Chapter 9

Annette Hudson had closely followed the Fritz trial by reading the daily reports in the Ada Evening News. On Tuesday, April 12, the front-page headline read, "Fritz Found Guilty in Carter Murder."

As usual, the story mentioned her brother. "Ron Williamson, who is also charged with first degree murder in Carter's murder, is scheduled to be tried here on April 21." In fact, all six articles covering the Fritz trial mentioned Ron's involvement and upcoming trial. How do they expect to find an impartial jury? Annette asked herself repeatedly. If one codefendant is found guilty, how could the other one get a fair trial in the same town?

She bought Ron a new gray suit, an extra pair of navy slacks, two white shirts, two ties, and new shoes.

On April 20, the day before his trial began, Ron was taken to court for a chat with Judge Jones. The judge was worried that the defendant might be disruptive, a valid concern given his history. As Ron stood before the bench, the judge said, "I want to see where we stand on your attendance tomorrow and make sure that when you're here that there won't be any disturbances. Do you understand my concern?"

Ron: "As long as they don't start telling me that I've killed somebody."

Judge Jones: "Well, you understand that they're going to do that?"

Ron: "Well, I understand that, but it's not right." Judge Jones knew that Ron had been a great athlete, so he used the analogy of a sports contest. "It's kind of like a sporting event as far as the adversary process. Each side has an opportunity to be on offense, and they have the opportunity to be on defense, but you can't take issue with the fact that each side gets these opportunities. That's just part of the process."

Ron: "Yeah, but I'm the football being kicked."

For the prosecution, the Fritz trial was a nice warm-up for the main event. Virtually the same witnesses would be used, and in much the same order. But in the next trial, the state had two additional advantages. First, the defendant was mentally incompetent and prone to knock over tables and blurt out obscenities, behavior that most people, including jurors, frowned on. He could be eerily frightening; he scared people. Second, his lawyer was blind, and alone. Since the court-appointed cocounsel, Baber, had withdrawn from the case April 1, there had been no replacement. Barney was quick on his feet and a great cross-examiner, but not effective arguing over fingerprints, photographs, and hair analysis. For the defense, the trial couldn't start soon enough. Barney was sick of Ron Williamson and frustrated with the sheer number of hours the case was draining away from his other, paying clients. And he was afraid of Ron, physically afraid. He arranged to have his son, not a lawyer, sit closely behind Ron at the defense table. Barney planned to sit as far away as possible, which wasn't far at all, and if Ron made a sudden aggressive move on Barney, then his son was to jump Ron from the rear and take him down.

Such was the level of trust between lawyer and client.

But few people in the packed courtroom on April 21 realized that the son was protecting the father from the client. Most of those present were potential jurors, strangers to such settings and uncertain as to who was who. There were also reporters, curious lawyers, and the usual assortment of gossips that trials in small towns attract. Especially murder trials.

Annette Hudson and Renee Simmons sat in the front row, as close to Ronnie as possible. Several of Annette's close friends had volunteered to sit with her throughout the trial and offer support. She declined. Her brother was sick and unpredictable, and she didn't want her friends to see him in cuffs and shackles. Nor did she want them subjected to explicit and gruesome testimony. She and Renee had suffered through the preliminary hearing and gotten a strong taste of what was coming at trial.

There were no friends there for Ron.

Across the aisle the Carter family held down the front row, the same place they'd been during the Fritz trial. The opposing sides tried not to make eye contact. It was a Thursday, almost a full year after the exhumation of the victim's body and the arrests of Ron and Dennis. Ron's last significant treatment had been at Central State some thirteen months earlier. At Barney's request, he'd been seen once by Norma Walker in Ada, a brief visit that began and ended like most of his visits to the local clinic. For a year his medications, when he received any at all, had been erratically dispensed by the jailers. The time spent in his solitary hole in the jail had done nothing to improve his mental health.

Yet his mental health concerned no one but his family. Neither the prosecution, the defense, nor the court itself had raised the issue.

It was time for a trial.


The excitement of opening day quickly wore off as the tedium of jury selection hit hard. Hours passed as the lawyers questioned the pool and Judge Jones methodically dismissed one after the other.

Ron, for his part, behaved himself. He looked nice-a haircut, a shave, new clothes. He took pages of notes, all under the eyes of Barney's son, who, though as bored as the others, managed to keep an eye on the client. Ron had no idea why he was being watched so closely.

Late in the afternoon, the final twelve were chosen-seven men, five women, all white. Judge Jones gave them their instructions and sent them home. They would not be sequestered.

Annette and Renee were hopeful. One juror was the son-in-law of a neighbor who lived across the street from Annette. Another was related to a Pentecostal preacher who, surely, knew of Juanita Williamson and her devotion to her church. Another was a distant cousin of a Williamson relative by marriage.

Most of the jurors looked familiar. Annette and Renee had seen them at one time or another around Ada. It was indeed a small town.

The jurors were back by nine the following morning. Nancy Shew gave the opening statement for the state, almost a carbon copy of the one she had used for Fritz. Barney deferred his initial remarks until after the state's case-in-chief was finished.

The first witness called by the prosecution was again Glen Gore, but things did not go as planned. After stating his name, Gore went silent and refused to testify. He invited Judge Jones to hold him in contempt; what did it matter? He was serving forty years anyway. His reasons were not clear, but perhaps had something to do with the fact that he was doing time at the state prison, where snitches were held in low regard by their peers, as opposed to the Pontotoc County jail, where snitching was rampant.

After a few moments of confusion, it was decided by Judge Jones that Gore's testimony from the preliminary hearing the previous July would be read to the jury. This was done, and though the impact was somewhat lessened, the jury still heard Gore's fictitious account of seeing Ron at the Coachlight the night of the murder.

Barney was robbed of the opportunity to grill Gore on his numerous felonies and their violent nature. Nor did the defense get the chance to question the witness on his whereabouts and movements on the night of the murder.

With Gore out of the way, the state's case quickly got back on track. Tommy Glover, Gina Vietta, and Charlie Carter gave the same testimony for the third time.

Gary Allen told the same strange story of hearing two men squirt themselves with a water hose at 3:30 a.m. early in December 1982, but emphatically could not identify Ron Williamson. The other man might have been Fritz, but maybe not.

The truth was that Gary Allen couldn't identify anyone and had no idea when the incident occurred. He was a drug addict, well known to the police. He knew Dennis Smith because they had attended classes at the local college.

Smith approached him shortly after the murder and asked if he'd seen or heard anything suspicious in the early hours of December 8. Allen said he had seen two men squirting themselves with a water hose at the house next door, but could not remember the date. Dennis Smith and Gary Rogers jumped to the conclusion that it was Fritz and Williamson washing off the blood of Debbie Carter. They pressed Allen for details, even showed him a photo of the murder scene. They suggested that the two men were Fritz and Williamson, but Allen could not, and would not, identify the two.

Shortly before the trial, Gary Rogers stopped by Allen's apartment and again suggested details. Wasn't it really Fritz and Williamson, and didn't he see them outside, early in the morning, sometime around December 8?

No, Allen could not be certain. Rogers brushed his coat away from his hip so Allen could see his service revolver. He said that Allen might get lead poisoning if his memory didn't improve. It did, but just barely enough to testify.

Dennis Smith then walked the jury through the crime scene, the photographing, fingerprinting, evidence gathering. Photos were passed to the jurors, with the same predictable reactions when they saw the victim. Using a fire-truck ladder, the police photographer had shot some aerials of Debbie's apartment. Peterson used one of them and asked Smith to tell the jury where the Williamson house was located. Only a few blocks away.

Barney said, "Let me see those photos," and they were handed over. As was the unwritten rule in Ada, Barney took the photos and stepped outside with his assistant, Linda. She described each one to him in detail.

The direct examination was matter-of-fact, but Barney had some fireworks on cross. He'd always thought it was odd that the two alleged killers could pull off such a heinous rape and murder without leaving a single fingerprint. He asked Smith to explain the best surfaces for an investigator to dust for prints. Smooth, hard surfaces-glass, mirrors, hard plastic, painted wood, and so on. Then he walked Smith through the small apartment and forced him to admit that he had neglected many obvious locations-kitchen appliances, the glass in the bedroom window that was left open, bathroom fixtures, door facings, mirrors. The list grew and grew, and the impression was clear that Smith had done a poor job of checking for prints.

With the witness on his heels, Barney hammered away. When he became too aggressive, either Bill Peterson or Nancy Shew would object to his tactics, and their objections usually brought an acerbic retort from Barney.

Gary Rogers took the stand next and continued a detailed summary of the investigation. But his most important contribution to the state's case was recounting for the jury the dream confession Ron made the day after he was arrested. It sounded just fine on direct exam, but Barney had a few problems with it.

He was quite curious as to why the statement was not recorded. Rogers admitted that the police owned and often used a video camera, and when pressed by Barney, he admitted that sometimes it wasn't used when the investigators weren't sure what the witness might say. Why run the risk of recording something harmful to the prosecution but helpful to the defendant?

