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Williamson v. United States

April 22, 2010

JOHN D. WILLIAMSON, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, (FEL2080-03) (Hon. Susan R. Winfield, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kramer, Associate Judge

Argued February 4, 2010

Before REID and KRAMER, Associate Judges, and FERREN, Senior Judge.

At the conclusion of a jury trial, appellant Williamson was found guilty on seven counts, including premeditated first-degree murder while armed ("first-degree murder"), possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, carrying a pistol without a license, assault with intent to kill while armed, threatening to do bodily harm, and two counts of obstructing justice. The charges stemmed from the fatal shooting of Sergio Chambliss and the wounding of Robert Dixon, Sr. during the same incident.

Williamson attacks the verdict on a broad front. He first argues that the jury, relying on the now-discredited standard jury instruction in use at the time, convicted him as an aider and abettor even though he lacked the requisite mens rea for first-degree murder.*fn1 Furthermore, in appealing the denial of his post-trial motion, he contends that the government failed in its obligation to disclose exculpatory witnesses under Brady v. Maryland*fn2 until the end of the trial. Additionally, he makes a Winfield*fn3 proffer of newly discovered evidence of his innocence.*fn4

I. Factual Background*fn5

Undisputed evidence at trial established the following facts. At approximately 3:00 p.m. on January 17, 2003, an unidentified gunman opened fire at the passenger compartment of a truck which was towing an abandoned school bus into a storage yard near the intersection of 50th and Hayes Streets, Northeast. The gunman wounded the driver of the tow truck, Robert Dixon, Sr., and killed its passenger, Sergio Chambliss, before getting away. The gunman remains unidentified.

A. The Government's Case

The government alleged that Williamson planned and orchestrated the killing because he had a "beef" with Chambliss. According to the government, Williamson suspected that Chambliss was involved with Williamson's girlfriend, Paula ("Peaches") Washington. Peaches had dated Chambliss before she moved in with Williamson, and Williamson suspected that Peaches might still be seeing Chambliss. The government also contended that Williamson believed Chambliss had burglarized his home.

The government introduced the testimony of Shawn Walker to corroborate its theory. Williamson told Walker that he had a "run-in" with Peaches's ex-boyfriend (Chambliss) sometime around November 2002. Williamson then asked Walker to procure a weapon "because he didn't know if the dude was going to come back or not." Walker sold Williamson a Glock 30, which is a .45 caliber pistol. After his house was burglarized, Williamson spoke to Walker about the incident. He claimed that the burglars had entered into the bedroom where Peaches and he were sleeping. Williamson admitted to firing at the burglars using the weapon Walker had sold him. He told Walker that he believed one of the perpetrators had been Chambliss because, before the shooting started, Peaches asked, "Who is it"? and the perpetrator responded, "It's me, baby." Officer Nathaniel Davis, who responded to Williamson's 911 call on the night of the burglary, testified that Williamson admitted to exchanging fire with the burglars. The police recovered multiple pieces of evidence of a gun fight from the scene, including .45 caliber expended bullets. But they never recovered Williamson's weapon.*fn6

The government also introduced the testimony of Robert Dixon, Sr. ("Lou") and his son, Robert Dixon, Jr. ("Robbie"). On the day Chambliss was killed, which was five days after the burglary, both men were riding in their tow truck with Chambliss. They reported driving past Williamson, who was standing next to one of his own distinctive-looking trucks.*fn7 A white Cadillac was parked next to Williamson's truck. Lou, who knew Williamson, honked his horn; Williamson looked up and waved. Lou reported that Williamson's facial expression changed to one of shock when he saw Chambliss riding with the Dixons, and he stopped waving. As they rode past, Chambliss apparently told Robbie that Peaches was in the Cadillac. He also said that there was a "beef" between himself and Williamson over Peaches, but that he believed it had been "squashed." Both Lou and Robbie reported seeing an unidentified man in the cab of Williamson's truck.

After this incident, Robbie noticed that Williamson's truck had started following theirs. When the Dixons and Chambliss arrived at the yard, Williamson's truck pulled over to the side of the road behind them. Robbie got out of the truck to move his own car, which was blocking the entrance into the yard. At the same time, he called Williamson on his cell phone, wondering why he had followed them. Williamson hung up after a brief, non-committal conversation. Meanwhile, the unidentified man got out of Williamson's truck and walked over to Dixons' truck. Lou and Chambliss were still inside. The unidentified man approached the passenger side and opened fire, killing Chambliss and wounding Lou. Lou tried to get out, but fell. Robbie noticed that his father was wounded and drove over in his car (which he was in the process of moving out of the way), picked him up and drove to the hospital. While they were on their way, Williamson called Robbie to offer him money to keep quiet about what had happened. He repeated the offer later that night. Several days later, he called again, this time leaving a threatening message on Robbie's answering machine.

Williamson's call records corroborated Robbie's testimony. An expert prosecution witness who examined the records placed Williamson's cell phone in the general area of the shooting that afternoon. Finally, a firearms expert for the government opined that all of the casings and bullets recovered from the murder scene had been fired from the same .45 caliber pistol. The markings on the casings were consistent with the conclusion that the pistol was a Glock, the same type of weapon Walker had allegedly sold to Williamson and Williamson had used on the men who broke into his home five days before Chambliss's murder. The expert ...


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