The trial of Cleaven L. Williams Jr., who is charged with murder in his wife's stabbing death, opened Tuesday with the defense and prosecution agreeing on one thing: He did it.
Williams was shot twice by an officer Nov. 17, 2008, while sitting on top of the bloodied body of Veronica Williams, his wife of nearly 10 years and the pregnant mother of their three young children. The dispute is not about his guilt, but whether he planned the fatal attack or if it was a spontaneous, irrational act.
"There are different degrees of homicide," his defense attorney, Melissa Phinn, told the jury.
In a letter to The Baltimore Sun, Cleaven Williams suggested that it was manslaughter, which lacks the intent and malice of murder. But prosecutor Kevin Wiggins called the killing murder in the first degree and a possible suicide-by-cop scenario, describing Williams as all the negatives written into marriage vows.
"He is the worse. He is poorer, he is sickness, he is death," Wiggins said. "He confronted her with that knife. He chased her, he caught her, he grabbed her, he stabbed her seven times."
Wiggins put a half-dozen witnesses on the stand Tuesday and entered dozens of images and items into evidence. Among the articles were two knives: the hunting knife used to stab Veronica Williams, 28, outside a Baltimore courthouse, where she'd just received a protective order against Cleaven Williams, and a second knife found in a car he drove.
There were also three notes, one Wiggins called a "confession." Before the jury was sworn in Tuesday morning, Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory ruled that that particular note — written by Cleaven Williams and recovered by police during a warrantless search — could be entered into evidence.
It's scrawled in capital letters on the back of a Geico envelope, stating: "I killed her because she wouldn't let me go. I was trapped, first out of love, then out of fear. I loved my babies eternally and I miss them. I would rather my mom raise them than those Jehovah Witnesses."
Veronica Williams was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and recommitted herself to the denomination during her marriage, which upset her husband, according to court testimony.
A second note, apparently written from the same hand, appears on a self-empowerment book found with Veronica Williams' belongings. It complains that a bond has been broken and warns of brainwashing. "Just leave me alone. Go get happy without me. Just leave me alone."
And the third missive is written on a Jehovah's Witness pamphlet. "If you want to escape, just leave. You are making a big deal and trying 2 ruin me. I know you are seeing someone and that's cool. Go get happy! Just leave me alone," a portion of the letter says.
Combined, they seem to have contradictory messages. The inconsistency is characteristic of the Williamses' marriage, according to testimony — loving at times, and brutal at others.
In a court document, read by a homicide detective Tuesday, Veronica Williams claims her husband "in the heat of an argument about our separation held me down against my will with scissors and cut all my hair off" while she screamed for her kids.
On Nov. 17, 2008, she sent a text message to her cousin, Carlin Robinson, from the courthouse, according to testimony. It said "He knows I'm here." Several hours later, Veronica Williams, who was three to six weeks pregnant, lay bleeding on a Baltimore street corner. She died three days later.
"This is not a case where you're going to send Mr. Williams home," Phinn told the jury at the start of the day. "This is not that case."