Monday, August 20, 2012

Conviction but no tangible evidence


Last Modified: Aug 17, 2012 10:16PM
This is not a story about the innocence of Darrell Williams.

It is too late for that.

Last month, a jury in Stillwater, Okla., found the former Dunbar High School basketball player guilty on two counts of rape by instrumentation.

This is a story about shattered dreams, about fate’s ironies and about a criminal justice system that continues to wrongfully snare young black men.
On Friday, Alice Williams, 45, will learn the fate of her middle son, whom she thought she had saved from the violence in Chicago when she sent him to Tulsa to play basketball.

“It has been so very emotional,” Williams, told me on Friday as she sat at her dining room table, where the plaques touting her son’s accomplishments, share space with the wrinkled news clippings about the trial.

“To get him to Oklahoma State, then to have these charges. It wasn’t right; to survive all the troubles and violence in Chicago; to get where he is. It hurts,” she said, her voice cracking.

A single mother of four — three boys and one girl — Alice Williams already had lost her eldest son to street violence when the charges against Darrell were leveled.

Derrick Williams was 22 when he was shot in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in 2009. He had gone there to visit his grandmother. Because a young man had gotten killed on the block the month before, neighbors were having a barbecue to honor the slain man’s birthday.

“Some guys decided to come by there and shoot up the place. The bullets caught him in the back of his head,” the mother said.

Pitfalls of college life

Four months later, Darrell was hustled off to Oklahoma State University. But rather than saving Darrell from the streets, the college life exposed him to an environment rife with pitfalls for a black man from the inner city.

Black people make up only 10.9 percent of the population in Tulsa county.

Although the infamous Emmett Till lynching occurred more than a half century ago, and interracial dating is no longer a scandal, a black man’s pleas of innocence are still meaningless against a white woman’s accusations of rape.

In this case, the rape charges stemmed from an off-campus house party in 2010. The young women apparently found out about the party from someone in a bar and showed up. Both women testified Darrell was the person who stuck his hand down their pants without their consent.

But two of his teammates are also light-skinned and of similar height and build.

On the night of the party, the basketball players wore similar warmup suits. Unless the women knew the players personally, it would have been easy for them to make a misidentification.

Even the head coach at OSU gave Darrell the benefit of the doubt.

“Williams has proven to me that he did not do this,” Travis Ford said at the trial. “If I believed he had done this and had direct evidence I would have dismissed him from the team.”

Because there was no evidence that corroborated the women’s allegations, Darrell remained on scholarship and on the team roster until the trial.

Tyrone Bullock, Darrell’s high school basketball coach, is also convinced of his former player’s innocence.

“He was a good kid. I drove him 12 hours to Oklahoma for an unofficial visit and he never even complained,” Bullock recalled.

‘Grades never failed’

“I talked to him three or four times a week about everything,” Bullock said. “Through the entire case, his grades never failed. He never changed. If someone is lying about something like that, they change. Darrell never changed.”

Darrell earned a 4.0 grade point average while awaiting trial. After the conviction, he was suspended from the basketball program. Once he completes his sentence, he must register as a sex offender.

The mother is praying that the judge will suspend the sentence and her son will leave Tulsa and be able to put this sordid chapter of his life behind him.

“He did so much to get where he is. Man it just breaks my heart that all of this is now taken away,” she said, her eyes tearing up.

Mildred Williams, Darrell’s aunt, said her sister would call her late at night and cry over the charges.

“I talked to Darrell like he was my own son. I really tried to break him down,” the aunt said.

“I told him I was going to ask him one time if he did those things to those girls,” she said.

“He told me he would never do anything like that,” Mildred Williams said.“I believe him.”

It was Mildred who reached out to Bishop Tavis Grant at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition for help with raising public awareness about Darrell’s plight.

11 whites, one Asian

“This is the classic case of injustice: Eleven whites and one Asian on the jury. Two white victims. Darrell being a black male athlete. There is no corroborating evidence. No rape kit. No DNA. There is nothing in [Darrell’s] background that would make you think he would ever do anything like this,” Grant said.

“This is the classic lynching of a black male.”

Obviously, if Darrell Williams is guilty, he deserves to be punished.

But given the hundreds of people who have been released from prison because they were wrongfully convicted, it is surprising that a prosecutor pursued these allegations without any evidence.

After all, an estimated 891 people have had their cases overturned because of they were wrongfully convicted nationwide, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

What Darrell’s conviction shows is that despite this disturbing trend, a person like Darrell Williams can easily be convicted of sex-related crimes without a shred of tangible evidence.

Passed lie detector tests

Williams has always maintained his innocence. He passed two lie detector tests, and gave an audio interview to police investigating the case.

“I don’t know what happened in the basement. I was probably misidentified,” Williams said in a recorded interview.

The jury, which included no blacks, deliberated for eight hours and recommended that Williams be sentenced to a year in prison for each of the rape by instrumentation counts.

According to published reports, Williams wept when the verdicts were read.

“Oh my Jesus God,” he said and banged his hands on the defense table. “I didn’t do it,” he said.

Later the prosecutor, a white female, told reporters she felt intimidated by Williams’ outburst.
But this is something to scream about.

A young black man had made it out of Chicago, Illinois without a mark on him or on his record. And like that, his dreams are over.

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