Trial in Williams shooting death begins

DENVER -- Prosecutors say a New Year's Day celebration in which revelers at a nightclub were sprayed with champagne led a disrespected gang member to fire indiscriminately into a limousine, killing Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams and injuring two others.

Willie Clark faces several charges, including first-degree murder, in Williams' slaying. Williams died on New Year's Day 2007 after a .40-caliber bullet pierced his neck, killing him almost instantly, Chief Deputy District Attorney Bruce Levin told jurors Tuesday.

The shooting happened after two men claiming affiliation with gangs confronted a group of Denver Broncos players after being sprayed with champagne.

"This is about a vicious assault and murder of an innocent person," Levin said. "In the world of the Tre-Tre Crips, if you are disrespected you have the right to take an innocent life."

But defense attorney Darren Cantor said Clark is being made a scapegoat and the prosecution's case is built on testimony from people who have pending criminal cases who are trying to cut deals with authorities. Cantor told jurors that one witness, Daniel Harris, told cellmates that he shot into the limousine.

"He was not there," Cantor said of Clark. "He's not the one who shot at the limousine. He has been made a scapegoat."

Six former and current Broncos players -- Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, Karl Paymah, Nate Webster, and Demetrin Veal -- may testify during the two-week trial.

Williams died inside the limousine in Walker's arms.

Williams, a 24-year-old father of two, had burst onto the national scene about two months before he died when he sported a "Fro-hawk," a half-Mohawk and half-Afro, for a nationally televised Monday night game. The second-year cornerback had an equally noticeable game with an interception that set up a touchdown and a crucial 33-yard punt return in a 13-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

His performance raised hopes that he would emerge from the shadow of star Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey.

Williams and Marshall, a Broncos wide receiver, were at a VIP section of a nightclub when members of the entourage began spraying people with champagne in celebration of New Year's Day. Clark and Harris were among those sprayed with champagne, Levin said.

"This defendant who got sprayed did not take very well to this," Levin said. Outside the club, Clark and Harris confronted the Broncos entourage, Levin said, and a man in the group believed to be Marshall "palmed" Clark's head, infuriating him.

Witnesses said Clark began asking his friends if they had a "heater," slang for gun. Later, Levin said Clark got into a white SUV, where he kept a gun, and caught up with the stretch Hummer that had left the nightclub with the Broncos players inside.

Clark told a passenger in the front seat to lean back as he fired his gun across the front seat and into the limo, Levin said.

"It was like a blind-side hit, cuz," Levin quoted Clark as telling an associate in a recorded jail telephone call.

One woman inside the limousine escaped death when she bent down to answer her cell phone. A bullet hit her in the head, but she has since recovered from her wound. Another man got hit in the buttocks.

Levin concedes there were two shooters, but said that the fatal round came from Clark's gun. Among the evidence to be presented is a barrel of a disassembled .40-caliber gun believed to be the murder weapon that was found near Clark's home and a scorched SUV that Levin said was set ablaze to hide evidence.

Cantor said eyewitnesses say they saw a green SUV believed to be carrying Harris, not Clark, near the shooting and the prosecutors' quotes where Clark purportedly talks about the shooting to an associate are taken out of context. He also said some witnesses faced life imprisonment on unrelated charges but prosecutors agreed to cut years off of those in exchange for testimony.

Clark is a suspected gang member known as "Little Let Loose" and "Lil Willie." He and two others face murder charges in another case involving the shooting death of Kalonniann Clark in Denver in December 2006. She was killed the day before she was to testify in an unrelated drug case.

District Court Judge Christina Habas imposed strict security measures, including screenings with metal detectors at the courthouse entrance and outside the courtroom. Habas also banned any sports team logos, jerseys, pins or jewelry, including any Super Bowl championship rings that may be worn by Broncos players or staff.

Among the first witnesses to testify was John Sheppard, a friend of Williams who is from Fort Worth, Texas. One of the men confronting the entourage was saying: "Ef the Broncos, ef everybody," Sheppard testified.

Sheppard also testified that Marshall's cousin had to be restrained from getting into a fight with one of the men.