Rogers admitted that the police department owned a tape recorder and that he knew how to operate it. It wasn't used in the interview with Ron, because that would not have been within their normal procedures. Barney didn't buy that, either.

Rogers also admitted that the police department had a ready supply of pencils and paper, but stumbled badly when he tried to explain why he and Rusty Featherstone did not allow Ron to write his own statement. They refused to let him see it, either, after they were through with it, and Barney piled on the suspicion. As he drilled Rogers about his unusual procedures, Rogers made a huge mistake. He mentioned Ron's 1983 interrogation, on video, in which Ron had steadfastly denied any involvement. Barney was incredulous. Why had he not been told of this tape? Pretrial discovery required the prosecution to hand over all exculpatory evidence. Barney had timely filed the proper motions, months earlier. The prior September the court had ordered the prosecution to provide defense counsel with all statements made by Ron relative to the murder investigation.

How could the police and prosecutor sit on the tape for four and a half years and hide it from the defense?

Barney had very few witnesses at his disposal, since the case against Ron was basically an "admission" case, one in which the state was using a variety of witnesses, albeit a rather sketchy collection, to testify that Ron, at various times and in various ways, admitted to the murder. The only real way to fight such testimony was to deny it, and the only person who could deny making the admissions was Ron himself. Barney planned to put Ron on the stand in his own defense, but he was terrified of the prospect. The 1983 tape would have been a powerful tool to show the jury. Four and a half years earlier, long before the prosecution had put together its roster of shady witnesses, and long before Ron had such a lengthy criminal record to answer to, he had sat before a camera and repeatedly denied any involvement.

In a famous 1963 decision, Brady v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court held that "the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution."

Investigators have all the resources. Frequently, they uncover witnesses or other evidence favorable to a suspect or defendant. For decades they could simply ignore this exculpatory evidence and proceed with a prosecution. Brady leveled the field and instantly became ingrained in criminal procedure. A Brady request is one of many routine motions a criminal defense lawyer files early in the case. A Brady motion. A Brady hearing. Brady material. "I nailed him on Brady." The case worked its way into the vernacular of criminal law practice.

Now Barney stood before Judge Jones, with Rogers still in the witness chair and Peterson studying his shoes, with a clear Brady violation. He moved for a mistrial and was overruled. Judge Jones promised to hold a hearing on the matter-after the trial was over! It was late on Friday, and everyone was tired. Judge Jones recessed until 8:30 Monday morning. Ron was handcuffed, surrounded by deputies, and hustled out of the courtroom. He had behaved himself so far, and it had not gone unnoticed.

The front page of Sunday's Ada Evening News ran the headline "Williamson Controlled During Trial's First Day."

The first witness Monday was Dr. Fred Jordan, who, for the third time in the same seat, testified in detail about the autopsy and cause of death. It was also the third time that Peggy Stillwell had suffered through it, and the ordeal was certainly not getting any easier. Fortunately, she could not see the photos they were passing around to the jurors. She could see their reactions, and that was enough.

Dr. Jordan was followed by Tony Vick, Fritz's neighbor; Donna Walker, the convenience store clerk; and Letha Caldwell, the late-night acquaintance-all three as useless as they'd been in the Fritz trial.

The fireworks started when Terri Holland was called next. During the preliminary hearing she'd been able to spin her yarns with no fear of getting caught. Now, though, with Ron glaring at her and knowing the truth, things would be different.

The tales started immediately- Holland was describing statements Ron allegedly made in jail about Debbie Carter-and it was obvious Ron was about to explode. He shook his head, clenched his jaws, stared at Holland as if he'd like to kill her. Finally she said, "He said if she'd went ahead and went with him, he'd never had to kill her."

Ron said, "Oh," loudly.

Nancy Shew asked, "Did you ever hear a phone conversation that he made that related to Debbie Carter in any way?"

Holland: "I was working in the laundry; I was a trustee. Ron was on the phone to his mom, and he told his mother-he was trying to get her to bring him cigarettes or something, I'm not sure what, but they-he was hollering at her. And he told her that if she didn't that he'd have to kill her like he did Debbie Carter."

To which Ron yelled, "She is lying!"

Nancy Shew continued: "Ms. Holland, did you ever hear him describe or talk about any of the details of Debbie Carter's death? "

Holland: "He was telling-I guess in the bullpen, the guys back there-that he-he said he shoved a Coke bottle up her ass and her panties down her throat."

Ron jumped up, pointed at her, and yelled, "You are lying! I ain't never said nothing like that in my life! I did not kill this girl, and I call you a liar."

Barney: "Be still, Ron."

Ron: "I don't even know what you're-I mean, you're going to pay for that."

