Trial begins for community leader accused of killing his wife

Jury selection expected Monday

February 11, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

The murder trial of Cleaven L. Williams Jr. — who's accused of fatally stabbing his pregnant wife outside a Baltimore courthouse in 2008 — began Friday morning with attorneys arguing whether the autopsy photos could be shown to jurors.

Veronica L. Williams was stabbed seven times in her face and neck, and the images taken by the medical examiner are described as graphic, showing wounds stretched wide to measure their depth.

"They're very shocking," said defense attorney Melissa Phinn. She contends that the photographs would prejudice jurors against her client, while prosecutor Kevin Wiggins said they are necessary to show "the extent of the injuries." The judge said he would allow them to be presented, with portions blocked out.

It was likely a hard discussion to hear for Veronica Williams' supporters, who sat silently in the courtroom, dressed in purple. They've waited years for the trial to begin.

On Nov. 17, 2008, 28-year-old Veronica Williams told a Baltimore District Court judge that her husband of 10 years had held her down and cut off her hair a month earlier while she screamed loud enough to draw the attention of their three young children. Several years earlier, he had pistol-whipped her, according to court records and pleaded guilty to second-degree assault.

The judge granted a temporary protective order, and Veronica Williams, who was three to six weeks' pregnant, it was later determined, left the courthouse on North Avenue. Her husband tackled her, according to a witness, and began slashing away as a police officer arrived and fired at least two bullets into Cleaven Williams. He recovered, but his wife died three days later.

Cleaven Williams, a former president of the Greater Greenmount Community Association, is charged with murder in her death, which he referred to as a "homicide" in a December letter to the Baltimore Sun, asking for the newspaper to use "sensitivity and tact" when writing about his case.

"It has not been determined with the courts as a manslaughter or murder," wrote Cleaven Williams, 35. In court Friday, he sat quietly at the defense table, wearing a suit and glasses, while Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory laid out the trial schedule.

A jury will likely be selected Monday, said Doory, adding that he hopes to get through opening statements that day as well.

He issued a gag order in the case, preventing attorneys trying the case from talking to reporters. And he urged the onlookers to reserve their comments, as well.

"The only effect [talking] can have is to derail the process," he said. "When the case is over, everyone will be encouraged to talk about it."

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