Darrent Williams murder trial, day seven: Tattoos, street slang and a worried witness
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.
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, plus day five and day six.
5:28 p.m.: On cross-examination, Hutt asked Grantham about why he was in prison. Grantham admitted that he had been convicted of robbing fast food restaurants with a gun. He's on parole now, in part, he said, because a Denver homicide detective asked for him to be paroled at his parole board hearing.
Hutt asked Grantham if he was ever a gang member. Grantham said no.
"And one month into being acquaintances [with Clark], he confessed a murder to you?" Hutt asked.
"Yes," Grantham said.
The trial ended at 4 p.m. It will resume at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.
After the jury was dismissed, Judge Christina Habas reconsidered her order to prevent the media from publishing the name of a witness. Chris Beal, a lawyer for media outlets including the Denver Post, argued that since prosecutors mentioned the witness' name in their opening statement, the media should be allowed to use it. "The problem, from a legal perspective, is that his name has already been disclosed," Beal said.
Defense attorneys agreed, saying Clark has a right to a public trial. "Public means public. It doesn't meant sorta public," Cantor said.
But prosecutors and an attorney for the witness disagreed. The witness previously told the judge that if his request wasn't granted, he wouldn't testify. "If these accommodations aren't made, the [prosecution] are going to be cheated out of evidence -- evidence that is critical to our case," Twining said.
Habas said she feels compassion for the witness. "I do not for one moment doubt his sincerity, his what I would consider to be terror -- not so much for himself, but for his children," she said. She also said he's not the only witness in the case to express fear for his safety.
But, Habas said, "in this court's view, once the district attorneys made the decision to disclose this witness in opening statements in this trial, the die was cast." She said she can't restrict the media from using his name. Furthermore, she ordered him to testify, just like she did with Anderson and Jackson-Keeling. If he doesn't, he will be jailed. She gave him until 8:45 a.m. tomorrow to decide.
3:19 p.m.: After lunch, defense attorney Hutt questioned Detective Martinez about the thoroughness of the investigation into Williams's murder, including the investigation into a green SUV being driven by Felix Abram on New Year's Eve 2006 and the early hours of New Year's Day 2007. Martinez said security guards at the Safari club near 10th Avenue and Broadway, where witnesses say Williams, Clark , Abram, Harris and others were partying before the shooting, told the police about the SUV and gave them the license plate number because the guards thought it was associated with Daniel "PT" Harris.
Martinez admitted that the police never tested the SUV, which Abram described as a green Ford Expedition, for fingerprints, DNA or gunshot residue. The SUV belonged to a woman named Zandria Britt, who was Abram's girlfriend and worked as a womens corrections officer at the time. Hutt pointed out that when the police questioned Britt about the SUV, she gave them a different license plate number than what they already had. "You didn't challenge her about having the wrong plate number?" Hutt asked.
"I don't recall," Martinez said.
Hutt also pointed out that the police didn't go looking for outside surveillance tapes from businesses near the Safari club until January 10, 2007, nine days after the murder. In some instances, like with the security cameras outside the Arby's down the block -- where at least one witness says she saw Clark sitting in the white Tahoe -- the tapes from January 1 had already been taped over, he said. Martinez also admitted that the police misplaced the security tape from outside the Sports Authority right across the street from the club, as well as about sixty hours of tape from inside the club that night.
Hutt questioned Martinez about a tip the police received on their CrimeStoppers line from an anonymous woman they nicknamed "Cuba Orange." He read from the CrimeStoppers log, which noted that she called in February 2007 and said "the shooter in the Darrent Williams case was in Playa del Carmen, Mexico" and that his name was Danny. She called back and told another detective that the man was "involved in the shooting of Darrent Williams and had fled to Mexico after the shooting."
Hutt asked Martinez if detectives went to Mexico to look for Harris. "I didn't go to Mexico. None of our homicide detectives went to Mexico," he said. No one contacted the Mexican authorities to ask them look to for Harris either, Martinez said.