There was a pause as everyone caught their breath, and Barney slowly rose to his feet. He knew exactly what was comingrepair work. The prosecution's star witness had botched a couple of crucial facts-the panties and the Coke bottle-a common problem with fabricated testimony.

With the courtroom tense, a lying witness exposed, and Barney already waiting to pounce, Nancy Shew tried to fix the damage.

Shew: "Ms. Holland, let me ask you about the details you were just relating. As far as your memory goes, are you sure about the objects that he stated he used? You said Coke bottle."

Barney: "If the court please, if the court please-I heard what she said, and I don't want this district attorney changing her testimony any either, and I object to that."

Holland: "He said Coke bottle or catsup bottle or bottle-" Barney: "See what I mean. If the court please."

Holland: "It's been four years." Ron: "Yeah, and you're a-" Barney: "Hush."

Shew: "Ms. Holland, can you-I know you overheard different things-" Barney: "If the court please-"

Shew: "Can you think of-"

Barney: "I'm going to object to this leading and suggestive questioning that the District Attorney is doing." The Court: "State a question without posturing anything in front of it."

Shew: "Did he ever tell why-you said that he said that he killed-" Holland: "He wanted to sleep with Debbie Carter."

Ron: "You're a liar!" Barney: "Shut up."

Ron (standing): "She's a liar. I ain't going to sit for it. I didn't kill Debbie Carter, and you are lying." Barney: "Ronnie, come on, sit down."

Peterson: "Judge, can we have a recess, please. Barney-I object to counsel's sidebar comments, Your Honor." Barney: "These aren't sidebar comments, if the court please." The Court: "Wait a minute."

Barney: "I'm talking to this defendant."

The Court: "Wait a minute. Ask your next question. Mr. Williamson, I must admonish you that you are not allowed to speak from the chair you are now in."

Shew: "Ms. Holland, can you recall if he ever said why he did what he did?" Holland: "Because she wouldn't sleep with him."

Ron: "You're lying, damn it, tell the truth. I never killed nobody in my life." Barney: "Judge, I'd like to ask if we could have a recess for a few minutes here." The Court: "All right. Remember your instructions. The jury may step down." Ron: "Could I speak to her, please. Let me talk to her. What is she talking about? "

A short break cooled things down. With the jury absent, Judge Jones had a nice chat with Ron, who assured His Honor that he could behave himself. When the jury returned, the judge explained that the case was to be decided on the evidence only, and nothing else. Not comments from the attorneys, and certainly not comments and actions by the defendant.

But Ron's chilling threat of "You're going to pay for that" was clearly heard by the jurors. They, too, were afraid of him.

During the melee, Nancy Shew was unable to completely resuscitate her witness. With leading and suggestive questions she was able to transform the Coke bottle to a catsup bottle, but the little detail of the panties in the mouth went uncorrected. The bloody washcloth was never mentioned by Terri Holland.

The next hot-check artist called by the state to help find the truth was Cindy Mclntosh, but the poor girl was so confused she couldn't remember which story she was expected to tell. She drew a blank, and was finally dismissed without completing her duties. Mike Tenney and John Christian told of their late-night chats with Ron in his cell and some of the strange things he said. Neither bothered to mention that Ron repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder and would often scream for hours that he was innocent.

After a quick lunch, Peterson lined up the OSBI agents in the same order as in the Fritz trial. Jerry Peters went first and told his story of reprinting Debbie's hands after the exhumation because he was uncertain about a tiny portion of her left palm. Barney tried to pin him down on exactly how and why this became an issue four and a half years after the autopsy, but Peters proved elusive. Did he worry about his initial findings for such a long period of time? Or did Bill Peterson call at random one day early in 1987 and make some suggestions? Peters was vague.

Larry Mullins offered the same opinion as Peters-the bloody print on the Sheetrock belonged to Debbie Carter, not some mysterious killer.

Mary Long testified that Ron Williamson was a non-secretor, thus placed squarely in the minority of about 20 percent of the population. Debbie's rapist was probably in this group. With some effort, Barney pinned her down on the exact number of people she had tested and arrived at a total of twenty, including the victim. And of that number, twelve were non-secretors, or 60 percent of her pool. He then had some fun with the math. Susan Land testified briefly. She had begun the hair analysis in the Carter case but then transferred it to Melvin Hett. When pressed by Barney as to why, she said: "At that particular time I was working on numerous homicides and all the stress and strain, I just didn't feel that I could be objective, and I didn't want to make a mistake on something." Melvin Hett was then sworn in and was soon delivering the same scholarly lecture he'd given a few days earlier in the Fritz trial. He described the laborious process of microscopically comparing known hair with questioned hair. He did a fine job of giving the impression that hair analysis was thoroughly reliable. It had to be; it was used all the time in criminal trials. Hett told the jury he'd worked on "thousands" of hair cases. He produced some stock diagrams of different types of hair and explained that hair has between twenty-five and thirty distinguishable characteristics.

When he finally got around to Ron Williamson, he testified that two pubic hairs found on the bed were microscopically consistent and could have come from the same source- Ron Williamson. And, two scalp hairs found on the bloody washcloth were microscopically consistent and could have come from the same source-Ron Williamson.

The four hairs could just as easily not have come from Ron, but Hett didn't mention this. With a slip of the tongue, Hett stepped out of bounds. As he was testifying about the two scalp hairs, he said, "These were the only scalp hairs that matched or were consistent with Ron Williamson."

The word "match" is off-limits in hair analysis because it is extremely misleading.

Laypeople on the jury may struggle with the concept of hairs being microscopically consistent, but they have no trouble understanding a match. It's quicker, cleaner, easier to grasp. Like a fingerprint, a match eliminates all doubt.

After Hett used the word "match" for the second time, Barney objected. Judge Jones overruled him, saying he could deal with it on cross-examination.

Hett's most egregious act, though, was the manner in which he testified. Instead of educating the jurors, Hett chose instead to simply bless them with his opinions. To help the jury evaluate the evidence, most hair analysts bring into court enlarged photos of the hair in dispute. A photo of a known hair is mounted next to a questioned hair, and the expert goes into great detail explaining similarities and dissimilarities. As Hett said, there are about twenty-five different characteristics in hair, and a good examiner will show the jury exactly what he or she is talking about.

Hett did nothing of the sort. After working on the Carter murder for nearly five years, hundreds of hours, three different reports, he did not show the jury one single enlarged photo of his work. Not a single hair taken from Ron Williamson was compared with a single hair taken from Debbie's apartment.

Hett was, in effect, telling the jury to simply trust him. Don't ask for proof, just believe his opinions.

The clear implication of Hett's testimony was that four of the hairs found in the Carter apartment came from Ron Williamson. Indeed, this was the sole purpose of putting Hett on the witness stand.

His presence and testimony highlighted the unfairness of expecting an indigent defendant to get a fair trial without giving him access to forensic experts. Barney had requested such assistance months earlier, and Judge Jones had declined.

Judge Jones should have known better. Three years earlier, a major case from Oklahoma landed at the U.S. Supreme Court, and its outcome rattled the criminal courts of the country. In Ake v. Oklahoma, the Court said: "When a State brings its judicial power to bear on an indigent defendant in a criminal proceeding, it must take steps to assure that the defendant has a fair opportunity to present his defense... Justice cannot be equal where, simply as a result of his poverty, a defendant is denied the opportunity to participate meaningfully in a judicial proceeding in which his liberty is at stake."

The Ake decision required that the basic tools of an adequate defense be provided by the state to an indigent defendant. It was ignored by Judge Jones in both the Fritz and the Williamson trials.

Forensic evidence was a crucial part of the prosecution. Jerry Peters, Larry Mullins, Mary Long, Susan Land, and Melvin Hett were all experts. Ron was left with only Barney, a competent courtroom advocate, but, sadly, one unable to see the evidence.

The state rested after Melvin Hett. At the beginning of the trial, Barney waived his opening statement, reserving it for the start of his defense. It was a risky maneuver. Most defense lawyers can't wait to address the jurors early on to begin sowing doubt about the state's evidence. The opening statement and the closing argument are the only stages in a trial when a lawyer can directly address the jury, and they are opportunities too ripe to pass up.

Barney, after the state rested, surprised everyone by again waiving his right to an opening statement. No reason was given, none was required, but it was a very unusual tactic. Barney called to the stand seven straight jailers. All denied they had ever heard Ron Williamson in any way implicate himself in the Carter murder.

Wayne Joplin was the Pontotoc County court clerk. Barney called him as a witness to review the records of Terri Holland. She had been arrested in New Mexico in October 1984 and hauled back to Ada and placed in jail, where she promptly helped solve two sensational murder cases, though she waited two years to inform the police about Ron's dramatic confession to her. She pleaded guilty to the bad-check charges, received a fiveyear sentence with three suspended, and was ordered to pay court costs of $70, restitution of $527.09, $225 for attorneys' fees at the rate of $50 per month, $10 a month to the Department of Corrections, and $50 a month to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund. She made one payment of $50 in May 1986, then all was apparently forgiven.

