with Broncos players inside the club after he was sprayed with champagne, as well as outside the club.
"I don't recall me getting into any kind of altercation with anybody," Harris said.
But he admitted that when he watched a surveillance tape of the crowd outside the club at let-out, he saw himself push his way through the crowd like he was angry. From that, he said he can deduce that he was in some kind of fight with somebody.
"Was that enough to cause you to want to shoot someone?" Twining asked.
"No, that didn't incite me to kill," Harris said. "I got too much going on to let a little argument get in the way of my business." Twining asked what business. "Selling dope," Harris said. "That would stop it all around because of all the heat and everything else that goes along with it. I'd be done."
Harris said he remembers seeing a "bigger" black man standing in the middle of the street, jumping up and down and yelling and "just acting crazy." But he said he doesn't remember engaging him at all. Other witnesses have identified Harris as the man yelling in the middle of the street, inciting some of the Broncos' group to fight.
Security guards sprayed mace to try to disburse the crowd, Harris said, and some of the residue hit him, making his mouth burn, his nose run and his eyes water. At that point, he said, he heard someone yell his nickname, "PT! PT! PT!" When he looked up, he said he saw Clark and his friends Kataina "Markie" Jackson-Keeling and Mario Anderson -- who have thus far refused to testify in the case -- in a 1996 or 1997 white Chevy Tahoe that he said he sold to Brian Hicks. He jumped into the back seat of the SUV behind the passenger because, he said, he deemed it to be the safest place for him at the moment.
Clark was behind the wheel and drove southbound of Broadway, Harris said, and eventually ended up on Speer. He pulled up next to a white Hummer limo that was previously in front of the club, he said, and started shooting. "Willie is leaning over the center console, shooting out the [passenger-side] window at the white limousine," Clark said. Harris said he doesn't remember how many times Clark pulled the trigger but it was a lot. "It seemed like it was going on forever," he said.
He said he doesn't remember anyone else having a gun or shooting at the limo, though he can't say for sure whether Jackson-Keeling, who was in the passenger seat, fired a gun. Harris said his own window was rolled up; Anderson was also in the back seat.
Even though he had been drinking heavily that night and had gotten maced, Harris said he's sure Clark was the shooter. "Somebody shooting a gun in your face, going off and off and off and off, that's going to sober you up," he said. "You might not be all the way sober, but you're going to sober up."
After the shooting, Harris said, Clark sped off. Harris said he begged him to slow down; "I told him, 'Don't speed, don't speed, don't speed! Let me out!'" Harris said he didn't want to attract police attention.
Clark turned right off Speer, drove a couple blocks and let him out, Harris said. Harris said he then ran up the hill toward Lincoln, and when he got there, he saw Felix and Henderson Abram. He jumped in their car, he said, but didn't tell them what happened: "I didn't want to get them involved in anything they didn't need to be involved in."
The three of them decided to drive to a gas station off Colfax near the Auraria Campus to meet Harris's two sisters, he said. They drove right by the shot-up limo, but Harris still didn't say he'd been involved. Harris said he stayed at the gas station five or so minutes and then had Felix Abram drop him off at his car. He then drove home, he said.
Twining asked Harris why he didn't call the police and tell them what happened. "In the culture I live in and the way we do things, I don't call the police," he said. "Simply because of the business I'm in, I'm trying to protect my business."
A few days after the shooting, Harris said he confronted Clark about it, face-to-face, and asked him to turn himself in. Clark said he wouldn't. "He said he's not doing all day -- all day meaning life in prison," Harris said.
About a week later, Harris said he fled to Mexico, in part because he feared for his safety. He spent five or six months there, during which time he called the Denver police and told them he had knowledge of the crime. "I told them I'd be able to help them and I know everything that went down except for where the gun was," he said.
While he was in Mexico, Harris was indicted on federal drug charges related to cocaine trafficking. When he returned to Denver in June 2007, he was arrested at Denver International Airport. After cutting a deal with prosecutors regarding his own case, Harris told the police what he knew about the shooting in exchange for prosecutors recommending to a federal judge that he serve five years for his drug charges.
"Did you use a gun on January 1, 2007?" Twining asked. "No, I didn't," Harris said.
"Who did that shooting?" Twining asked. "Willie Clark did," Harris said.
On cross-examination, Cantor attacked Harris's credibility. "You have a habit of telling stories to get yourself out of trouble, don't you?" Cantor asked. "No," Harris said. Cantor then pointed out that Harris gave police a false name when he was arrested for receiving stolen property in 1991 and when he was pulled over in 2002.
Cantor also asked Harris about his deal with prosecutors, which requires him to tell the truth. "You knew that without a deal, you were facing a life sentence?" Cantor asked. "Nobody could know that," Harris said, adding that his sentence is ultimately up to a federal judge, despite prosecutors' recommendation. Cantor also pointed out that only the prosecutors have the power to decide whether Harris is telling the truth.
