Darrent Williams murder trial, day one: Opening statements and denials of Willie Clark's guilt

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 will be at the top; to check out the account chronologically at day's end, read from the bottom up.

6:19 p.m.: Denver police Detective Michael Martinez took the stand after Sheppard. Prosecutors played for the jury a surveillance tape from in front of the club after let-out, and Martinez used a laser pointer to identify people he recognized, including Clark and Harris. Clark is shown on the tape wearing big sunglasses.

Prosecutors also showed a surveillance tape of the alley behind the club. Martinez identified Clark and a friend of his, Kataina "Markie" Jackson-Keeling, who prosecutors say was in the white Tahoe with Clark when he shot at Williams's limo. Both are shown running down the alley at about 2:12 a.m.

After Martinez stepped down, Akeem O'Bryant took the stand. O'Bryant said he'd met Clark, who he knew as Little Let, a few times before New Year's Eve 2006 but had never really talked to him. That night, he went to Clark's cousin's house at about 10:30 p.m. Clark was there, he said, getting ready to go out. He said Clark was wearing jeans, a white shirt and a bulletproof vest. He was also carrying a gun, O'Bryant said, but he didn't get a good look at it.

"It was a .22 or a .38; it could have been a toy gun or a BB gun, I don't know," O'Bryant said. Previously, he described it to the police as a "little-ass" gun, much smaller than a .40 caliber, which was the gun used to kill Williams. "It was a pea shooter," he told the jury.

He also told the jury that Clark made a comment about that night being "killing night" or "pistol night." O'Bryant said he made plans to meet up with Clark at the club later. But when he drove by the club at about 11:30 p.m., he said he and his friends didn't go in because the line was too long.

Throughout his testimony, O'Bryant seemed a bit defiant about his minimal involvement. He kept repeating that he didn't know anything about the murder. "There ain't nothing to say," he said.

Brandon Flowers, another of Williams's friends from Fort Worth, took the stand next. He gave a similar account of what happened that night, starting with the group's confrontation with a light-skinned man and a dark-skinned man in the club over the sprayed champagne. He, too, said that soon after the limo left the club, he heard gunshots and hit the deck. While he was lying on the floor, Flowers said he realized he'd been shot in the buttocks.

"It was hot. I couldn't stand up, couldn't walk," said Flowers, who added that the bullet is still lodged in his thigh.

When shown a photo array by the police, Flowers also identified Harris as the light-skinned man from the club. But he also failed to identify Clark. Like Sheppard, he emphasized to the jury that he was shown the photo array with Clark's picture in it while he was in a hurry at the Denver airport, trying to catch a flight home.

He also said that he didn't get as good a look at the dark-skinned man while at the club. "I only seen the dark-skinned guy once and that was up in the club and he had glasses on," Flowers said. "I couldn't see exactly what he looked like."

Testimony ended at 5:35 p.m. The trial will resume tomorrow at 8 a.m.

3:28 p.m.: After the jury returns from lunch, members hear from the first witness, John Sheppard. Sheppard grew up with Williams in Fort Worth and had come to Denver in late 2006 with four other friends of Williams' to celebrate New Year's Eve with him. He was with Williams at the club and described the scene.

He said they arrived at the club at around 10:30 p.m. and went straight to the third-floor VIP section. At midnight, he said, Brandon Marshall's cousin, who prosecutors identified as Blair Clark, shook up a bottle of champagne. Then he popped it and sprayed everyone on the third floor, Sheppard said.

Two other men not with the Broncos group on the third floor became upset; one was taller and light-skinned and the other was shorter and dark-skinned, Sheppard said. The dark-skinned man approached the Broncos group and said, "'What's up with that hoe-ass shit? I got wet.' He wasn't cool with it," Sheppard said. Williams tried to calm the dark-skinned man down and "defuse the situation," Sheppard said -- and while he was doing that, the light-skinned man also approached the group. He was angrier, Sheppard said. "He was bananas," he said, and was mentioning stuff about "East Side, Denver" and "Tre Tre Crips."

Blair Clark tried to fight the light-skinned man, Sheppard said, but some Broncos players held him back and eventually club security officers escorted the light-skinned and the dark-skinned men from the third floor. Sheppard said they didn't see either man again until the club let out at 1:30 a.m.

At that point, the light-skinned man stood in the middle of the street and tried to coax the men in the Broncos' group into fighting him, Sheppard said. "He comes around, and he's like, 'What's up now, niggas? Come on out in the street!" Sheppard said. Blair Clark was "over-drunk," Sheppard said, and tried to go out and fight him. But again, the football players held him back, Sheppard said.

Williams tried to herd everyone into the limo, Sheppard said, but Brandon Marshall and Blair Clark wouldn't come. At that point, however, fellow player Javon Walker approached with several women and asked for a ride, he said. They piled into the limo and it took off, leaving Marshall and his cousin.

Soon after, Sheppard said he heard shots. After the sixth or seventh shot, Sheppard said he hit the deck of the limo, which was carrying sixteen passengers. His friend from Fort Worth, Brandon Flowers, was yelling that he'd been shot in the butt. "All the girls start crying and everybody just starts crying. I'm not really realizing what's happening. I'm thinking it's a dream. I get up and I look up, I see Darrent, he's like laying like this," Sheppard said, indicating that Williams was slumped over in the seat.

After the shots stopped, Sheppard said, "I get up and I'm exiting out the Hummer and I see D and I grabbed on him like, come on, lets get out the Hummer, and he's not moving and I'm like, 'You're not going to get out with us?' And he was not moving."

Walker eventually grabbed Williams, Sheppard said, and was "holding him like a little baby," saying, "'Don't die on me, don't die on me.'" At that point, Sheppard said he wasn't sure if Williams was alive. He said he looked into the limo where Williams had been sitting and "there was just blood everywhere. I looked in the seat and there was a gallon of blood right there." Sheppard said he didn't find out Williams had died until later, at the police station.

On cross-examination, Cantor asked Sheppard about identifying suspects in a police photo array soon after the shooting. Sheppard identified Harris, whose name he didn't know, as the light-skinned man. But when asked to identify the dark-skinned man, Sheppard failed to identify Clark. Instead, he chose a chubby-looking man with prescription glasses. But he told police that on New Year's Eve, the dark-skinned man was not wearing prescription glasses but was wearing big sunglasses that covered much of his face.

Update, 12:49 p.m.: In court this morning, Clark wore a blue-striped button-down shirt and black pants. He sat between his two attorneys at a table facing the jury and appeared to pay close attention to the opening statements. The rest of the courtroom was mostly full, though not crowded. Several people sat in the rows reserved for Clark's family; several people also sat in seats reserved for victims in the case.

Prosecutor Levin, who repeatedly referred to Clark by his nickname of "Little Let Loose," laid out the events leading up to the shooting. He said Clark began getting ready to go to the club that night at 10 p.m. "His preparation was to be walking around with a bulletproof vest on with a handgun in his hands," Levin said. A witness overheard Clark refer to that night as "pistol night," he said.

Around midnight, Clark and a friend of his named Daniel Harris -- also known as "Ponytail" or "PT" -- were in the club's third-floor VIP section with Williams and his entourage, which included fellow Bronco Brandon Marshall and Marshall's cousin, Blair Clark. At midnight, Blair Clark shook up a bottle of champagne, Levin said, and sprayed everyone in the VIP section. Clark and Harris got "agitated," he said. Williams approached Clark and calmed him down, but Harris couldn't be calmed; Levin said Harris began talking "gang smack" and saying that he and Clark were Tre Tre Crips.

After the club closed, there was another confrontation between the two groups on the snowy sidewalk outside, Levin said. It was a verbal confrontation and at one point, Marshall reached out and "palms" Clark's head, he said. Clark then put his hand under his jacket and pretended like he had a gun, Levin said. He also approached a woman he knew and asked her and her boyfriend, "Hey, you got a heater?," which she took to mean that he was asking for a gun, Levin said.

"He's told no. Then he says, 'That's alright, I don't need one. I've got one in my truck,'" Levin said.

Several witnesses saw Clark head toward a white Chevy Tahoe that he'd been driving, Levin said. Harris and two other friends got in the Tahoe, too, he said. On Speer, the Tahoe pulled up next to the limo and Clark "takes his .40 caliber, tells (the front seat passenger) to lean back and starts shooting indiscriminately into the Hummer limo," Levin said. One of the bullets hit Williams in the neck.

Several people have identified Clark as the shooter, including himself, Levin said. Clark told a friend of his that day that he had to "get at someone" the night before, a comment she took to mean that he'd shot someone, Levin said; he also admitted it to fellow prisoners and in a letter he wrote in prison.

But Cantor, Clark's attorney, said those comments have been taken out of context. Cantor said Clark was nowhere near 11th and Speer that night, and that he drives a black Tahoe, not a white one.

Cantor also said the prosecution's witnesses, especially Harris, aren't to be trusted. Many of them are criminals who were facing decades of prison time in their own criminal cases, Cantor said. They received deals for agreeing to testify against Clark. "The first question you have to ask yourself is, 'Who is it they're bringing you to tell this story?'" Cantor said. "Who is it that they bought and paid for, dollar for dollar, to talk about this case to you?"

Harris has a prior conviction for a drive-by shooting, Cantor said, and several witnesses identified him in a lineup in connection with this case. They didn't identify Clark, he said. Cantor also attacked Harris's actions in the months after the shooting. Harris hid in Mexico for several months, telling authorities that he did it because he was concerned for his family's safety. But Cantor showed the jury photos of Harris's time in Mexico, including shots of him with his arms around bikini-clad women.

"Does this look like a man concerned for the safety of his family, or a man just partying and having a good time?" Cantor asked.

Cantor also pointed out inconsistencies in witness' testimony. Harris, for example, first told the police that there was only one shooter that night -- Clark -- and then changed his story when physical evidence showed bullets from two different guns were shot into the limo, he said.

"There's a problem with Daniel Harris's story," Cantor said. "The prosecution is going to tell you, like they just did, 'Oh, we can trust Daniel Harris. We paid him all this, but you can trust him.'"

Cantor also questioned the color of the SUV reportedly used in the drive-by shooting. Prosecutors say it was a white Tahoe. But Cantor said at least one eyewitness said it was green, like the SUV that security guards at The Shelter saw Harris get into after he was kicked out of the club that night.

And he questioned Clark's ability to shoot out the passenger-side window while driving at the same time. He pointed out that Clark is only 5-foot-6 or 5-foot-7 and said his arms likely wouldn't even reach far enough.

12:28 p.m.: A lawyer for Willie Clark, the man accused of murdering Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams on New Year's Day 2007, told a jury this morning that Clark was nowhere near the drive-by shooting that killed Williams -- and that he certainly didn't fire the fatal bullet, as witnesses have said.

"Willie Clark was not there," defense attorney Darren Cantor said of the scene of the early-morning shooting. "And he was not the one who shot the limousine. He has been made the scapegoat."

Opening statements in the high-profile trial began this morning. Eighteen jurors heard arguments from Clark's lawyers and from state prosecutors, who say that Clark shot into Williams' limo as retaliation for feeling disrespected by people in Williams' entourage. They were partying at the same Broadway club that night as Clark and his friends, who prosecutors say belong to the Tre Tre Crips gang.

"In the world of the Tre Tre Crips, if you are disrespected, you have the right to take an innocent life," said prosecutor Bruce Levin. "That is their world."

Clark, 26, is accused of killing Williams after a confrontation broke out between Williams' entourage, which included fellow Broncos and friends of Williams' from his hometown in Texas, and Clark's group. All of them were at The Shelter nightclub near 10th Avenue and Broadway on New Year's Eve 2006.

Shortly after the club closed in the early hours of New Year's Day 2007, Williams' group left in a rented stretch Hummer limo. Prosecutors say Clark and three other men in a white Chevy Tahoe followed them. At an intersection near 11th Avenue and Speer Boulevard, Clark and another shooter shot into the limo, prosecutors say, and one of the bullets fired by Clark hit Williams in the neck. Williams died soon after.

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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