Barney was down to his last witness, the defendant himself. Allowing Ron to testify was risky. He was volatile-earlier in the day he had lashed out at Terri Holland-and the jury was already afraid of him. He had a criminal record, which Peterson would hammer him with, attacking his credibility. No one was certain how much, if any, of his meds he was receiving. He was angry and unpredictable, and, worst of all, he had not been prepped by his lawyer.

Barney asked for a conference at the bench and said to Judge Jones: "Now then, the fun starts. I'd like to have a recess to do whatever I can as far as having any kind of calming influence on him. He seems-well, he hasn't been jumping up and down. I'm ready to have a recess anyway."

"You're down to one possible witness?" Judge Jones asked.

"I'm down to one, yeah, and I think you're using the right term too, Judge."

When they adjourned for the noon recess, Ron was led downstairs on his way to the jail. He saw the victim's father and yelled, "Charlie Carter, I did not kill your daughter!" The deputies hustled him away even faster.

At 1:00 p.m., he was sworn in. After a few preliminary questions, he denied having any conversation with Terri Holland and denied ever meeting Debbie Carter.

When did he first learn of Carter's death? Barney asked. "On December the 8th, my sister, Annette Hudson, called over to the house, and mother answered the telephone. And I heard mother say, 'Well, I know Ronnie didn't do it because he was at home.' And I asked mother what that was about. She said that Annette had called and said that there had been a girl killed in our neighborhood."

The lack of preparation became more apparent a few minutes later when Barney asked the witness about first meeting Gary Rogers.

Ron said, "And it was just shortly after that that I went down to the station and gave a lie detector test." Barney almost choked: "Ronnie, don't-you're not supposed to talk about that."

Any mention of a polygraph in front of the jury was prohibited. Had the state done so, a mistrial would have been in order. No one had bothered to inform Ron. Seconds later he stepped out of bounds again when he described an incident with Dennis Fritz. "I was with Dennis Fritz and we were going down the road and I told him that Dennis Smith had called me back and told me the results of the polygraph test had been inconclusive." Barney plowed ahead and changed the subject. They talked briefly about Ron's conviction on the forged instrument. Then a few questions about where he was on the night of the murder. Barney finished with a feeble "Did you kill Debbie Carter?"

"No sir. I did not." "I believe that's all."

In his haste to get his client on and off the stand with as little damage as possible, Barney neglected to rebut most of the allegations from the state's witnesses. Ron could have explained his "dream confession" to Rogers and Featherstone the night after his arrest. He could have explained his jailhouse conversations with John Christian and Mike Ten-ney. He could have diagrammed the jail and explained to the jury that it was impossible for Terri Holland to hear what she heard without others doing so. He could have flatly denied the statements of Glen Gore, Gary Allen, Tony Vick, Donna Walker, and Letha Caldwell. Like all prosecutors, Peterson was itching for a shot at the defendant on crossexamination. What he didn't expect was for the defendant to be thoroughly unintimidated. He began by making much of Ron's friendship with Dennis Fritz, now a convicted murderer.

"Isn't it a fact, Mr. Williamson, that you and Dennis Fritz are about the only friends each of you got; isn't that right?"

"Well, let's put it like this," Ron answered coolly. "You framed him, and now you're trying to frame me." The words echoed around the courtroom as Peterson caught his breath.

Changing the subject, he asked if Ron remembered meeting Debbie Carter, something he continually denied. The question was asked again, and Ron blurted, "Peterson, I'm going to make this clear to you one more time."

Judge Jones intervened and instructed the witness to answer the question. Again, Ron denied ever meeting Debbie Carter.

Peterson stomped and strutted around, throwing a few jabs and hitting air. He got into trouble again when he returned to his fiction. "Do you know where you were after ten o'clock on December the 7th?"

Ron: "At home." Peterson: "Doing what?"

Ron: "After ten o'clock five years ago, I could have been watching television or asleep."

Peterson: "Isn't it a fact you went out that door, went down that alley-"

Ron: "Huh-uh, bud. No way." Peterson: "... went down that alley." Ron: "No way man."

Peterson: "You and Dennis Fritz."

Ron: "You're-no way. No way." Peterson: "Walked up to that apartment." Ron: "No way."

Peterson: "Do you know where Dennis Fritz was that night?"

Ron: "I know he wasn't at Debbie Carter's. That's the way I'll put it." Peterson: "How do you know he wasn't at Debbie Carter's?"

Ron: "Because you framed him."

Peterson: "How do you know he wasn't at Debbie Carter's?" Ron: "I'd bet my life on it. Let's put it like that."

Peterson: "Tell us how you know."

Ron: "I just don't-don't ask me any more questions. I'll get down and you can put it to the jury, but I'm telling you you framed him and now you're trying to frame me."

Barney: "Ronnie."

Ron: "My mother knew I was at home. You come harassing me for five years. Now, you can do whatever you want to do to me. I don't care."

Peterson tendered the witness and sat down.

During his closing argument, Barney did much to malign the police and their work-the prolonged investigation, the loss of Gore's hair samples, their seeming blindness to Gore as a suspect, Dennis Smith's slipshod fingerprinting at the crime scene, the numerous requests for samples from Ron, the questionable tactics used in taking his dream confession, the failure to provide the defense with Ron's earlier statement, the evershifting opinions from the OSBI gang. The list of errors was long and rich, and Barney referred to the police more than once as the Keystone Kops.

As all good lawyers do, he argued that there was plenty of reasonable doubt and appealed to the jurors to use their common sense.

Peterson argued that there was no doubt whatsoever. The cops, all fine professionals of course, did an exemplary job with their investigation, and Peterson and his team had provided the jury with clear proof of guilt.

Picking up on something he'd heard from Melvin Hett, he played things a bit loose with his terminology. Talking about the hair analysis, he said, "So, over a long period of time Mr. Hett is examining hairs and eliminating, examining and eliminating, along with his other cases. Then in 1985, there's a match."

But Barney was ready. He immediately objected, saying, "If the court please, there hasn't been a match since statehood. We object to him using that term."

The objection was sustained.

Peterson plodded on, summarizing what each of his witnesses said. When he brought up Terri Holland, Ron became tense.

Peterson: "Terri Holland is telling you what she recalls after two years, and her testimony was that she heard this Defendant tell his mother that if she didn't bring him something-"

Ron jumped to his feet and said, "Hold it!"

Peterson: "... he ought to kill her just like he killed Debbie Carter." Ron: "Shut your mouth man, I never said that!"

Barney: "Sit down. Be still now." The Court: "Mr. Williamson."

Ron: "I did not say that to my mother." Barney: "Ronnie."

The Court: "Listen to your attorney."

Ron sat down and seethed. Peterson labored on, spinning the testimony of the state's witnesses in a light so favorable Barney was forced to object repeatedly and ask Judge Jones to remind the prosecutor to stay within the facts.

The jury retired at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday. Annette and Renee remained in the courtroom for a while, then left for lunch. It was difficult to eat. After hearing every word of testimony, they were even further convinced their brother was innocent, but it was Peterson's courtroom. Most of the rulings had gone his way. He'd patched together the same witnesses with just as little evidence and got a guilty verdict against Fritz. They despised the man. He was loud and arrogant and ran over people. They detested him for what he was doing to their brother.

The hours passed. At 4:30 word arrived that the jury had a verdict, and the courtroom filled up quickly. Judge Jones took his place and lectured the spectators against outbursts.

Annette and Renee held hands and prayed.

Across the aisle the Carter family held hands, too, and prayed. Their ordeal was almost over.

At 4:40, the jury foreman handed a verdict to the clerk, who glanced at it and passed it on to Judge Jones. He announced the verdict-guilty on all counts. The Carters silently pumped their hands in the air in a show of victory. Annette and Renee wept quietly, as did Peggy Stillwell.

Ron hung his head, shaken but not altogether surprised. After eleven months in the Pontotoc County jail he had become part of a rotten system. He knew Dennis Fritz was an innocent man, yet he'd been convicted by the same cops and same prosecutor in the same courtroom.

Judge Jones was anxious to finish the trial. Without a pause, he ordered the state to begin the penalty phase. Nancy Shew addressed the jury and explained that since the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel, and since it was committed for the purpose of preventing arrest, and since there was a strong likelihood that Ron would kill again and was thus a continuing threat to society, he should be put to death.

To prove this, the state called four witnesses, four women Ron had encountered before, none of whom had bothered to press criminal charges against him. The first was Beverly Setliff, who testified that on June 14, 1981, seven years earlier, she had seen Ron

Williamson outside her house late at night as she was preparing for bed. He yelled,

"Hey," and, "I know you're in there and I'm going to get you." She had never seen him before. She locked the doors and he disappeared.

She did not call the police, didn't even think about it, really, and didn't consider filing a complaint until the next day, when she saw a cop at a convenience store and told him about the incident. If a formal report was prepared, she never saw it.

Three weeks later, she saw Ron again, and a friend told her his name. Six years passed. When Ron was arrested, she called the police and told the story of the prowler.

