WILKES-BARRE — Both sides rested their case Thursday in the homicide trial against Keith Williams, and jurors are expected to begin deliberating his fate today.
While prosecutors called numerous witnesses, the bulk of testimony during their part of the day came during the cross-examination of Williams’ then-girlfriend, Diedre Depiero.
Meanwhile, the defense team called only one witness — Williams himself.
Williams, 42, has been on trial this week for the fatal shooting of Brock Earnest, 40, in January 2017. Williams admits he shot Earnest while Earnest was a guest in his Fairmount Township home, but claims he acted in self-defense after Earnest assaulted him.
Proceedings started early Thursday with Williams’ attorney, Demetrius Fannick, completing the cross-examination of Depiero, which had been saved for Thursday morning after Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas kept jurors until nearly 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Depiero testified previously that she invited Earnest, whom she met during a stay at a psychiatric hospital, to the couple’s home after Earnest called her. Earnest told her he was dying of mouth cancer and needed to hang out with someone, though doubt was cast on his cancer claim during trial.
Fannick grilled Depiero about the nature of the fight between Earnest and Williams. Depiero had testified the fight between the two men initially started as playful, but got out of hand.
Fannick pointed out statements Depiero made in her police interview, where she told troopers Earnest had been bragging about being “really tough” back in the day and that he wanted to “beat somebody” before he died.
When the two men began fighting, Depiero separated them, and Earnest took a seat on the couch while Williams ran to his bedroom to fetch his shotgun. In court, Depiero suggested the fight was over after she separated them. But Fannick once again referred to previous statements she made in the initial interview.
“‘I don’t think Brock was going to stop. Like, he sat down. But what was he going to do afterward? I don’t think he was going to stop,’” Fannick read from the transcript. “‘I think he was going to do something else. Like he had an agenda.’”
Later, prosecutors called forensic pathologist Dr. Gary Ross, who performed the autopsy on Earnest.
According to Ross, Earnest was killed by a shotgun blast that ripped a circular hole nearly 2.25 inches in diameter. Based on the wound’s characteristics, he believes the barrel of the shotgun was 2.5 feet to 6 feet from Earnest’s chest, but did acknowledge there was a great deal of variability in shotgun wounds.
Ross also said he found no immediate evidence of the cancer Earnest claimed to have, but noted more extensive tests would’ve been required to make a final determination. Ross told the jury Earnest had a blood-alcohol content of .26 percent at the time of his death. For comparison’s sake, the limit for drivers is .08. He also had codeine in his system, but less than the therapeutic amount.
‘He’d be here in my place’
After a brief recess, Fannick called Williams as the defense team’s one and only witness.
According to Williams, he felt that inviting Earnest to the house was never a good idea, noting one conversation in the car while driving from Earnest’s Montandon home to Williams’ residence.
Williams said Depiero asked about Earnest’s past claim of having spent 17 years in prison, wondering what the lengthy stay was for.
“He said he ‘took care of a couple of n-words,’ meaning black people,” Williams said.
Court records from Pennsylvania do not suggest that such a prison stay actually occurred, at least not within the bounds of the state.
Williams described feeling “intimidated” by Earnest’s tattoos, which included words like “hate” and “f—- off.” He said shortly after arriving at the home, after briefly firing the shotgun outside together in an attempt to make Earnest feel welcome, Earnest abruptly started beating him.
He said Earnest overpowered him, leaving him defenseless, specifically citing a neurological condition he has which makes it hard for him to keep balance and grip things.
“I crawled up in a ball and hoped for the best,” Williams recalled.
After Depiero separated them, Williams said he rushed to the bedroom, loaded the shotgun, and came back to where Earnest was seated on the couch.
“He made a move to come at me, and, yeah,” he said. “I pulled the trigger.”
On cross-examination, prosecutor Michelle Hardik pointed out Williams had never previously said anything about Earnest getting up when he returned to the room, saying he was only sure of it now after he had a year-and-a-half to think about it.
She also scolded Williams for not saying a word to Earnest before pulling the trigger.
“There was no word to be said,” Williams explained, adding there was no time to say anything before Earnest attacked again.
“If I said anything, he’d be here in my place.”
Closing arguments are set for Friday morning.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan