Jeffrey Williams faced a possible life sentence as he went on trial in Prince George's Circuit Court last month for allegedly beating Waymon Chester to death Nov. 20, 1998.
Williams, 36, was charged with first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder, burglary, manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Chester, 42.
But by the time the case ended in a mistrial Nov. 23, Williams had been acquitted of all charges except for involuntary manslaughter. Several jurors--even some who voted for conviction--said the work of defense attorney Nikki Lotze was largely responsible for the case's outcome.
Lotze was so persuasive, several jurors said, that she was able to leave them with the strong impression that a county homicide detective had resorted to selective amnesia on the witness stand.
One juror said she thought Detective Troy Harding did not tell the truth when he testified that he didn't see a key witness in an Upper Marlboro sandwich shop the same day he testified. This was a witness that he said he had tried without success to find before.
"You did a wonderful job," juror Richard Strader, who voted to convict, told Lotze after Circuit Court Judge Joseph S. Casula declared a mistrial. After deliberating for about 10 hours over two days, the jury declared itself hopelessly deadlocked at 9 to 3 for conviction on involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors say they plan to retry Williams.
Chester died after a confrontation with Williams at the Langley Park apartment Chester shared with his girlfriend, Andrea Glenn, who is Williams's niece.
Chester suffered numerous bruises and a broken bone in his neck, according to prosecutors. But the assistant medical examiner who testified for the prosecution said Chester died as a combination of cocaine intoxication and being beaten, allowing Lotze to argue that the injuries Chester suffered would not have been fatal were it not for the drugs.
Earlier on the day he died, Chester had kicked Glenn out of the apartment and locked her out, according to court testimony.
Jeffrey and Sheila Williams and Glenn went to the apartment to help Glenn retrieve her belongings, according to court testimony. Sheila Williams is Jeffrey's sister and Glenn's mother. The three broke down the door to the apartment, and Jeffrey Williams and Chester fought, according to court testimony.
Harding testified in the trial that he had been unable to locate Sheila Williams, a prosecution witness.
Officers had staked out Sheila Williams's home four nights in a row and still couldn't find her, he testified.
That left an opening for Lotze.
"Detective, were you in the Subway sandwich shop with me two hours ago, during the lunch break?" Lotze asked Harding.
"Didn't you see Sheila Williams walk right in front of us?" Lotze asked, incredulously.
"No, I didn't."
In an interview after Harding testified, Sheila Williams said she was in the small sandwich shop with Harding.
"I brushed up against him," she said. "He had me in his office for 12 hours, questioning me [about Chester's death]. You'd think he'd remember my face."
Lotze also attacked Harding's credibility.
"Didn't you tell me yesterday, in front of Assistant State's Attorney [Michael] Herman, that you would have no problem getting Joyce Hungerford [another prosecution witness] to come to court today?"
"No, I don't recall having said that," Harding replied.
Lotze asked Casula to instruct the jury that Harding had said he could produce Hungerford to testify. The judge waved her off.
"I frankly think the jury believes you," Casula said.
Nadine Wright, a juror who voted for acquittal, said she didn't believe Harding about Hungerford or Sheila Williams. Wright, 40, of Capitol Heights, said she didn't believe Harding had not seen Sheila Williams in the Subway shop.
"Something was wrong there," Wright said, adding that the credibility problem cast some doubt on the entire prosecution.
After the defense and prosecution presented their cases, Lotze asked Casula to find Williams not guilty of all charges. Casula acquitted Williams of first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder, third-degree burglary, and manslaughter. The only charge Casula left for the jury was involuntary manslaughter.
In his closing argument, Herman conceded that Chester at one point picked up a machete. Herman said Chester was justified because he was facing three people who collectively weighed more than 600 pounds who had just broken into his apartment.
"I'm not asking you to like Waymon Chester or respect him. I'm asking you to respect the law," Herman said in his closing.