A man named Joshua Grantham testified next. He was a cell mate of Clark's in prison in 2007. He said Clark boasted of killing Williams more than once. Once, Grantham said he was reading a magazine that was basically a preview of the upcoming NFL season. While he was reading a section on the Denver Broncos, he said Clark came up to him and pointed to a picture of the Broncos and said, "That's still my squad." Grantham said he then pointed to Javon Walker, who was in the limo that night, and said, "I don't like that bitch right there. I wish I would have got him."
The magazine also contained a tribute to Williams, Grantham said. Clark, he said, "was talking about how he put that bitch to sleep."
Grantham said Clark also told him what happened in the club on New Year's Eve between himself and the Broncos players. He said Clark told him, "when they were in the club, that drinks were getting on people and they weren't respecting them, and that this is Denver and this is where they're from." Grantham said Clark told him that he thought the Broncos and their friends were members of the Bloods gang and that inside the club, "it got physical" between them.
Clark also told him that the car he used in the murder was "perfect," Grantham said. "He said the ride didn't have his name on it and couldn't be attached to his name," Grantham said. He said Clark told him it belonged to his friend Solo, which prosecutors have said is a nickname for Brian Hicks, a drug kingpin and gang leader they say Clark worked for.
Grantham also said Clark collected newspaper articles about the shooting and bragged about how he was protected. "He said that his crew and his Tre Tre Crip gang, they're notorious and he's basically a street kingpin and that he couldn't be touched by anything because his crew would take care of anything no matter what and no one would tell," Grantham said.
The court took a break at 3 p.m. Grantham will be cross-examined when the trial resumes at 3:30.
12:33 p.m.: At around 9:15 a.m., Robert Fuller took the stand. He's a former officer with the Adams County Sheriff's Department who worked on the Metro Gang Task Force for twelve years. He now works as an investigator for the Denver District Attorney's Office. He testified as an expert on street gangs, specifically the Tre Tre Crips, the gang to which prosecutors say Willie Clark belongs.
The Tre Tre Crips are a subset of the Crips, a gang that started at a few high schools in Los Angeles in the 1960s and '70s and showed up in Denver in the late '80s, Fuller said. The gang gets its name from the neighborhood it's from: 33rd Avenue and Gilpin Street, he said. Within the Tre Tre Crips, there are even more subsets made up of smaller numbers of people, he said, called crews and posses.
There's also a hierarchy, he said: The lowest-level or youngest members are called baby gangsters, or BGs; the next level are called gangsters, or Gs; and the highest level are called original gangsters, or OGs. Gang members are initiated into the gang through a process called "jumping in," Fuller said. Once they're in, their objective is to further the reputation of the gang and to protect their home turf. Loyalty is paramount, he said, and committing a cowardly act can cause them to lose face within the gang.
Within the gang, there's also a code of silence, Fuller said. "The biggest thing about the gang is that nobody snitches," he said. "They don't talk to the police, they don't go to the police and if we do get them involved in a situation, they will lie to us."
"Isn't it true, given the code of silence, that to enable an investigation to go forward, you need to break the code of silence?" prosecutor Tim Twining asked.
"Yes," Fuller said.
"And the way it was broken here was through a federal investigation?" he asked, referring to a federal drug trafficking sting that netted Clark and several witnesses before arrests in the Williams murder were made.
"Yes," Fuller said.
Fuller said the code extends to the courts, as well. "I've seen where people will refuse to testify," he said. Thus far, three witnesses in the case have refused to testify: Marvin "Coffee" Bragg, who's the brother of Daniel "PT" Harris, plus Mario Anderson and Kataina "Markie" Jackson-Keeling, who prosecutors say were in a white Tahoe with Clark and Harris when Clark shot at Williams's limo. Fuller wasn't asked whether those three witnesses are believed to be gang members, but other witnesses, including Veronica Garcia, have testified that they believe at least Bragg is a member of the Crips.
One way the police can tell if people are gang members is by their tattoos, Fuller said. The jury looked at photographs of Clark's tattoos. On his upper chest, he has a tattoo written in script like a necklace that says, "I never forget I was once forgotten." Underneath it, he has the letters M, O and B. Above his nipples, he has two 3's. The O from M, O and B is in the middle of the 3's, forming "303."
Fuller said the M, O and B stands for "Money Over Bitches," "which is a common vernacular for the gang," he said. "The 303 signifies Denver but the three, three means Tre Tre." He wasn't asked about the significance of the sentence.
Clark also has "ES" tattooed on his left arm above a stack of money. Fuller said the "ES" stands for "East Side," and the fact that it's hovering above a stack of money means that East Side, his neighborhood, comes before money. Also on his left arm, he has his nickname, "LETT," which is short for "Little Lett Loose." The "E" in LETT is a "3." The "3" means Tre Tre Crips, Fuller said.
On his right arm, Clark has a tattoo of a clown. Above the clown are the words STACC PAPER. The misspelling of the word "stack" with two C's signifies "Compton Crips," the birthplace of the gang, Fuller said. On one side of the clown is a semi-automatic pistol with six cartridges coming out of it. Fuller said the cartridges, when split in half, signify Tre Tre and the pistol represents power.
Clark also has a tattoo on the top of his back that says "BOSS MONEY."
On cross-examination, defense attorney Darren Cantor asked about another of Clark's tattoos. Cantor said Clark has the Denver skyline tattooed on his hands. "The Denver skyline has no significance in regard to gangs?" Cantor asked.
"It's representing the city of Denver," Fuller said.
Cantor also pointed out that Clark has "TRUST" tattooed on his left arm above the "ES" and "NO ONE" tattooed on his right arm. When read together, the tattoos say "TRUST NO ONE." Cantor asked Fuller if he can then infer that "TRUST NO ONE" is above "East Side" and money.
Fuller said yes.
Cantor also pointed out that the E's in NO ONE and BOSS MONEY are not 3's.
During his testimony, Fuller also explained the meaning of some of the language used by the gang. He said "whip" means car, "heater" and "burner" mean gun and "blind side hit" means to run up to somebody and shoot them. He also said gang members refer to each other as "cuz," that "moshed off" means to drive off and that "got off on them" means to shoot people. Defense attorneys, however, pointed out that different gang members could use those phrases in different contexts and ways.
The defense also played a tapped phone call between Harris and his friend Vernone Edwards from April 10, 2007. In it, they call each other "cuz." Harris asks, "What's the word on the street with that other shit, that crazy shit?" Edwards and he then talk about someone going to court, maybe on the 11th. Cantor said they're referring to Felix Abram, who testified in a proceeding related to this case on April 11, and previously testified at the trial.
After Fuller stepped down, Denver police Detective Michael Martinez took the stand. He was one of the lead investigators on the case. Twining asked him about a letter the police received in May 2008 from a man whose name is being at least temporarily withheld from public dissemination. (The man also gave a copy to the Rocky Mountain News, which published it.) The letter was written in capital letters and said, "The Rican might say somethin' stupid talk to law enforcements about the death of D-Will he seen me with the gun and shoot out the whip." It also said, "Since I've been in jail they have not produced any real physical solid evidence against me."
Martinez said he went to the prison where Clark was being held on federal drug charges and asked him for a handwriting sample to compare with the letter. Clark refused to give a sample, Martinez said, but he did talk about the handwriting. "Clark was persistent that it was his handwriting that appeared?" Twining asked.
"Yes," Martinez said. Martinez also said "the Rican" is a nickname for Daniel Harris.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Abraham Hutt asked Martinez if he previously testified in another proceeding related to the case that Clark never said he wrote the letter, just that the handwriting was his. Martinez admitted that he had said that.
The court took a lunch break at noon. The trial will resume at 1 p.m.
Over the morning break at 10:30 a.m., Judge Christina Habas granted a witness' wish that the media not report his name and that the sketch artist not draw him. Prosecutors relayed the witness' request, explaining that his house was recently burglarized, and a TV and a grand jury transcript related to this case were stolen. "It doesn't take much to connect the dots that it's related to this case," Twining said.