Case of man charged with stabbing wife in front of courthouse goes to jury

Members to decide between manslaughter and murder

February 22, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

After his pregnant wife provoked him with a knife, "hot-blooded rage" drove Cleaven L. Williams Jr. to fatally stab her seven times under the afternoon sun, according to his defense attorney, who claims the 2008 Baltimore killing was unintentional manslaughter.

But prosecutor Kevin Wiggins said Williams sliced his own throat while threatening suicide, and that the attack on his wife was "nothing less" than willful, deliberate and premeditated first-degree murder.

"It's a common tactic to blame the victim," Wiggins said, calling Williams a "controlled, selfish, narcissistic, abusive adulterer" who doesn't make a move without calculating it first. "It's about control," Wiggins said.

The remarks were made Tuesday morning during final arguments in Williams' murder trial, which began a dozen days ago with motions hearings. Now, after three days of testimony, jurors are weighing whether the defendant, a former community leader, meant to kill his wife of nearly 10 years, Veronica Williams.

Jurors deliberated for about three hours Tuesday afternoon, then left for the evening shortly after 5 p.m. Deliberations will resume Wednesday morning.

One juror — No. 9 — asked if he could handle the deadly weapon "to see how sharp it is." He donned a plastic glove in the courtroom, took hold of the black hunting knife, and tipped the blade toward his left hand, scratching his thumbnail. Then he shrugged a little and handed the knife back to the clerk.

Williams claims that his wife stabbed him in the neck, provoking his attack on her, and defense attorney Melissa Phinn noted that his medical records listed a "stab wound." But Wiggins said the "nick" was sustained when Williams held the very sharp knife to his own throat after an officer confronted him.

Veronica Williams' friends and family looked on from one side of the courtroom during the brief examination, while Cleaven Williams' family sat on the other side. The pair had three children together, and Veronica was pregnant when she was killed.

He stabbed her repeatedly in the face and neck on Nov. 17, 2008, outside a Baltimore courthouse, where she had just received a temporary restraining order against him. He was shot twice by an officer during the attack.

Williams says that the death wasn't intentional, despite having written a note explaining why he killed before the homicide. He's charged with four distinct counts:

•First-degree murder, which assumes he killed his wife willfully, deliberately and with premeditation;

• Second-degree murder, which requires willfulness only;

• Manslaughter, which is defined as a hot-blooded response to a provocation recognized under the law — in this case, some kind of battery by the victim toward the defendant;

• And openly carrying a deadly weapon with the intent to injure.

Jurors can find him guilty of only one of the first three counts. The fourth count can be considered separately.

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