The conviction and life sentence of a Desha County man found guilty of endangering his reputed 9-month-old daughter, battering her mother, and fatally shooting her grandmother was upheld today by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Roderick Williams was sentenced to life in prison, plus 72 years for the April 2007 capital murder of Clara Cobb, first-degree domestic battery of Kerman Harris, endangering his daughter’s welfare, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The events stemmed from Williams’ turbulent relationship with Harris, who had filed an order of protection against Williams prior to April 26, 2007 when he went to her home and subsequently shot her mother, Clara Cobb, in the stomach with a shotgun.
Still armed, Williams then took Harris and the baby, dragging Harris by the hair, to a car where Williams’ uncle was waiting, then drove away. During the car ride, Williams hit Harris while she and Williams’ uncle attempted to shield the baby from Williams’ blows. Williams eventually pulled over and left his uncle and the baby on the side of the road and drove away with Harris.
After getting the car stuck, Williams and Harris caught a ride to a trailer where they remained until a SWAT team apprehended Williams the following day.
As a result of the beating, Harris suffered a broken arm, a broken wrist and injuries to her face.
A Desha County jury convicted Williams of capital murder, kidnapping, first-degree domestic battering, endangering the welfare of a minor, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to life in prison, plus 72 years.
The convictions were later reversed on appeal because the circuit court abused its discretion in denying Williams’ motion for mistrial because the State received the benefit of prejudicial testimony regarding an alleged prior conviction. Williams was granted a new trial.
Prior to the second trial, the prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to an order prohibiting the officers of the court or the witnesses from using the word, “trial,” to prevent the jurors from learning that the case had already been tried.
During Harris’ testimony at the second trial, she alluded to “the last trial” and Williams moved for a mistrial, which Circuit Court Judge Don Glover denied.
The jury convicted Williams of capital murder, first-degree domestic battering, endangering the welfare of a minor, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He again, received a life sentence, plus 72 years.
On appeal, Williams argued that the State provided insufficient evidence that he acted with premeditation and deliberation to commit the murder. Though he admits that he shot and killed Cobb, he maintains that he did not do so with premeditation and deliberation.
Citing case law, the Arkansas Supreme Court said premeditation is not required to exist for a particular length of time. It may be formed in an instant and is rarely capable of proof by direct evidence but must usually be inferred from the circumstances of the crime, the type of weapon used and the nature, extent, and location of the wounds.
In this case, Harris testified that she had filed an order of protection against Williams for harassing her. However, Williams appeared at her cousin’s home but left after she called 911. Later that night, Harris heard her mother talking to someone on the porch while Harris was using the telephone. After getting off of the phone, she went to the door and saw Williams loading a shotgun.
Harris said she saw her mother throw up her hands as if to say, “I give up,” then saw Williams shoot her mother with the shotgun at close range. According to Harris, she was standing near her mother on the inside of a screen door, about one foot away, while she held her baby.
Dr. Daniel J. Konzleman, an associate medical examiner at the Arkansas State Crime Lab, testified that Cobb suffered a shotgun wound to her abdomen. He estimated that the shooting could have taken place within a range of one to two feet, based on the tiny birdshot-type pellets and shot cup recovered from her body.
Williams, however, testified that he was intoxicated as he approached the Cobb residence carrying a shotgun. He said he laid the shotgun down, Cobb grabbed it, he then took the took the gun from her and it “went off.”
When confronted with the inconsistencies between Harris’ and Williams’ testimony, the jury believed Harris and found that Williams acted with premeditation and deliberation by taking the shotgun to the house, walking to the porch, loading the gun, and firing at the victim after she threw up her hands in surrender.
“Based upon our standard of review, we hold that substantial evidence supports (Williams’) conviction of capital murder with premeditation and deliberation,” the Arkansas Supreme Court wrote in the decision.
With regard to the child-endangerment conviction, Williams argued that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict because the evidence showed that Williams simply left the child on the side of the road with another family member and that the child was not harmed in any manner.
According to Harris’ testimony, Williams fired a shotgun at the child’s grandmother as Harris and the child stood a foot away from the victim behind a screen door on the front porch. She said Williams dragged her by the hair to the car while she held the baby. He then beat Harris in the car while she and Williams’ uncle tried to shield the baby from Williams’ blows.
Harris also testified that Williams’ knocked his uncle unconscious and left him with the baby in the dark on the side of the road. Harris said the baby wore only a “onesy” on a night that one police officer described as “long-sleeve weather.”
Williams’ uncle, who testified for the defense, said Williams left the baby with him when he felt light-headed and slumped over. He denied that Williams struck him, but on cross-examination, he admitted that he felt a “blow” to his back.
Based on that testimony, the Arkansas Supreme Court concluded that Williams engaged in behavior that created a substantial risk of death or serious injury to his minor child.
For the final point on appeal, Williams argued that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for mistrial when the Harris referred to Williams’ previous trial during her testimony.
In response, the State maintained that Williams’ argument is barred by the “doctrine of invited error” and that Williams’ failed to request an admonition when the circuit court denied his motion for a mistrial.
After reviewing the court testimony and the context and circumstances surrounding Harris’ comment, the Arkansas Supreme Court concluded that Harris’ comment was a brief and unsolicited remark that was not repeated.
“Therefore, we do not believe that Harris’s statement was so patently inflammatory that it would cause the drastic relief of granting a mistrial. For these reasons, we hold that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying (Williams’) request for a mistrial,” the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled.