Darrent Williams murder trial, day ten: Willie Clark says he's been threatened not to testify

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, and here for week two.

5:17 p.m.: After the defense rested, prosecutors called two rebuttal witnesses. The first was Denver police Detective Bruce Gibbs. He had limited involvement in the investigation. But he said he did call Clark's cousin, Jazelle Hudson, to talk to her in connection with the case.

He said Hudson told him that in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2007, she went to the Safari club -- where prosecutors say Clark got into an altercation with several Broncos, including Williams, and their entourage -- at let-out. After that, Gibbs said Hudson told him that she went to an after-hours club on 18th Avenue and Glenarm Place. "She said she went in and was there for a while and then saw her cousin," Gibbs said. She didn't describe the vehicle he was driving, he said.

Those statements are different from what Hudson said on the stand. At trial, Hudson said she saw Clark in the parking lot of the after-hours club and walked in with him. She also testified that she saw him driving his black Chevy Tahoe that night.

After Gibbs, a man named Julian Vigil took the stand. Vigil previously refused to testify because he said he feared for his family's safety after his house was broken into and his grand jury transcript stolen. But after being held in jail on contempt charges, Vigil changed his mind and agreed to testify.

Vigil said he's a friend of Clark's and has known him for more than ten years. On New Year's Eve 2006, Vigil said he was living in a halfway house as part of a criminal sentence and was not allowed to go out that night. The next day, Vigil said he turned his cell phone on at about 7 a.m. and saw he had five or six text and voice messages from Clark. The tone in Clark's messages was "panicky," Vigil said.

"He said, 'I did some fucked up shit last night. I need to get a hold of your bro,'" he said. He said he understood Clark to mean that he needed to get in touch with his relative, Michael Andre, who was an attorney. Vigil said when he got the messages, he called Clark right away and told him he'd try to contact Andre for him. He said he eventually picked Clark up and drove him to Andre's house.

On the way there, Vigil said, Clark elaborated on what had happened. "He said, 'We dumped on those fools last night,'" Vigil said.

"What did you take that to mean?" Twining asked.

"He had shot somebody or shot at somebody," Vigil said. Clark also said that "they got into an altercation with some of the Broncos at Club Safari and that they followed them and dumped on them," Vigil said.

Vigil said that he waited while Clark talked to Andre and then gave him a ride home. On the ride home, Vigil said Clark called Daniel "PT" Harris. He said he overheard Clark tell Harris that "they needed to get rid of the gun." Vigil, a former GKI gang member, offered his own advice. He said he told Clark that they should also get rid of the white Tahoe used in the murder by burning it.

Twining also asked Vigil about a threat he received in prison. Vigil said that he found out that his name was on a "hit list" because someone heard he may have had information related to the Williams murder.

On cross-examination, Cantor asked Vigil about some contradictory information. Vigil told the police that Clark said Harris and Vernone Edwards were in the Tahoe with him during the drive-by shooting - not Harris, Anderson and Jackson-Keeling, as prosecutors have alleged. Vigil said that's true.

Cantor also pointed out that Vigil has a lengthy criminal record and lied to his halfway house about having a cell phone and a car, both of which were not allowed. He also inferred that Vigil got a break for his cooperation in this case; a charge of escape from prison, which carries a mandatory 64-year sentence, was dropped. Vigil was charged with escape for allegedly walking away from the halfway house without permission. Vigil said he did it to help move his family because he feared for their safety in light of the alleged hit list.

Vigil was the last witness of the day. Prosecutors say they'll call two more rebuttal witnesses tomorrow. After that, the sides will present their closing arguments. The jury is expected to start deliberations tomorrow afternoon.

The jurors were dismissed for the day just before 4 p.m. After they left, Anderson and Jackson-Keeling returned to the courtroom and again refused to testify in the case. "As for how long I keep these defendants in the Denver County Jail [on contempt charges], we'll have to see," Habas said.

3:28 p.m.: When the jury returned from lunch, Judge Habas read the jurors two stipulations, which are statements of fact agreed upon by both the prosecution and the defense. The first has to do with a witness who was unavailable to testify today; attorneys explained that there was a death in her family.

The stipulation says that the witness, a woman named Andrea Sarow, said she called Clark at 2:17 a.m. on New Year's Day 2007 to wish him a Happy New Year, and that her cell phone records indicate that's true. The conversation lasted seventeen seconds. The stipulation also says that the Denver Police Department received the first 911 call about the shooting at 2:17 a.m.

The stipulation says Sarow and Clark spoke three more times that night: at 2:50 a.m., 2:51 a.m. and 3:19 a.m. Sarow doesn't remember anything about the substance of their conversations, except that they said they'd talk again soon. Clark was romantically interested in her.

The second stipulation says that Marquise Harris, the man who turned over an intercepted confession letter purportedly written by Clark to the police and the Rocky Mountain News, sought the $100,000 reward money offered by the Broncos and also sought payment from the newspaper.

Harris took the stand next. He testified that while he was in federal prison in 2007, he intercepted a letter between Brian Hicks and Clark in the law library of the prison. Passing letters via law books is common in prison, Harris said, and Hicks had asked him to pick up a letter from Clark because Hicks wasn't going to the law library that day. Harris said he read the letter and realized it pertained to the Darrent Williams murder. "I recognized what was going on with the situation with this case and whatever, and I thought the letter might be linked to some possible evidence in the matter," Harris said. After reading the letter, he said he photocopied it and gave the original to Hicks.

But he didn't immediately turn the photocopy over to the police. "I kept the letter concealed because I knew if I released the information there [in prison], my life would be in jeopardy," he said. "When I got out of incarceration, I contacted the police department several times and I didn't receive any response back."

Harris said he also contacted the head of security from the Broncos and asked to be put in touch with the police detectives working the case. But again, he said he never heard back. Eventually, Harris said, he contacted the Rocky Mountain News and gave them the letter. "I didn't feel I was getting an appropriate response from law enforcement, so I contacted the media," Harris said.

Harris wasn't asked about the substance of the letter. However, it was discussed earlier in the trial. The letter says, "The Rican might say something stupid, talk to law enforcements about the death of D-Will, he seen me with the gun and shoot out the whip." The Rican is a nickname for Daniel "PT" Harris, the only witness to testify that he was in the white Tahoe and saw Clark shoot at Williams's limo.

Defense attorney Darren Cantor questioned Harris about the authenticity of the letter. "What you did was you took some other letters and cut and pasted them together to make this letter?" he asked.

"No, sir, I did not," Harris said.

Cantor also attacked Harris's credibility. He pointed out that Harris was a member of the Compton Crips whose nickname was "Gangster Sin" and that he has a long criminal record, including convictions for burglary and felony menacing. Cantor also asked Harris about the $21,686 the witness protection program paid to relocated five members of his family, including three children. During questioning by Cantor, Harris sounded a defiant. He wouldn't answer a question about whether he founded a Crips gang in Denver.

On cross-examination, Levin asked whether Harris turned over the letter just for the reward money. Harris said no; he said he did it to help the community. "I knew people would try to turn this out to be a money thing. To me, its not about that," he said. "My faith and my religion, Islam, is my main thing and my metamorphosis that I'm trying to undergo to be a better human being."

The defense rested its case at 2 p.m.

11:34 p.m.: At around 9:15 a.m., Willie Clark's defense attorneys called their first witness of the day: Jarrod King. King is the stepfather of Kataina "Markie" Jackson-Keeling, Clark's cousin. Prosecutors say he was in the white Tahoe when Clark shot and killed Darrent Williams. Thus far, Jackson-Keeling -- as well as another witness, Mario Anderson, who prosecutors say was also in the Tahoe -- has refused to testify. He is being held in contempt of court in Denver City Jail.

King said he saw his stepson on either January 1 or January 2, 2007, a day or two after the shooting.

"When you saw Markie that day, whether it was the 1st or the 2nd, was there anything wrong with his face?" defense attorney Abraham Hutt asked.

"No, sir," King said, matter-of-factly.

"Did he have any hearing problem you could tell?" Hutt asked.

"No, sir," King said.

"Was there anything out of the ordinary about how he looked?" Hutt asked.

"No, sir," King said.

Clark's attorneys have repeatedly alleged that if the shooting happened as prosecutors say it did, with Clark driving the Tahoe and shooting across the lap of Jackson-Keeling in the passenger seat and out the passenger-side window, Jackson-Keeling would have hearing damage and face lacerations. Several witnesses have testified that being that close to a fired handgun would leave injuries.

On cross-examination, prosecutor Bruce Levin questioned King's memory. He asked him on what date he was first contacted by defense attorneys and asked to recall what his stepson looked like that day.

"This past Friday," King said.

"For an excess of three years, no one ever asked you to recall your interaction with your stepson?"

"No, sir," King said.

King finished his testimony at 9:30. Hutt and defense attorney Darren Cantor told the judge they were having trouble locating their next witness. Judge Christina Habas dismissed the jurors for a half-hour break in the hopes that the next witness would show up by 10.

During the break, Habas again asked Clark whether he planned to testify.

"I choose not to because I received threats about this issue of me testifying or not," Clark said.

A few minutes later, Clark elaborated on why.

"I actually wanted to because I have nothing to hide," he said, "but I can't protect my family."

Cantor explained; he said that last March, he and Hutt were told that the Denver Sheriff's Department had learned of threats against Clark if he testified at trial. "If Willie Clark said anything in court, the threat was to make him Swiss cheese," Cantor said. He said the sheriff's department had picked up specific information about where it would happen and which vehicles and weapons -- allegedly, AK-47s -- would be used. It was a significant enough threat that the sheriffs adjusted their safety plan, he said.

But prosecutor Tim Twining called the threat "street hearsay." He said the information was overheard by a sheriff's department employee in a bar, and that it was related to Clark possibly giving evidence against his co-defendants in another case, though he didn't specify which one. Clark has also been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, along with drug kingpin Brian Hicks and a man named Shun Birch, in connection with the murder of a woman named Kalonniann Clark (no relation). Kalonniann Clark was set to testify against Hicks in a separate case when she was killed.

Habas didn't comment on whether the threats against Clark were valid, but she did say that they were nothing new. "This case is completely saturated with intimidation, fear, witness problems, lawyer concerns," she said. Several witnesses have expressed concerns and refused to testify.

At the prosecution's request, she made a statement about Clark's demeanor. "Mr. Clark smiled and laughed when I began my discussion with him. He smiled and turned to look at his attorneys a couple of times. I don't take that as a sign of disrespect. I don't know what it really means."

The jurors didn't return until 10:30. When they did, there was one fewer. The judge dismissed a male juror today, which brings the number of jurors down to sixteen. She didn't say why. She also dismissed a male juror last week. There are now twelve jurors and four alternates.

The next witness was Shawn O'Toole. He's a forensic DNA analyst in the Denver Police Department crime lab. He analyzed evidence found in a burned-out white Tahoe that prosecutors say was used in the crime. The Tahoe, which belonged to Hicks, was found at 38th Avenue and Himalaya Road a few days after the murder. Before then, a witness named Veronica Garcia testified that she picked up the Tahoe from Clark and parked it in her garage on New Year's Day 2007; once she found out that it was wanted in connection to the murder, she said she told Clark to get rid of it. Several witnesses have said that afterward, there were empty black spray paint cans and empty gasoline cans in Garcia's garage. When the Tahoe was found, it was crudely spray painted black and partially burned inside.

O'Toole said he analyzed several items, including two baseball hats, a do-rag and four cigar tips. One of the baseball hats -- a black hat with the letters "DN" on the front -- came back as a match to Clark's DNA. That hat also had two other people's DNA on it, though in smaller amounts, O'Toole said.

The four cigar tips came back as a match to another person: Travis Sanders. Also known as "PK," Sanders appears to have played a very small role in the case. Vernone Edwards, a friend of Clark's and Garcia's, testified that he went to Garcia's house after she asked Clark to get rid of the car to check on the situation and he brought Sanders with him.

On cross-examination, Levin questioned whether the fact that the cigar tips had Sanders's DNA on them meant that he'd been in the car recently. "These cigar butts could have been sitting there for years and you could still get DNA?" he asked.

"Yes," O'Toole said.

The court took a lunch break just after 11 a.m. The trial will resume at 1 p.m.

Defense attorneys could rest their case today. Prosecutors say they'll call at least two rebuttal witnesses.

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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