WILKES-BARRE — Opening arguments in the trial of Keith Williams paint two very different pictures of Brock Earnest, the man Williams stands accused of killing.
While both prosecutors and defense attorneys agree Williams shot Earnest after a fight in Williams’ home, prosecutors suggest Earnest calmed down after the initial confrontation. However, the defense says the victim was acting erratically, causing Williams to fear for his life.
Williams, 42, is facing a charge of criminal homicide after police say he shot Earnest, 40, in his Fairmount Township home in January 2017.
Attorneys finally made opening arguments Wednesday morning after two full days of jury selection. Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas, who’s presiding over the trial, seemed intent on making up for lost time, keeping jurors until just shy of 8 p.m. to hear testimony.
Assistant District Attorney Justin Richards began his opening argument with a stirring quote, saying Williams told State Police after the shooting: “’I pointed and I pulled the trigger.’”
Earnest was a friend of Williams’ then-girlfriend Diedre Depiero, whom she had met during a stay at a psychiatric hospital. Earnest was invited to the home after he had told her he was dying of an oral cancer.
Richards described a night that started out fun, with the two men firing off rounds from a shotgun outside.
“This is where the night took the turn that ended with Brock lying dead in the living room,” Richards said.
According to the prosecutor, the men began play-wrestling, before the fight began to become more serious. Richards said Depiero separated the men, with Earnest sitting down on the couch.
Williams then went to his room, retrieved the shotgun and returned to the living room.
“Without saying a word to Diedre, without saying a word to Brock, who was seated on the couch, the defendant points the gun at Brock and pulls the trigger,” Richards said.
He said the fight was over, and Williams was not acting in self-defense. The prosecution is asking the jury to return a verdict that finds Williams guilty of first-degree murder.
‘He was going to kill me’
Defense attorney Demetrius Fannick, though, has a different version of events.
According to Fannick, Earnest was “menacing” and “intimidating.” Before being invited to Williams’ home, Fannick said Earnest called no fewer than 50 times, hanging up any time Williams answered the phone and not Depiero. Fannick also says autopsy records show Earnest had been lying about having mouth cancer.
Fannick said Earnest, covered in tattoos reading things like “hate,” “death” and “f—- off,” told Depiero and Williams in the car ride to Williams’ home that he wanted to do one last thing before he died: beat up someone.
According to Fannick, that fight was anything but playful, leaving Williams with injuries to his head and ear. In the recording of Depiero’s 911 call, Fannick said Depiero asked Williams why he shot Earnest.
“‘Because he was going to kill me,’” came Williams’ response, according to Fannick.
The bulk of the day’s testimony came from expert witnesses, testifying about the locations of spent shotgun shells.
At around 5 p.m., prosecutors called Depiero to the stand. She described meeting Earnest in a psychiatric hospital in October 2016 while she was in for what she described as a “mental breakdown.”
She said she spoke to Earnest twice on the day he died. He told her he was dying of “mouth cancer” and needed to hang out with someone. She and Williams then went to Montandon to pick him up —saying most of the calls from Earnest that Fannick mentioned came to the landline while they were on the road.
She recounted much the same story as laid out in opening arguments — the men went outside to shoot off rounds, before coming back inside and starting to wrestle.
“You know how guys are, trying to show who’s tougher,” she said.
She said the fight became violent, with Earnest suddenly beginning to punch Williams, seemingly for no reason.
“He didn’t have much of a chance,” she said.
She separated them, and Brock sat on the couch. Depiero said she thought the fight was over — until Williams returned to the living room with the shotgun, and wordlessly shot Earnest in the chest.
“He fell to the floor,” she said.
Prosecutors played an extended 911 call, where Depiero screamed variously at the call taker and at Williams.
“Why the f—- would you do that, you f—-in’ idiot?” she angrily screams at the defendant. Later, while the call taker was asking for a description of Williams, asking if he were a black or white man, Depiero shouts, aghast, “No, he’s not black; I would never date a black male.”
Depiero then emotionally says to the call taker, “The guy is already freakin’ dead; you guys didn’t come in time.”
She repeatedly told prosecutor Richards that she did not feel threatened by Earnest that night, adding it was more than three minutes before Williams returned with the gun.
Depiero will be cross-examined Thursday morning.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan