Darrent Williams murder trial, day eleven: Better get ready, jury

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 for accounts and links related to the first week of testimony, here for week two, and here for day ten.

8:28 p.m.: At 1 p.m., the jury returned to the courtroom, which was full. Audience members were squeezed onto benches, sitting shoulder to shoulder. Several of Williams' friends and family were there, as were Clark's friends and family. Before the judge started reading the instructions of law to the jury, she reminded those in the audience to be respectful in light of what happened in the hallway.

"I'm not going to point fingers," Habas said, but she asked everyone to "hold their emotions in check.

"I know emotions are high in this case. I can feel them every time I walk out of this courtroom."

Habas then read 27 instructions to the jury. They explain the definition of first-degree murder and give jurors guidance on how to analyze witnesses' testimony. For example, the jury was instructed that Clark was not required to take the stand and that they shouldn't infer anything from the fact that he didn't. She also told them that in the case of first-degree murder, "there is no requirement that the person killed be the person whose death the defendant intended."

Earlier in the afternoon, while Habas was hammering out the instructions with the lawyers, she hinted that one theory may be that Brandon Marshall was the target of the shooting, not Williams. Several witnesses have testified that Marshall and his cousin were involved in altercations at the club with Clark and his friends.

The prosecution presented their closing argument first. Twining was even-keeled when he said there are two ways for the jury to find Clark guilty: They can either find that he was the shooter or that he was complicit in the shooting. However, Twining said, "all the evidence shows that this man was not just a complicitor. It was this man... who took it upon himself in the early morning hours of January 1, 2007, to unload his .40 caliber handgun into that limousine full of innocent people."

First, Twining laid out Clark's motive to kill. Clark felt disrespected, he said, because the athletes at the Safari club were getting VIP treatment. "From the get-go that night, the defendant is upset with Brandon Marshall. Because Brandon Marshall got to jump the line," Twining said. Inside the club, there's another altercation that may or may not involve sprayed champagne. Twining said the details don't matter; all that matters, he said, is that a short, dark-skinned man -- Clark -- got upset. The altercations continued outside the club, too, Twining said, when someone called Clark and his friends "bitch-ass niggas." "The defendant is already upset with these guys and then there he is out on the public sidewalk being called a bitch ass," Twining said.

Tyisha Finch, who said that a man matching Clark's description punched her inside the club, backs up the claim that Clark was upset, Twining said. "It corroborates what Brandon Marshall and other witnesses are saying: that he's off the hook, he's being unreasonable, what is this guy's problem?" he said. Furthermore, Twining said Clark was possibly "laying the groundwork for a cover-up" when he told Finch and her girlfriend, Raven Dennis, that he was a "Georgia boy."

And Shaniqua Dunn proves that Clark wanted to do something to retaliate, Twining said. Dunn testified that Clark came up to her and her boyfriend outside the club and asked for a "heater," or gun. Dunn told him they didn't have one, Twining said, and Clark replied, "That's okay. I've got one in my truck."

Twining also said that Clark's connection to Brian Hicks's white Tahoe proves he's guilty. Veronica Garcia, Hicks's girlfriend, said she lent Clark Hicks's white Tahoe a week or so before the shooting. Then, after the shooting, he told her, "We had to get off on some niggas last night," Twining said, and instructed her to park the Tahoe for him. "The only one reasonable explanation? That was the vehicle he used in his murderous assault," Twining said.

Twining also pointed to what he characterized as Clark's multiple confessions to friends and cell mates. Twining counted six confessions. He said Clark admitted committing the murder to his friend Julian Vigil, to whom he said he'd done some "fucked-up shit" involving some Broncos at a club; to Garcia, who he asked to make up an alibi for him; to his friend Daniel "PT" Harris; to his friend Vernone Edwards, to whom he also said that the reason he did it was that Williams pulled a gun on him; and to his cell mate Joshua Grantham, to whom he boasted that he "put [Williams] to sleep." Twining also pointed to Clark's alleged confession letter, which says Harris "seen me with the gun and shoot out the whip." The letter is signed "Boss Moneyz;" Clark has a tattoo that says "Boss Money" on his back.

Twining said the deadly bullet was a .40 caliber, and that Edwards testified that Clark always carried a .40 caliber handgun. He also repeatedly referenced the evidence that Clark is a Tre Tre Crip.

Twining poked holes in the defense's theories, as well. He disregarded the argument that another SUV , possibly a green or brown one, was involved in the shooting by pointing to three witnesses -- the limo driver and two passersby -- who described seeing a suspicious white SUV near the shooting.

He also discredited Clark's alibi. The witnesses who say they saw Clark at the after-hours club were drunk, Twining said, and related to Clark. As for the phone call Clark reportedly received at 2:17 a.m., Twining said it was simply a voicemail.

Twining also tried to lend credibility to Harris, the only witness to say Clark was the shooter. The defense has said they think Harris was also shooting that night; physical evidence has shown there were at least two types of bullets in the limo and at least two shooters. But, Twining asked, "if Daniel Harris were indeed the second shooter, why didn't Daniel Harris offer, quote unquote, the big lie?" Why didn't he identify someone else as the second shooter? Twining asked. Or say he wasn't there?

And even if he was the second shooter, Twining said, he would have been using the .45 caliber gun, since Clark was known to carry a .40 caliber, and he wouldn't have fired the fatal shot anyway.

At the end of his closing argument, Twining laid out the sequence of events: "He tracks [the Broncos] down and waits for them to leave. He follows them, he whips the corner, turns off the lights and pulls the Tahoe into position." Clark, he said, "would have been in a position to fire fifteen rounds into that limousine full of innocent people." Twining showed the jury a mug shot of Clark with the words "Little Lett Loose," Clark's nickname, above it. "The inescapable conclusion is that this man killed Darrent Williams, he injured two other innocent people and fortunately didn't kill the rest of them," he said.

Hutt gave the defense's closing argument next. Hutt's argument was dramatic at points and he punctuated it with gestures and role playing. He started by talking about reasonable doubt. "Do you understand what that means?" he asked the jury. "In order to convict somebody, you cannot have any hesitation. You have to be ready to sit down and say" -- he claps -- "I'm done, no hesitation.

"There are lots and lots and lost of things about the way this case was presented and investigated that make me hesitate," he continued. "Willie Clark was not in a white Tahoe. He was not in a green Expedition. He did not shoot at that car. He did not kill Darrent Williams. He didn't. He was in his black Tahoe and he was on the phone with Andrea Sarow."

Hutt attacked several prosecution witnesses who received plea deals in their own pending criminal cases to testify against Clark. "It's fair for you to ask yourselves who it was that brought you the most reliable witnesses. And who brought you witnesses that were bought and paid for," Hutt said.

Hutt started with Julian Vigil, who testified that Clark called him on New Year's Day and asked Vigil to put him in touch with an attorney friend. Vigil also said Clark confessed the murder to him and talked in front of him about getting rid of the gun. Vigil was compensated for his testimony; an unrelated charge that could have netted him 64 years in prison was dropped. "Boy, it sure is easy to say to somebody, 'I heard something. I heard something that will get me a deal,'" Hutt said. "Sixty-four years that Julian Vigil would otherwise have gotten but for saying, 'I heard Willie Clark say he did it.'"

Hutt also pointed to a piece of Vigil's story that doesn't match other witnesses': Vigil said Clark told him that Harris and Edwards were with him when he did the shooting. Prosecutors have said all along that it was Clark, Harris and two of Clark's cousins in the Tahoe.

Hutt also discredited Harris, who got a plea deal in his own federal crack trafficking case for testifying at the trial. Harris is unreliable, Hutt said, and has major ulterior motives for pinning the shooting on Clark. "I'm having a hard time thinking of a person that I would trust less," he said of Harris. Hutt pointed to evidence that Harris wasn't even in the car that night; a security guard at the club said she saw him get into a green SUV, not a white one. The security guard wouldn't lie, he said.

Plus, he said, there's one big part of Harris's story that's just flat-out wrong. Harris told the police there was only one shooter. "PT kept saying, one shooter, one shooter, one shooter. And you all know it's just not true," Hutt said.

He pointed out that witnesses including Brandon Marshall identified Harris as the main aggressor in their altercations inside and outside the club, and that Harris fled to Mexico after the shooting. "Is there somebody in this case you can see with your own two eyes is mad enough to kill?" Hutt asked. Then he pointed to a photo of Harris and hinted that he's the murderer. "That guy right there."

Hutt attacked Edwards' credibility too. He described Edwards, who also got a plea deal in exchange for testifying, as "the fixer" who was sent to clean Garcia's house after Clark allegedly spray painted the Tahoe in her garage. It was found nearby a few days later, burned up and crudely painted; inside, police found a black baseball hat with Clark's DNA on it. "Does that or does that not seem to you like a planted piece of evidence by the likes of Vernone Edwards or PT or Veronica Garcia?" Hutt asked.

Hutt also criticized the police investigation. When the police tracked down the green SUV that the security guard saw outside the club, they didn't check it for gunshot residue or look inside. "Nobody... take(s) a look to see if there are any shell casings in it? Seriously? Are you kidding me? The people of the city of Denver deserve better. Darrent Williams deserves better," Hutt said.

Hutt refuted prosecutors' allegation that Clark was "off the hook" that night. He pointed out that at one point, a witnesses said Clark punched a woman in the jaw and that her father then pinned him up against the wall. Clark later apologized, the woman said. "What's the entire gang going to do if that happens to Mr. Big Crip, Mr. Willie Clark? More importantly, what's he going to do if he's who they're telling you he is? Oh, I know exactly," Hutt said sarcastically. "He'll find that woman later on and apologize."

That woman's girlfriend testified that later, she saw Clark in a white SUV outside the club and chatted with him. That also makes no sense, Hutt said. "This is the guy who's been so disrespected, some Tre Tre gang guy, that he's sitting casually in a car that no one else sees?" he asked.

Hutt also discredited Clark's alleged confessions. He said it makes no sense that he confessed the murder to his cell mate, Grantham, who's not even a fellow gang member. "They're telling you he's Mr, Crip. Crip Crip Crip Crip. They can't say it enough times: Tre Tre, Crip, Crip, Crip, Crip, Crip, Crip. There he is in prison, he knows a guy one month and he confesses a murder to him?" Hutt said.

The alleged confession letter is bogus, too, Hutt said; it's obvious it was cut and pasted together from other letters. The signature is upside down, Hutt said, and some of the lines of text are cut off at the bottom. There are irregular gaps between the lines, he said, and the sentences don't make sense.

Hutt then showed the jury his own photo of Clark with his own caption: "Scapegoat."

"That's what this is about, folks," he said to the jury. "Willie Clark is a scapegoat."

After Hutt finished, prosecutor Bruce Levin delivered a rebuttal closing statement. This case, he said, has taken the jurors into an world they've never before experienced, a world that he called "the belly of the beast.

"It is a world where a man starts out his New Year's celebration by putting on a bulletproof vest and walking around with a gun and saying, 'It's pistol night or killing night.' This is the world of Willie Clark. It's a world where the exchange of a few words fueled by a little bit of alcohol, a world where a push or a shove in front of fellow gang members and screaming of 'bitch-ass niggas' is enough for Willie Clark to decide to unload -- to let loose -- into a limousine of seventeen innocent people."

As for the defense's attacks on the prosecution's witnesses, Levin offered a quote from Shakespeare: "Crimes conceived in hell seldom have angels for witnesses." The prosecution didn't choose the witnesses, Levin said; instead, Clark did by associating with them. "Given the map of evidence, the box of guilt that surrounds Willie Clark, there's only one thing you can do: find him guilty as charged."

Closing statements wrapped up at around 5:15 p.m. The judge then dismissed four of the sixteen remaining jurors as alternates. The four alternates were all young males. One of them, who only identified himself as "Juror 34," agreed to talk to the media after he was dismissed.

He said that had he remained on the jury, he would have voted to acquit Clark.

"Common sense would tell you he was probably in the car and probably shot the gun, but there's not enough hard evidence to back it up," said the juror, who is 19-years old. The juror also said that it looks like Clark was set up and that many witnesses, including Harris, were not believable. "He should have won an Academy Award for best supporting actor because he's a pretty good actor," he said.

The juror said he feels like some of his fellow jurors, but not all of them, shared his beliefs.

Earlier today, Westword talked to another dismissed juror who said he would have voted to convict Clark. That juror, a 42-year-old man, said that while he believes there are big holes in the prosecution's case -- such as the fact that they never found the second shooter -- the evidence still points to Clark.

"If there was a way I could stand up and scream to the judge, 'I want PT as a co-defendant,' [I would], but my hands are tied," he said. "Not only are we convicting just one of the shooters, we're possibly letting the killer of D-Will go."

The jury will return to the courtroom tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. to begin deliberating.

10:50 a.m.: Prosecutors called two rebuttal witnesses this morning to refute testimony given by witnesses called by Willie Clark's lawyers. The first was Tanisha Lintz, Clark's cousin. On the stand, Lintz confirmed Clark's alibi -- that he was at an after-hours club at 18th Avenue and Glenarm Place in the early hours of New Year's Day 2007, when Williams was shot. Lintz said she was in the parking lot of the after-hours club with her other cousin, Jazelle Hudson, when they saw Clark pull up in his black Chevy Tahoe.

Prosecutor Tim Twining questioned Lintz's truthfulness. He asked her whether she remembers talking to a police detective about that night. She said no. He asked whether she remembers telling the detective that she and Hudson went to two or three after-hours clubs. She said no. He also asked her about refusing to come to the police station for a formal interview. "The story you're telling the court now, you had that information in 2007?" Twining asked.

"Yes," Lintz said.

"And you kept that information to yourself, not choosing to discuss it with anyone?" he asked.

"Yes," she said.

After Lintz, prosecutors called Detective Mark Crider, who said he talked to Lintz on the phone for two to four minutes in May 2007 after interviewing Hudson. He said she told him that on New Year's Eve 2006, she and Hudson went to a party at a club on the 16th Street Mall. Afterward, she said they drove by the Safari club - where Clark and a group of Broncos players, including Williams, were partying - but didn't get out of the car. She said they then went to a few after-hours clubs.

Crider said he asked her if she saw Clark that night. He said she told him she didn't.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Abraham Hutt asked Crider a few questions that had nothing to do with Hudson or Lintz. For instance, he asked about the police testing the burned-out white Tahoe for gunshot residue. "They found no gunshot residue?" Hutt asked.

"That's correct," Crider said.

Both the prosecution and the defense rested their rebuttal cases at 10 a.m.

After that, Judge Christina Habas read the jury another stipulation, which is a statement of fact agreed upon by both sides. It said that Mario Anderson and Kataina "Markie" Jackson-Keeling were ordered to testify at the trial and refused. Prosecutors say that both men, who are Clark's cousins, were in the white Tahoe when Williams was shot.

The jury will return at 1 p.m. to hear instructions from the judge and closing arguments from attorneys on both sides. They will likely start deliberating this afternoon.

After court was dismissed, there was a scuffle in the hallway by the elevator. It appeared to be between Williams's family and friends and Clark's family and friends. There was shouting on both sides and security guards got involved. It broke up fairly quickly, and never became physical.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar