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‘A start’ to ending gang killings
DENVER — For three years, Rosalind Williams waited for justice for her murdered son.
For three weeks, she sat stoically in a Denver courtroom, still waiting. During the prosecution’s closing argument, they put up the awful postmortem close -up of a bullet jacket in her son’s neck.
She maintained, still waiting. And when the judge read the guilty verdicts on all counts against Willie Clark in that stone-silent courtroom Thursday morning, she wept.
A few minutes later, she stepped to a microphone and put into words the lesson her son’s death brought home to his adopted city: “Something has to happen in society for us to stop gang violence,” she said. “It just has to stop.”
It took the death of Darrent Williams, a popular Broncos cornerback with an infectious, gap-toothed smile, to bring into focus for much of the metropolitan area the brutality of its gang-driven underworld.
“The sad truth is in Denver, Colorado — my community — these are commonplace,” prosecutor Tim Twining said afterward.
But the only thing that distinguished the case from hundreds of others in the Denver District Court system was the celebrity of the victim.”
“Unfortunately, a young man lost his life. And we see that all the time. What was different about this case was the media attention. And I understand that. This is a Bronco town. But it happens every week in this town, and most of them go unreported by the media.”
The night before the verdicts came down had to have been a long one for Rosalind Williams and the prosecutors. The mysterious, unidentified second gunman, acknowledged by the prosecutors, looked like a hole in the case to several alternate jurors who spoke publicly after they were released by the court.
But the 12 jurors who remained had a couple of questions for Denver District Judge Christina Habas during a long day of deliberations Wednesday, and one of them had to do with her complicity instruction.
“To apply the actual crime of murder in the first degree, can an individual be found complicit in the act and as a result of being complicit be found to be guilty of murder in the first degree?” the jury asked.
Habas responded that even if “another person committed all or part” of the crime, so long as the prosecution met its burden with respect to the defendant, he could be found guilty.
With the identity of the second gunman unknown to the jury, its focus on the complicity instruction was a key to the final verdicts. Afterward, Twining offered some insight into the prosecution’s theory on the second gunman.
When I asked whether there was any question Clark was the main actor in the shooting, this was his reply:
“No question. No question. And that was the evidence that we presented, that it was Willie Clark who had the .40-caliber, it was the .40-caliber that killed Darrent Williams, it was the .40-caliber that did all the high shots. The other shooter, who was probably in the front seat of that car, did those low shots.”
According to the prosecution’s case, the person in the front passenger seat beside Clark that night was Markie Jackson-Keeling, his cousin. Jackson-Keeling and Mario Anderson refused to testify and have been indicted for perjury before the grand jury.
Twining indicated prosecutors will seek additional sanctions against them.
What began on New Year’s Eve 2006 has been dissected every which way in the three years since Williams’ slaying. But what took it from a drunken fracas to a homicide was the rage of street gang members for whom deadly violence is a common resort.
Will Rosalind Williams’ plea be heard? Will her son’s death and his killer’s conviction have any effect on Denver street life going forward?
“I sure hope so,” Twining said. “But having done these cases now, gang cases, for over 15 years, I’m guarded in my optimism about that.
But I hope so.
“This got a lot of attention. And hopefully everybody in Denver’s heard about this and what the result is. So we can only hope with the good work that the Denver Police Department does every day, and keep going forward with these cases, maybe we can stem the tide.”
After three years, two months and 11 days, Rosalind Williams finally saw justice done by her son. Asked what she was thinking as the verdicts were read, her eyes welled up.
“This is a start,” she said. “To clean up the streets here and hopefully everywhere else. That you just can’t get away.”