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Williams v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

May 15, 2014

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE

Argued January 22, 2014

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (DVM-2157-11). (Hon. Brian Holeman, Trial Judge).

Raymond J. Rigat for appellant.

Trevor N. McFadden, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, Elizabeth Trosman, and John P. Mannarino, Assistant United States Attorneys were on the brief, for appellee.

Before BECKWITH and EASTERLY, Associate Judges, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 1125

Belson, Senior Judge :

Appellant Shirley Williams was convicted after a bench trial of attempted unlawful possession of a prohibited weapon.[1] She contends on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that she was not acting in self-defense. We agree and reverse her conviction.

I.

On September 29, 2011, Ms. Williams left her two children in the care of the children's paternal grandparents, Jennifer and Gregory Bragg, while she was at work.[2] When she arrived to pick up the children, an argument arose between Ms. Bragg and Ms. Williams. That argument escalated in an upstairs bedroom. As Ms. Williams prepared the children to leave, the two women became engaged in a physical altercation. According to Ms. Williams, who took the stand in her own defense, Ms. Bragg grabbed her by the arm and told her to " get the F out of her house." As Ms. Williams--who stands only five feet, one or two inches tall and weighs one hundred twenty or thirty pounds--pulled her arm back, she fell and Ms. Bragg--who stands about five feet, nine inches tall and weighs over 200 pounds--fell on top of her. Ms. Williams testified that once she was on the ground, Ms. Bragg started punching and scratching her. Ms. Williams said that the only thing she could do to defend herself was to pull on Ms. Bragg's hair, and that when she was able to get up she ran downstairs.

Page 1126

Mr. Bragg testified, on the other hand, that Ms. Williams started the altercation by grabbing his wife " all of a sudden out of nowhere . . . . And the next thing she landed on top of [his] wife and she went at her." In acquitting Ms. Williams of assault for this altercation, the trial court concluded that, given the conflicting testimony, there was no clear evidence of who started the fight. Both Mr. Bragg and Ms. Williams testified that, after Mr. Bragg stepped in and separated the women, Ms. Williams retreated downstairs.

Ms. Williams testified that after she fled down the stairs pursued by Ms. Bragg, she tried to leave by the front door at the foot of the stairs, but could not because it was locked by key. She then turned toward the kitchen, slipping and falling on a rug and trying to avoid objects--a mirror, vases, " glass items, and statue items" --thrown at her by Ms. Bragg. Mr. Bragg acknowledged that once downstairs he was standing between the two women to " keep my wife back, you know, so she don't get hurt . . . . And the next thing I know things are breaking up." He testified that he did not remember " who did what or how it got broken. I just know things was crashing . . . . I mean, I'm turning back to my wife, turning back to Shirley. It was just so much going on." There was no evidence that Ms. Williams threw any of the objects.[3]

Ms. Williams also testified that she picked up a knife in the kitchen to defend herself and went to the side of the refrigerator to hide behind it. Mr. Bragg saw Ms. Williams with the knife. Both stated that the use Ms. Williams made of the knife was to bang it on a door she was standing next to. Mr. Bragg testified that Ms. Williams was yelling, " You think I'm crazy? I'm going to show you crazy." Ms. Williams testified that after she banged the knife on the door, she " was just holding it." At this point, Adrian Donald, the Braggs' other son, hearing the commotion, came upstairs from his basement room, approached Ms. Williams from the hallway behind her, and placed his hand on hers to take the knife away. He said that the blade of the knife " was facing the direction that she was facing . . . toward the door, which was toward where my mom and ...


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