Minutes after a forensic psychologist described the extensive and longstanding impulse-control problems exhibited by convicted murderer Darnell Williams Jr., he suddenly announced through his attorneys that he plans to take the stand in his own defense.
His attorneys said it wasn’t the first time they had discussed the subject, but were not expecting the announcement Wednesday, just as they were about to rest their case in the “penalty phase” of the trial.
At the end of testimony, the Alameda County jury that found Williams guilty earlier this month of two murders will make a sentencing recommendation to Judge Jeffrey Horner: either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The two-person defense team had just completed questioning the woman they said would be their final witness — forensic psychologist Gretchen White — when the attorneys and judge said they needed to have a brief discussion out of the presence of the jury.
Read complete coverage of the case.
The judge had already told jurors they would be excused until Tuesday morning, when attorneys would present their closing statements.
After speaking briefly in chambers, the judge said the jury needed to leave the room so Williams and his attorneys could speak about an unspecified subject that had just arisen. After the jurors filed out, the judge said he would leave the courtroom too so defense attorneys Darryl Billups and Deborah Levy could confer with their client.
“We’re ready,” Billups said immediately.
“I don’t think so,” Judge Horner replied. He instructed the attorneys to speak further with Williams to make sure he understood what he was doing and to make it clear there had been time to consider the decision — still unspecified — without pressure. The prosecutor and a handful of relatives in the gallery of murder victims Alaysha Carradine and Anthony Medearis III also left the room.
After several minutes of what appeared to be heated and emphatic discussion between Williams and his attorneys, the judge and prosecutor returned to the courtroom.
Levy said a decision had been reached “against our advice and against our requests and urgings.”
“Mr. Williams has decided he wants to testify,” she told the court.
Billups said he wanted to ask Williams some questions on the record to make it clear that any subject that had come up in the earlier “guilt phase” of the trial — before the guilty verdict — and the current penalty phase would be fair game during questioning, particularly during cross-examination.
The judge denied the request.
“This is a matter between you and your client,” Horner told Billups. “These discussions should be private.”
Horner called back the jurors and informed them of the decision, then asked them to return to court Thursday at 9:30 a.m. — rather than being in recess until Tuesday — to hear Williams’ testimony.
Horner told the jury Williams had “chosen to be a witness on his own behalf against the advice of counsel,” adding: “He has the right to make this decision.”
Jurors were then excused until Thursday morning.
Williams then made a further request of the judge, to be excused for the afternoon while the attorneys and Horner discuss juror instructions and what evidence will be available to the jury. Those proceedings can be technical, protracted and dull.
Horner said he would not allow it, and called the afternoon “a critical stage.”
“I want Mr. Williams here,” he said.
It’s the third time the defense attorneys have made it clear on the record that Williams was acting against their advice. First, he insisted on seeing his cellphone records, which led to the discovery of a key piece of evidence for the prosecution. Earlier this week, he tried to push the judge to offer him legal advice and asked to have the jury excused for the remainder of the “‘penalty phase” of the trial. The judge denied that request, too.
Stay tuned to Berkeleyside for continuing coverage.
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