Friday, May 7, 2010
One man's quest to get new trial after 1991 murder
STORIES BY JANINE ANDERSON ianine:firstname.lastname@example.org
Word was out: Something was up at the King Center. It was early afternoon on Monday, April 29,1991. Young men in cocked baseball caps and women with sculpted bangs stood in bunches across the street, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Hamilton Street.
Someone looked up. What's Little Terrance Simpson doing on the roof?
Crouched over the front door, the 11-year-old Simpson saw people looking at him. He raised a finger to his lips. ' Shhhh." . everyone waited.
Drug grab leads to threats
Three days earlier, on Friday, April 26, the Shorty Vice Lords were dividing up cocaine at their hang¬out house on Geneva Street. Chris Berry, a Vice Lord, doled it out: This much for you, this much for you, this much for you.
" Darnell WinWord, another vice Lora from the neighborhood, thought the Shorties owed him a share, too.
He grabbed some drugs and ran. Berry grabbed a shotgun and went after Wilford.
Williford got away, but word on the street reached his aunts: He was a wanted man.
Later that day, the aunts went to the house to talk-to the Shorties, a collection of tweens and teens all too young to be full-fledged members of the Vice Lords.
Berry had a gun tucked in his waistband. The in¬tention was clear: Williford’s gonna get popped. Gonna take a bullet. Gonna take his hat.
The aunts knew her nephew was in danger, and asked for an hour to convince Williford to cooperate.
When they found their nephew, Williford refused.
Seeking a peacemaker
Berry spent the weekend talking about getting back at Williford. By Monday, it was time to do something. With 11-year-old Terrance Simpson at his side, Berry went looking for Williford.
The two stopped at Terry Jackson's house on their way to the Martin Luther King Center, where they
believed Williford was playing basketball. Jackson was 24, out on parole after 10 years in and out of group homes, jails and prisons. He had been in the Vice Lords, but says he left that life behind when he got out of prison.
Talk to Williford, Berry asked Jackson.
Jackson knew Berry had been talking about going after Wil¬liford. He turned down the request for help. This is your problem, Jackson said, I'm not getting involved. Berry and Simpson left. But what Berry said stayed in Jackson's mind.
''What if what he was telling me was really true, that he was going to walk in there and shoot Darnell (Williford) and that I had a chance to stop it ?" Jackson thought, according to his court testimony.
If he ignored Berry's request, Jackson tell anything that hap¬pened to Williford would be his fault, too. So he followed.
In doing so, Jackson took the first step toward life in prison for a murder lie says he had nothing to do with.
Inside the King Center, Wil¬liford played basketball in the gym.
Jackson went up to Williford. Chris Berry wants to talk to you, he warned. He wants the dope you took.
"F--- Chris," Williford said.
“just leave. Slip out the back door,” Jackson implored.
Williford refused. He wasn't afraid of Berry.
Jackson gave up.
"What's not rny business is not my business" Jackson would Later testify.
He left the center through the front door, but stayed nearby. Berry was in the crowd that had gathered across the street from the King Center. He flapped open his coat, showing the crowd he wasn't hiding any¬thing. No weapons. The front door of the center opened, and Williford stepped outside. Simpson, perched on the roof, raised his gun and pulled the trigger.
Williford spun and fell.
His last words: Call the police.
Building the suspect list
Terry Jackson was one of the first witnesses to speak to police.
He told police about the dope grab, about the threats, about how Berry and Simpson had asked for his help. Simpson and Berry were quick¬ly taken into custody. On the street, there was a cam¬paign to add Jackson to the suspect list.
It started with a phone call from jail, Leonard Herron now says. In an interview in orison. Herron, who was a Shorty Vice Lord in 1991, said Berry called him collect and told him to blame Jackson for the murder. Berry thought it would help him win his trial, Herron said.
"(Terry Jackson) put our names in it," Herron said in that April 2009 prison interview. "All of us went together. (Jackson) put our names in, let's get him back. ... (Chris Berry) was like 'I need you . to do that.'"
Shorties started giving' Jack¬son's name to police, Herron said. Though Jackson was a key witness for the state, the idea stuck.
The only person who could possibly know everything that happened, 11-year-old Terrance Simpson, kept changing his story.
The story police settled on was that Berry gave Simpson the gun, then berry and Jackson boosted the boy up to the roof, where he waited. . .
A reluctant witness
Jackson testified at the hear¬ing that kept the homicide case against Berry moving through the system. When it came time for Berry's trial, Jackson was no longer willing to cooperate. Jackson's mother had received a threatening letter.
"Terry if you come to court against Christ (sic) Berry, if you don't come up missing, your mother will. Dig almighty people. RS. Remember the party. Thank VL"
Later, attorneys said "the party" was reference to a gang code.
There was another explana¬tion. Jackson had thrown a party a few weeks before the shooting, Someone hit him in the eye, an attack Jackson believes was over his leaving the gang.
When he got a subpoena to testify in Berry's trial, Jackson went to prosecutors. “If you put me on the stand, Jackson said he told them, I'll say 1 don't remember anything.”
He said the attorney asked him to step out for a minute. When she called him back in she said 'he was free to go.
At Berry's trial, Jackson's name kept coming up. Berry's attor¬ney said his client was simply a pawn, caught up in Jackson's plan to kill Williford. The Shorties testified that Jjckson was involved. So did Williford's family.
But when Berry took the stand, he told the same story that Jackson gave police the day after the murder: that Berry needed Jackson's help to defuse the situation."I wanted Terry Jackson to tell Darnell (Williford) that i wanted to talk to him," Berry testified. Berry and Jackson both said Williford refused to talk. Then their stories diverged: After Williford said no, Berry testified that Jackson suggested having Simpson make the kill. On the stand, Berry said he saw Jackson give Simpson the gun, handing it to the boy at the front of the center. "1 said 'Man, you ain't having that boy do that. That's crazy,' " Berry testified. "And Terry Jack¬son said, 'Dude,' he said, 'this Shorty got more heart than you do.' "
In her closing argument, pros¬ecutor Zoe Stowers said Berry's defense made "no sense,"
Berry testified that he went to Jackson for help, Stowers said to "smooth things over."
"Does that make sense? Ter¬ry Jackson is the one (Berry is) pointing his finger at."
The jury agreed with Stowers, and on Nov. 16, 1991, convicted Berry of Williford's murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility for parole beginning in 2026.
No one came for Jackson.
A wanted man
Jackson was asleep when his cousin's boyfriend came into his bedroom, holding a copy of the Jan. 9,1992, edition at The Journal Times.
Jackson's picture was on the front page, under a headline that read "Suspect in ambush."
The article said police had a warrant to arrest Jackson tor Williford's murder, lumping him in with Berry and Simpson.
He called his mother, who was visiting relatives in Detroit. Don't worry, he told her. They don't have a case. I'll be home soon.