The next witness was Lavita Brewer, the same woman who testified against Dennis Fritz. She told her story again-meeting Ron and Dennis in a bar in Norman, getting in the car with them, becoming frightened, jumping out, calling the police. According to her version, Ron never touched her or threatened her in any manner. She became hysterical in the backseat of Dennis's car because he would not stop and let her out, and the worst thing Ron did during the episode was to tell her to shut up.

She eventually jumped out of the car, fled, called the police, but did not press charges. Letha Caldwell testified again. She had known Ron Williamson since their junior high days at Byng and had always been friendly with him. During the early 1980s, he and Dennis Fritz began hanging around her house late at night, always drinking. One day she was working in her flower beds and Ron appeared. They had small talk and she kept working, which irritated him. At one point, he grabbed her wrist. She broke free, walked into the house, then realized that her children were inside. He followed her, but didn't touch her again and soon left. She did not report the incident to the police.

The final witness was by far the most damaging. A divorced woman named Andrea Hardcastle told a harrowing tale of an ordeal that lasted over four hours. In 1981, Ron and a friend were at her house, trying to coax her into going out with them. They were headed for the Coachlight. Andrea was keeping three children of her own and two others, so she could not go out.

The men left, but Ron soon returned to retrieve a pack of cigarettes. He entered the house uninvited and quickly made a pass at Andrea. It was after ten at night, the children were asleep, and she was frightened. She had no interest in sex. He exploded, striking her repeatedly about the face and head and demanding that she perform oral sex. She refused and, in doing so, realized that the more she talked, the less he hit her.

So they talked. He talked about his baseball career, his failed marriage, his guitar playing, God and religion, his mother. He had gone to high school with her ex-husband, who was a part-time bouncer at the Coachlight. At times he was quiet, peaceful, even tearful, at other times he was erratic, loud, and angry. Andrea worried about the children, all five of them. As he talked, she kept thinking of some way out of the ordeal. He erupted into violent fits, hitting her again and trying to pull off her clothes. He was too drunk to maintain an erection.

At one point, Ron allegedly said that he figured he would have to kill her. Andrea was praying fervently. She decided to play along. She invited him back the next afternoon, when the kids would be gone, and they could have all the sex they wanted. This proposal appealed to him greatly, so he left.

She called her ex-husband and her father, and together they patrolled the streets looking for Ron. They were heavily armed and not shy about roadside justice.

Andrea's face was a mess-cuts, bruises, swollen eyes. Ron wore a ring engraved with the head of a horse, and this caused numerous small puncture wounds around her eyes. The police were called the next day, but she adamantly refused to press charges. Ron lived close by, and she was terrified of him.

Barney was unprepared for her testimony and muddled through a halfhearted crossexamination. The courtroom was silent when she stepped down from the witness stand. The jurors glared at the defendant. It was hanging time.

Inexplicably, Barney called no witnesses to mitigate the damage and try to save Ron's life. Annette and Renee were sitting in the courtroom, ready to testify. Not one word had been uttered throughout the trial about Ron's mental incompetence. No records had been introduced.

The final words the jurors heard from the witness stand were those of Andrea Hardcastle. Bill Peterson begged for the death penalty in his closing argument. And he had some fresh evidence, a new fact or two that had not been proven during the trial. There had been no mention of Ron's horse head ring until Andrea Hardcastle's testimony. Peterson jumped to a few conclusions, expanded the evidence, and decided that Ron had used the same ring when he beat Debbie Carter; thus, her facial injuries most surely were similar to what Andrea Hardcastle's must have been back in January 1981. It was just a wild idea. There was certainly no proof, but then no proof was needed.

Peterson dramatically told the jury, "He left his signature with Andrea Hardcastle, and he underlined it with Debbie Carter." He ended his remarks by saying, "When you come back in here, ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to ask you to say: Ron Williamson, you deserve to die for what you did to Debra Sue Carter."

With perfect timing, Ron blurted, "I did not kill Debbie Carter." The jury retired but made quick work of the penalty deliberations. In less than two hours, they were back with a sentence of death.

In a bizarre case ofjudicial second-guessing, Judge Jones called a hearing the following day to ponder the state's Brady violation. Though Barney was exhausted and fed up with the case, he was still indignant that the cops and Peterson had deliberately withheld the 1983 videotape of Ron's polygraph interrogation.

But why bother at this point? The trial was over. The video was of no benefit after the fact.

To no one's surprise, Judge Jones ruled that the suppression of the tape by the authorities was not a Brady violation after all. The tape wasn't really hidden; it was handed over after the trial, sort of a delayed submission.

Ron Williamson was on his way to F Cellhouse, the notorious death row at the Oklahoma state prison in McAlester.