A Southwest Baltimore man who wrote notes, made threats and tried to arrange the poisoning of witnesses who were to testify at his murder trial pleaded guilty yesterday to murder and witness-intimidation charges and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Charles G. Bernstein acknowledged that Ray "Lucky" Williams' 30-year sentence, with all but nine years suspended, is "very, very lenient." Williams' previous trial ended with a hung jury, and the case against him was rife with difficulties common in Baltimore murder cases.
There was no witness to the crime, and most of the witnesses with knowledge of the fatal stabbing and Williams' subsequent attempts to avoid prosecution were scared, uncooperative and recovering or former drug addicts, Assistant State's Attorney Rita Wisthoff-Ito said.
Wisthoff-Ito said she had to jail three of her five key witnesses - bringing one of them back from Chicago - to ensure that they would testify had there been a trial. One key witness was a man charged with theft whom Williams met in the medical ward of the Baltimore City Detention Center, according to the inmate's statement to investigators.
"It's not perfect, but there [was] a substantial chance he'd get nothing if it went to trial," Bernstein said in an interview. "You have to remember the state's low batting average in Baltimore. The quality of the jurors, witnesses, police investigation and prosecution all come together to be us: Baltimore in 2008."
Wisthoff-Ito said that after the first trial, she interviewed jurors, who told her they had difficulty believing four of her witnesses, all of whom were women and drug addicts. Two of the women were housemates of Williams and the victim, 53-year-old Charles Sparrow, and were in the home when the stabbing occurred April 2006 in a second-floor bathroom during an argument over drugs.
"All of them were selling drugs out of the house, and people were coming in and out that day," Wisthoff-Ito said. "The defense had a good argument ... that other people could have done it."
Wisthoff-Ito said Williams, 46, tried to persuade two other women to get the housemates high on "bad drugs" on the day of the trial to prevent them from testifying.
According to a statement from the detention center inmate, Williams confessed to the killing, revealing the detail that the knife had broken and become lodged in the victim's back, which was later confirmed by a medical examiner.
Williams also told the inmate that 100 to 150 people were picking up drugs at the house every day and that Sparrow had stolen crack cocaine and 50 hits of heroin from him, which prompted the fight in the bathroom.
The inmate told investigators that Williams had discussed with several inmates his plan to poison his former housemates. One of the women had seen him enter the bathroom, where Sparrow was shooting up heroin, Wisthoff-Ito said.
"And he said, 'Ah, you know I'm going give you some pills or whatever and you can throw some rat poison or battery acid in it and he says, 'I don't ever have to worry about them coming to court," according to a transcript of the inmate's statement. "And now those were his exact words, 'Rat poison or battery acid and I'll never have to worry about them coming to court, whatever it takes.'"
In a letter, Williams also wrote to a man named "Big Irvin": "I need you to get word out telling everyone what these bitches are doing. ... Made a 16 page statement telling on everybody in Pigtown and Poe Homes!!! Holler at ... and tell her to either not appear in court or to change her story if she does. Get copies of the enclosed statements out on the streets."
Sean Coleman, Williams' defense attorney, said he was prepared to go to trial yesterday but that "after weighing the potential problems and evidence the state had, Mr. Williams made the decision on his own that this was a deal worth pursuing."
Wisthoff-Ito said that "the odds were that it could have gone either way," referring to a second trial. "I had multiple women scared to testify. Most don't want to be here ... and the previous jury had a hard time believing the women. Everyday people don't understand drug addiction."
Bernstein said Williams is facing an additional four years in prison for violating his probation in a minor drug case. The judge also sentenced Williams to five years' probation upon his release from prison in the murder case.