Sentencing for former Dunbar hoops star delayed
BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org August 24, 2012 2:24PM
Updated: September 26, 2012 6:05AM
STILLWATER, Okla. — A last minute discovery in the rape case against a former Dunbar High School star led an Oklahoma judge to postpone his sentencing to consider new evidence, a development the Rev. Jesse Jackson called “a small step toward a giant victory.”
No one will say what the evidence is, other than that it concerns one of the witnesses. Judge Phillip Corley, who was made aware of the development Thursday afternoon, put it under seal.
The delay brought hope to Darrell Williams and to his family, who were accompanied to the Payne County Courthouse by Jackson.
“It was a good day, it was a good day,” Williams’ mother, Alice Williams, said outside the courthouse. “And I continue to ask him to be strong, because God is going to see us through this.”
“Another thing, we just got to say to everybody supporting Darrell, to pray for him and support him and keep his family in your prayers.”
Corley postponed the sentencing Friday as the defense requested to have a chance to consider the new evidence. The next court date is Sept. 14.
“It was weighty enough for the judge to say today, ‘I cannot sentence him.’ It was information the judge didn’t have, the jury didn’t have,” Jackson said after court.
“We were prepared today to make a mercy appeal for a lenient sentence because it was sentencing day but the judge got this information yesterday,” said Jackson, who led several “Free Darrell” rallies in Stillwater.
“In some sense, it is a small step toward a giant victory. I’m not surprised; I’m delighted.”
Williams, who is African American, attended Oklahoma State University on a basketball scholarship after showing promise at Dunbar on Chicago’s South Side.
He was charged with four felony counts of rape by instrumentation, accused of putting his hands down the pants of two white women at an off-campus house party in December 2010. He maintains his innocence, telling police he must have been misidentified by the women since he and his fellow OSU basketball players all wore similar warmup clothes.
But a jury that included no African Americans convicted Williams in July on two rape counts and acquitted him of two others. Jurors recommended the minimum sentence of two years.
Late Thursday afternoon, Williams’ defense attorneys filed a motion for a new trial, saying they had discovered new evidence since the July jury trial that is “exculpatory, and would have been used to impeach a witness and there is a reasonable probability that the suppressed evidence would have produced a different verdict.”
The motion also pointed to the jury itself, saying the 12 convicted on a “compromise verdict” they based on “their belief that any doubt in this case could be resolved on appeal.”
Williams’ attorney, Cynthia Ramsey, called the seal appropriate. She would not elaborate on the evidence. She would only say that the judge’s decision not to proceed with the scheduled sentencing was unusual — in a good way.
“This is not just the normal protection of the record for appeal,” she said.
“It’s really far more than that,” co-counsel William Baker said.
Payne county prosecutor Jill Tontz objected to the continuance, saying she’d only received the motion Thursday evening. And, she told the judge, she was fully prepared for the sentencing hearing “for reasons previously stated in his chambers.”
Tontz did not return calls for comment. The woman who answered the telephone in the Payne County District Attorney’s office said no one would comment until after the sentencing.
Friday afternoon, Darrell Williams smiled in a video chat from the Payne County Jail with his mother, Alice Williams, and aunt, Mildred Williams.
The family would soon get a few minutes’ contact visit, too, including his younger sister, Alicia, and brother, Pierre.
“He looks so good,” his cousin, Tarina Williams, said afterwards. “His spirits are so high. He was really just shocked to see so many people in the courtroom today.”
The grand gray and white courtroom had been packed, save for two benches left free for other defendants. OSU students filled the back wall of the oval room; some of the basketball team sat in the second row and coaching staff, including head basketball coach Travis Ford, took up the third row. Courthouse workers eager to witness the biggest case to hit the courthouse not only Friday, but also recently, grabbed some rear seats early.
Darrell Williams entered in civilian clothes, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his khaki pants. He only spoke to answer the judge’s questions: “Yes, sir.”
Williams’ face lit up when spotted his mother and aunt, cousin and siblings sitting in the front row with Jackson and PUSH staffers.
And during the video chat, Darrell Williams raised his left hand to wave and smiled again and again at his family who huddled over the camera so he could see them as he spoke through a telephone.
“He told me to stop crying,” Alice Williams told the others.
“Mama love you,” she said to her son. “Continue to read your Bible.”