Originally created 05/28/98

Stephenson murder statements admissible



He didn't mean to shoot Officer Michael Stephenson, he just didn't want to go back to jail, Bryan Williams blurted out to investigators after his arrest on murder charges last July.

"I didn't want to kill that brother. I wanted him to kill me," Mr. Williams, 19, told Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Wayne Bunton, the officer testified Wednesday.

Mr. Williams was in Richmond County Superior Court on Wednesday for another pretrial hearing leading to his trial on capital murder charges. One issue before Judge Albert M. Pickett was whether the jury would be able to hear what Mr. Williams told Investigators Bunton and Jimmy Vowell less than 24 hours after the 29-year-old Richmond County Board of Education safety officer was gunned down July 16 at Jamestown Elementary School.

Judge Pickett ruled Mr. Williams' statements are admissible.

Mr. Williams told the investigators he didn't want to go back to jail. After Officer Stephenson put him in the back of his patrol car July 16, Mr. Williams fired gunshots at a window to break it, Investigator Bunton quoted the young man as saying.

Mr. Williams had been released from jail less than two months before Officer Stephenson took Mr. Williams into custody on the suspicion he broke into the school that morning. He had spent about eight months in jail awaiting trial on a burglary charge. When he pleaded guilty last May, he was released from jail on probation.

Jamestown Elementary chief custodian Willie Brown, who was called along with Officer Stephenson to investigate the burglary alarm that went off at the school, testified Wednesday that Mr. Williams was in the back of the patrol car when shots rang out. The first shot hit Officer Stephenson, the second ricocheted, and the third whizzed past Mr. Brown's head, he testified. As he ran for cover, more shots were fired, Mr. Brown testified.

Mr. Brown also provided crucial testimony that helped pave the way for prosecutors to tell the jury about Mr. Williams' prior burglary conviction. When he broke into a Greene Street home in August 1996, Mr. Williams carried a bag. When arrested by Officer Stephenson, Mr. Williams had a backpack, Mr. Brown testified.

Judge Pickett ruled prosecutors may introduce evidence of the prior burglary, but took under advisement their request to also tell the jury about Mr. Williams' misdemeanor conviction for pointing a gun at his mother.

Judge Pickett also delayed ruling on prosecutors' request to tell the jury about Mr. Williams' disciplinary problems at the Richmond County Jail since his arrest. The judge ruled defense attorneys William Sussman and Kip Lamar should have time to interview witnesses.

Mr. Williams' behavior in jail will be introduced only if he is convicted of murder and the trial enters the sentencing phase. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

Near the end of the daylong hearing marked with long references to past legal rulings in death penalty cases and how they pertain to Mr. Williams' case, the young man fell asleep.

"I can't make him stay awake," Judge Pickett said when District Attorney Danny Craig complained.

Another pretrial hearing will be scheduled after July 20.