Those lawyers said in court and in filings that although Williams was probably at the scene of the killing, he did not brandish a firearm or shoot Nurudeen Thomas in the early-morning hours of July 21 in the Petworth neighborhood. No other arrests have been made.
On Thursday, a federal judge in the District upheld a magistrate judge’s decision in Georgia and allowed Williams to await trial in home detention and ordered him to wear an electronic monitoring device.
Federal prosecutors in Georgia and in the District had opposed releasing Williams, arguing that he posed a danger to the community. Prosecutors also noted that the judge in Atlanta said the government has a “very strong case,” even as she granted his release.
Prosecutors appealed, but their argument was rejected by Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. At some point, Williams will be arraigned on the murder charge in D.C. Superior Court. Williams’s father said Friday that he does not know when that will happen.
D.C. police and prosecutors allege that Williams, who has been suspended from the Georgetown University football team, was among four people involved in the July incident that occurred about 5 a.m. in the 4100 block of 14th Street NW.
Prosecutors said two men drove from Georgia to the District and picked up Williams at an off-campus apartment in Northwest Washington. They picked up a fourth person later.
The driver told police that “he knew Williams was armed” before they set out but did not see a gun in his hands, according to the arrest affidavit. Police said there were five phone calls between Williams and Thomas within six minutes shortly before they met near 14th and Taylor streets NW. “The driver told police that he believed the meeting involved drugs,” according to the affidavit, which lays out the driver’s account.
Authorities said that the two men in the back of the vehicle — both armed — got out and that Thomas got in and handed Williams something. The driver told police that he saw money in Williams’s hands but that it was never given to Thomas.
Court documents say the driver told police that the two armed men returned to the vehicle and one said something that indicated a robbery. Then he heard a gunshot and saw Thomas fall from the vehicle. Back inside the vehicle, the driver heard the passenger — believed to be Williams — say, “I didn’t know you were going to shoot . . . ”
One of the other men replied that Thomas had “reached for something,” according to the account in the affidavit. Police said that they found a knife under the injured Thomas and that he had been shot once in the leg with a firearm that holds .40-caliber rounds. He died at a hospital.
Defense attorneys David Knight and Pierce Suen with the District’s Public Defender Service argued in court papers that Williams did not know a robbery had been planned or was about to take place.
“There was no discussion of robbing anyone or using firearms,” Knight and Suen wrote. “Although it is alleged that Mr. Williams was in possession of a firearm, legally registered to him in Georgia, the evidence is that he did not use, hold, or even gesture to that firearm at any point.”
The attorneys said that after Thomas was shot, there were “no additional shots” and the four men drove away.
“Mr. Williams is not alleged to have sought out the decedent to kill him. In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that Mr. Williams never intended or expected a single shot to be fired,” Knight and Suen wrote in their motion to free Williams pending trial. “The government’s theory is that there was some unspoken plan to rob the decedent . . . and that therefore Mr. Williams is guilty of felony murder.”
At Williams’s initial hearing on Oct. 2. in federal court in Georgia, defense attorneys noted that he grew up in Decatur, Ga., and was an exemplary football player and high school student. He played wide receiver for the Georgetown Hoyas and is majoring in American musical culture. He had lived in Lawrenceville, Ga., with friends and was attending classes at Georgetown online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which canceled the football season, though he still visited the District, where he had an apartment.
Williams’s mother, Alfreda Brown, testified at the hearing that she works at home in customer support for Apple and could watch over her son. His father, Dionte Williams, a forklift driver, also was in the courtroom, along with Dijon Williams’s sister and brother, a grandmother, a great-aunt who drove there from Iowa and one of his coaches, a retired police officer.
That hearing in Georgia was held in person and via Zoom, and Thomas’s father spoke from the District. He was not sworn in and his first name was not provided in a transcript of the proceedings filed in federal court.
He told the court that he lives in fear “because I do not know what was going on and who was behind this.” He described “sleepless nights” and said, “Sometimes at stop lights in the morning, if I’m going to work, I do not stop because I don’t know if anyone is following me.”
At that hearing, a D.C. police detective with the homicide unit, Sidney Catlett, testified via Zoom that police believe that “Mr. Williams was involved in the death” and that “he directed himself and several other individuals who were inside of a vehicle to Mr. Thomas’s location and also directed the other individuals while leading up to the shooting.”
Catlett said that when U.S. marshals arrested Williams at the house in which he was living in Lawrenceville, police found six firearms scattered in bedrooms. He said two were .40-caliber, the same caliber used in the shooting of Thomas.
Catlett said those firearms were being tested to determine whether either was used in the killing.