April 9, 2009

Dueling defenses

Key witness in capital murder trial pins shootings on one of two co-defendants

A key witness in the prosecution of two men accused of murdering a young mother and shooting and wounding her toddler took the stand today, singling out one of the defendants as the gunman.

Both Kenneth Williams, 24, and James Quisenberry, 28, face the death penalty in connection with the crime, which unfolded inside a west Louisville home on May 18, 2006. Although both admit to being present to buy prescription pills, they blame each other for pulling the trigger.

But a man who has known each of the suspects for years testified that Williams admitted to him that he was the one who shot and killed Earon Harper, 41, after the drug deal turned into a robbery.

“She wouldn’t let go of the purse, so he shot her. She still wouldn’t let go of the purse, so he shot her again,” said Rashon Turner, recounting a conversation he claims to have had with Williams shortly after the murder. Because Turner has himself pleaded guilty to murder in an unrelated case, he took the stand wearing a red jail-issued jumpsuit, hands cuffed.

Also shot that morning was Harper’s 2-year-old daughter, Erica Hughes, who survived, but is now blind in one eye and brain-damaged due to her injuries. The girl was shot twice in her mother’s bed, where she remained until she was discovered nearly 12 hours later.

“[Williams] said they went over there to get some pills. Basically just downers,” Turner testified. When the prosecutor asked whether Williams ever mentioned shooting the child, he answered, “He just said there was somebody else in the house … he just told me he shot her.”

The alleged conversation took place at the Burnett Avenue house belonging to Williams’s mother, where Turner said he was hanging out with the defendant’s younger brother. The witness further testified that Williams showed him the black 9-mm pistol he allegedly used, as well as the pills he stole from the victim.

During cross examination, Ray Clooney — one of two defense attorneys representing Williams — reminded jurors that the witness received a plea deal in exchange for testifying in this case. Whereas he could have faced the death penalty or life in prison, his testimony resulted in a deal of only 15 years.

Regardless of who pulled the trigger, prosecutors say both defendants were complicit in the murder and therefore equally guilty and eligible for a death sentence.

During his opening argument earlier this week, assistant commonwealth’s attorney Mark Baker described what investigators believe took place at the scene of the crime: The defendants arrived at Harper’s home looking for pills. One of the men shot Harper in the leg, likely because she refused to reveal the combination to her safe. When that did not get her to talk, the shooter walked into a back bedroom and shot the child in the leg. Eventually, the safe was opened and the pair fled with cash and prescriptions, but not before fatally shooting Harper, nearly at point-blank range, and then shooting the little girl again, this time in the head.