Darrent Williams murder trial: For jury selection, security is ultra-tight, the press pool only fits one, and the audio feed in the overflow room isn't working
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
Update, 7:38 p.m.: Ten men and eight women were chosen today to sit on the jury in the Willie Clark case. Clark, 26, is accused of killing Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams in a drive-by shooting on New Year's Day 2007. Clark's trial starts tomorrow at 9 a.m.
The case has gotten a lot of publicity, and because of the only one "pool" reporter was allowed to sit in on jury selection today. That reporter, Felisa Cardona of the Denver Post, told Westword tonight that the jury is diverse in both age and ethnicity. She says the jurors range in age from approximately late 20s to mid 60s and include at least three black males. (Read Cardona's account in the Post here.)
Cardona says lawyers on both sides asked interesting questions of potential jurors in an attempt to weed out those they didn't want to sit on the final jury.
State prosecutors asked if jurors could accept testimony from "witnesses with questionable backgrounds," Cardona says. Clark is a suspected gang member and lawyers have said that many of the witnesses in the case are also believed to be in gangs.
They also asked potential jurors if they could be fair. Most said yes, Cardona says.
Clark's lawyers, on the other hand, asked if jurors believed that witnesses could lie on the stand, especially if they were offered deals in exchange for their testimony. They have questioned the statements of witnesses because, they say, many of them were facing federal drug charges and were offered plea deals if they testified against Clark.
They also asked this question, Cardona says: "Would it be hard to go back to your neighborhood and tell people you couldn't find Willie Clark guilty?"
If Clark is indeed found guilty, he could face life in prison.
Original post, 4:38 p.m.: Security at the trial of Willie Clark, who is accused of killing Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams in 2007, is tight. As in the-fourth-floor-hallway-outside-Courtroom-11-in-the-Denver-City-and-County-Building-is-crawling-with-security-officers-tight.
The judge's rationale? First, the case is extremely high-profile due to the fact that Williams made a living playing for the Broncos. Second, lots of his former co-workers -- i.e. pro football players -- are scheduled to testify. Third, Clark is a suspected gang member who is charged in a separate case with murdering a witness, 28-year-old Kalonniann Clark (no relation), who planned to testify against a gang associate of his.
"It is no stretch for this Court to conclude that there is a credible issue of witness safety in these cases, given the nature of the allegations in the Kalonniann Clark case," Judge Christina Habas wrote in an order laying out what is and isn't allowed at the trial.
The rules on media coverage are equally as restrictive.
In fact, they're so restrictive that during jury selection this afternoon, only one "pool" reporter -- Felisa Cardona of the Denver Post, who has covered the murder since it happened in early 2007 -- is allowed in the courtroom. Cardona will then share what she sees and hears with other reporters.
A live audio feed from the courtroom to the "media overflow room," located in City Council chambers also on the fourth floor, has been set up so reporters who don't have a seat in the courtroom can listen to the proceedings. But the feed wasn't up and running today. Westword plans to update this blog with details about who was chosen for the jury -- no names, of course -- once we hear from the pool reporter later this afternoon.
As for security, the measures go beyond extra officers. Habas has put specific rules in place -- and those rules extend beyond Courtroom 11 and into the fourth-floor hallway.
Rule No. 1: No one is allowed to e-mail, text, blog or Tweet from inside the courtroom or on the fourth floor -- which is home to several other courtrooms, including one currently hosting the trial of Eric and Linda Torrez, who are charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting two children in their care -- between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. while the trial is in session. "Public dissemination of information such as timing of witnesses being present, identifying information for witnesses and other such information makes the potential that the information will be used for nefarious purposes more likely," she wrote.
Rule No. 2: No cameras of any kind -- including cell phone and computer cameras -- are allowed. This rule is in place to "protect witnesses and jurors from potential intimidation," Habas wrote.
Rule No. 3: Anyone entering the courtroom must pass through a second metal detector set up just outside the door. Earlier today, the security officers were also checking inside handbags and using wands, like the ones brandished by TSA agents at the airport, to double check anyone who made the detector go off.
Rule No. 4: No one attending the trial -- including witnesses -- is allowed to wear any clothing or jewelry that references a sports team. So Broncos Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil and DJ Williams, and former Broncos Javon Walker, Karl Paymah, Nate Webster and Demetrin Veal, who are all listed as witnesses in the case, won't be able to wear any insignia rings if they're called to testify.
Jury selection is expected to wrap up this afternoon, and opening statements are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. tomorrow. Westword plans to be there throughout the two-week trial (provided we leave our Super Bowl rings at home); check back for updates.