Bystander who rushed to help stabbing victim gives emotional testimony

Witnesses in murder trial claim Williams disliked wife's religion

February 16, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

It was midafternoon, and Shayna Samero was on her way home from work Nov. 17, 2008, idling in traffic on North Avenue near the Eastside District Courthouse in Baltimore, when she saw what looked like a couple of teenagers messing around on the street, one chasing the other.

Within seconds, she realized it was a woman under attack.

"She was trying to get away, she was trying to run away," Samero testified Wednesday during an emotional morning in the trial of Cleaven L. Williams Jr., who is charged with murder in the fatal stabbing of his wife, Veronica Williams.

Onlookers wiped away tears as Samero spoke, her voice shaking.

She rolled down a car window, she said, and wanted to call out for others but couldn't. She stayed quiet and moved to call 911, then saw an officer appear. She said she heard popping noises shortly after, but she didn't know what they were.

When traffic began to move, she pulled into a Walgreen's parking lot and bolted from her car, tearing off her sweater as she ran to the woman, Veronica Williams, now lying on the ground, where Baltimore police Agent Joshua Laycock was trying to stop her bleeding.

Cleaven Williams was lying close by; he'd been shot twice. Dozens of people stood around, watching.

Samero relieved the officer — who warned her that the attacker might still be armed, she said — and cradled Veronica Williams, who was 28 years old and a few weeks pregnant with her fourth child.

"Stay with me," Samero said, applying pressure to the wounds on the woman's neck. Veronica Williams reached up and touched Samero's cheek, then her hand fell away and her eyes closed.

"She was trying to speak," Samero said.

A few feet away, Laycock had kicked away the hunting knife that Cleaven Williams used to stab his wife seven times in the mouth, the cheek and the neck, prosecutor Kevin Wiggins said during opening statements Tuesday.

Samero told Laycock to open fire, saying, "'Just shoot him' or 'just kill him' or something along those lines," she testified. From the witness stand Wednesday, Laycock remembered the statement as "kill the bastard."

Cleaven Williams looked up, Samero said, and added, "Please do."

When she was finished with her testimony, Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory lauded her compassion. "In this world, where nobody seems to do anything," Doory said, "you should be very proud."

Wiggins has said that Cleaven Williams wanted to commit "suicide-by-cop" that day, though defense attorney Melissa Phinn disputes the notion. She has submitted insanity plea paperwork that claims Cleaven Williams was not criminally responsible for his actions, which he said he doesn't remember.

In testimony given before the trial began, he said he never planned to kill her.

Prosecution witnesses testified that he hated his wife's recommitment to the Jehovah's Witnesses, which took place after their marriage. She was raised in the religion but had moved away from it as an adult.

Two notes Cleaven Williams allegedly wrote to his wife complain about brainwashing and insanity, while a third, which he admits writing, talks about killing Veronica Williams and keeping their children away from the Jehovah's Witnesses.

"There were times when he expressed a concern about his children being raised as witnesses," Maj. Melvin Russell, commander of the Baltimore Police Department's Eastern District, testified Wednesday.

Russell knew Cleaven Williams as a neighborhood leader; Williams was the president of the Greater Greenmount Community Association.

"I affectionately called him 'C.J.,'" Russell said on the stand.

After the stabbing, Veronica and Cleaven Williams were taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Russell visited them the day of the incident. From his hospital bed, Cleaven Williams called to the major, Russell said, reading from a police report he submitted.

"'She kept pushing me. She wouldn't leave me alone. Those witnesses are crazy,'" Cleaven Williams told him, according to Russell's testimony. "There's something wrong with them. You've got to do something about those witnesses."

Russell then read him his rights.

Veronica Williams died three days later.

The trial is expected to continue Thursday.

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