"If these prosecutors say, 'I don't believe a word you say,' you lose your deal?" Cantor asked. "Yeah," Harris said.
Court ended at 4:50 p.m., with Harris still on the stand. His testimony will resume tomorrow at 9 a.m. But first, at 8 a.m., Jackson-Keeling and Anderson are scheduled to appear before the judge to tell her whether they're willing to testify. They're currently in jail on contempt charges for refusing to take the stand.
After the jury left for the day, Habas addressed something Harris had said on the stand -- that Clark not turning himself in made him scared for his life because, as a witness, "any day, I could be dead." When Harris said that, defense attorneys asked for a mistrial, which she denied. But she said she'd remind Harris not to mention witness threats, especially since Clark is facing charges in another case that he murdered a witness.
Midafternoon (time approximate due to technical difficulties): After lunch, Habas explained that the coroner would take the stand. She reminded the people in the audience not to react to his testimony, which includes graphic photos. In deference to Williams' family, she said, the photos wouldn't be shown to the audience.
Dr. Robert Whitmore, who was the chief medical examiner for Denver in January 2007 and performed Williams' autopsy, said Williams had one very obvious injury -- and only one injury: a gunshot wound to the neck. Photos were shown to the jury; the jurors did not visibly react for the most part, although a few furrowed their brows.
Whitmore described the bullet's path. He said the bullet entered the left side of Williams's neck, lacerated his left jugular vein, struck his thyroid cartilage and tore it, and then entered his airway and transected his esophagus. It continued traveling, he said, and struck Williams' right jugular vein and then lacerated his right carotid artery. Williams's injury would have caused "massive bleeding," Whitmore said.
"With this type of injury, how long would you expect him to live?" Levin asked. "At most, a matter of a few minutes. Maybe even just a minute," Whitmore said.
"Were you able to determine the manner of death?" Levin asked. "Yes. The manner of death was homicide," Whitmore said. On cross-examination, Cantor asked whether Whitmore would be able to tell from Williams' injury whether the bullet that struck him was shot at a horizontal angle or a downward angle. Whitmore said no.
Allison Morton took the stand next. She was walking in the area of 11th and Speer around 2:10 a.m. on New Year's Day 2007, trying to hail a cab to drive her home from The Garage bar on 10th Avenue and Bannock Street, where she'd been drinking.
She said she heard three noises that sounded to her like fireworks, and then turned and saw a white Hummer limo pull off the road onto the snow. She said she also remembers seeing a white Chevy Tahoe or Suburban with tinted windows drive away. At the time, she said she believed the shots came from the Chevy. But she said she couldn't see who was inside because the windows were too dark.
On cross-examination, Hutt asked Morton how drunk she was when she was initially interviewed by the police at 5:45 a.m. that same morning. "If I got in a car, I probably would have had a DUI," she said.
1:03 p.m.: When the jurors returned from the break, Judge Christina Habas explained to them that both the prosecution and the defense have agreed that at least two firearms were used to shoot at Williams's white Hummer limo that night.
Retired Denver Detective Frank Kerber took the stand next. He's also a firearms expert. He was the secondary firearms examiner in Williams's murder case, whereas Freshour was the primary examiner. Kerber said he double-checked Freshour's work and reached the same conclusions -- that the .40 caliber bullets were fired from the same Beretta.
On cross-examination, Hutt asked Kerber a similar question to the one he asked Freshour. "You wouldn't want unprotected flesh to be anywhere near a gun that's being fired?" he asked. Kerber said no; there's an ejection port on the side of most semi-automatic guns that ejects the spent casing, which can be hot. "You probably should not have anything there as far as bare skin," Kerber said.
Prosecutor Bruce Levin pointed out that the direction that the casing ejects depends on the design of the gun and how the shooter is holding it. Kerber agreed.
Denver police Lieutenant Jonathan Priest took the stand next. He's the commander of the DPD homicide unit and oversaw the investigation into Williams's murder. On January 4, 2007, Priest said he responded to the 3800 block of Himalaya Road on the edges of the Montbello and Green Valley Ranch neighborhoods for a report of a found Chevy Tahoe. Prosecutors say Clark was driving a white Tahoe when he shot at Williams's limo.
The jury was shown photos of the Tahoe parked on the side of a road. It appeared to have been crudely spray painted black, Priest said; the paint job is streaky and uneven, and small patches of white paint show through. It almost looks spotted. The roof of the Tahoe was not spray painted, Priest said; it was still white.
The jury also saw photos of the inside of the Tahoe. Priest pointed out a "smoky film" on the windshield and windows, and burn marks on the rear driver's side door and floor mat. Priest said there was also a smell inside the Tahoe. "There was a strong odor of fume, probably gasoline, and an odor of smoke, something burning," he said.
Habas pointed out that the parties have also agreed that the Tahoe belonged to Brian Hicks, who prosecutors have described as a drug kingpin and leader of the "Elite Eight" subset of the Tre Tre Crips gang they claim Clark belongs to. They also say that Hicks and Clark were friends, and that Clark worked for Hicks selling drugs. Hicks, who is facing federal drug charges, was in prison at the time of Williams's murder.
Priest marked a map to show that the gun barrel prosecutors say was used in Williams's murder was found near the spray-painted Tahoe on 38th Avenue.
The jury was also shown photos of Williams' shot-up limo. The bullet holes and dents in the side of the limo and windows have yellow "trajectory rods" sticking out of them to show the angle that the bullets struck the limo. Several of the rods are sticking straight out, indicating that the bullets were shot at a horizontal angle. Several others are sticking upward, indicating that the bullets were shot downward.
Priest said two types of bullets were recovered from the limo: .40 caliber and .45 caliber. He said his analysis concluded that "the .40 was predominately a horizontal angle" and "the .45 was predominately a downward angle." A diagram shows that most of the bullets shot at the rear of the limo, where Williams was sitting, were .40 caliber bullets.
"Is there anything you can tell about the angle of the shot that blew out the (rear driver's side) window and probably killed Darrent Williams?" prosecutor Tim Twining asked Priest. "Yes," he said, "it was a horizontal, front-to-back shot."
On cross-examination, Hutt asked Priest about the downward-angled, .45 caliber shots. "Those bullets could not have been fired by someone firing from inside a vehicle on the driver's side?" he asked. "It would be very difficult for those to be fired from anywhere on the driver's side of the vehicle," Priest said. "If they were operating the vehicle, it would be nearly impossible," he said, especially for a short person. Prosecutors say Clark, who is short, was shooting a .40 caliber gun from the driver's side of the Tahoe.
The court took a lunch break at 12:45 p.m. The trial will resume at 1:45.
10:51 a.m.:The courtroom is less full than it was on Friday. The rows reserved for Willie Clark's friends and family are significantly more crowded than those reserved for the friends and family of Darrent Williams. Williams' five friends from his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, who testified and attended the trial last week, are not here today.
Around 9:15 a.m., Denver police Detective Tim Kelley took the stand. He's a crime scene investigator, and he processed the scene of the drive-by shooting at 11th Avenue and Speer Boulevard. He put on sterile gloves and went through envelopes full of evidence, identifying what's inside them for the jury. Most contained spent rounds and shell casings found at the scene, including one bullet fragment covered in blood.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Darren Cantor asked Kelley about the integrity of crime scenes in general. "Before you get there, you have no idea what traffic has happened in that space?" Cantor asked. "Not unless we're told," Kelley said.
Kelley's testimony was brief. Retired Detective Ed Frushour took the stand next. He's a firearms expert who examined the bullet evidence. Defense attorney Abraham Hutt questioned the science behind Frushour's conclusions. "When you give an opinion to what's similar and not similar [in terms of spent bullets], it comes down to what you see?" he asked. Frushour admitted that's true. "It is limited to what we see in the microscope, based upon our knowledge and experience," he said.
Frushour examined three .40 caliber and two .45 caliber spent rounds found at the scene. He determined that the .45 caliber rounds were fired out of a Glock gun, though he said he couldn't tell if they were fired out of the same Glock or two different ones because the way Glocks are manufactured makes it impossible to tell. But Frushour said he did determine that the three .40 caliber rounds were shot out of the same gun.
He further determined that the .40 caliber spent rounds -- including one recovered from Williams' neck -- were fired from the gun barrel found near 38th Avenue and Himalaya Road by the electrical lineman on January 2, 2007. The barrel went to a Beretta Model 96 firearm, he said.
On cross-examination, Hutt pointed out that Freshour didn't find any fingerprints on the spent rounds and didn't swab them for DNA. Freshour said it was unlikely that DNA or fingerprints would have been found because the rounds landed in the snow.
Hutt also asked Freshour about the effects of standing or sitting very close to someone shooting a gun. Freshour said the blast could impact a person's vision and definitely their hearing. "It's enough to make your head hurt, disorient you and cause headaches for a while," he said. Prosecutors say Clark fired at Williams' limo through the passenger-side window of an SUV while driving, essentially firing across the lap of the passenger.
The court took a morning break at 10:35 a.m. The trial is expected to resume at 10:55.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.
- Reader: Christ, How Many People Need to Grow Weed in Colorado?
- Heat Up, Cool Off: Our Ten Favorite Colorado Hot Springs
- Ask a Mexican: Readers Respond to Dickhead in Denver