Prosecutor Roger King, in Closing Statement on October 15, 1992
Mr. King: Ladies and Gentlemen, contrary to what counsel said, this has not been a long case. There were three holidays, and then there was another holiday, which made it four. If you sit down and really think about the Commonwealth’s case, it took us three and a half days to put it on, and we were through. Listening as Mr. Mandell addressed you – and you might have thought that I was sleeping, but all closed eyes aren’t sleep, and all goodbyes are not gone.
In this case, Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s get back to why I am standing up here talking to you. Sometimes I realize that there are people who are happy in their jobs, there are children who are happy, there are people able to go to sleep without locking their doors, where young ladies can walk the street at night and not be afraid, and where young ladies could, in fact, be young ladies. The reality of this situation, ladies and gentlemen, is last year this time, Chedell Williams was alive, and she was a live, breathing young lady. High school student, thinking about the future.
For the 17 years that she lived on this Earth, maybe at her birth, her parents looked at her as a little bundle of joy. Maybe when she took that first step, or spoke that first word, or came home that first time with a report card that made her mother and her father proud. That’s why I am standing up here, Ladies and Gentlemen. And forgive me if at times I raise my voice. Sometimes it might be anger, sometime it might be disgust, and sometimes it might be pure sarcasm.
Who is the real James Dennis? Is it the peaceful, law-abiding person that the people from the church told you about? And by the way, does anybody have a bad reputation within a church community? Or is it the man, in the words of Mr. Bertha, that looked me in the face, and when I went to approach him, waved the gun and he looked pissed off. I would submit to you, Ladies and Gentlemen, that when Mr. Dennis took the witness stand, we have you a glimpse of the real James Dennis. And what does that say? Mr. Mandell mentioned motive. Must there be a motive? Are we coming to a situation of the haves against the have nots? Are we coming to a situation that when you get up in the morning and decide what to wear, what jewelry to wear, that you put a target on your chest and on your back? ‘Cause this is what this case is about.
This case is about right and this case is about freedom. We’re talking about the right that is right. We’re talking about the right to take public transportation. We’re talking about the right to be able to use public transportation without the fear of someone waiting to get paid, someone waiting to rip you off. ‘Cause this is what this case is about, Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s not about race, It’s not about size and height. What it’s about, Ladies and Gentlemen, is this. A young lady named Chedell Williams. Another way of putting it would be something such as this. That my best witness is not here. That’s why I’m standing here.
Mr. Mandell: Objection, Your Honor. May we see you at the side bar?
The Court: Yes, with the Court Reporter. Excuse Me.
(Discussion in Robing Room as Follows:)
(The Court Reporter read back the last statement as follows: “Another way of putting it would be something such as this. That my best witness is not here. That’s why I’m standing here.”)
Mr. Mandell: That’s my objection. That’s my motion for a mistrial.
The Court: The motion for a mistrial is denied. I’ll tell them that it’s merely argument.
Mr. King: Thank you, Sir.
The Court: It’s not to be governed by emotion, it’s governed by the evidence.
(Discussion on robing room concluded.)
The Court: Ladies and Gentlemen, you will ignore the last remark. This case is not to be concerned or governed by emotion, it’s to be governed strictly by the evidence, and your decision is to rely strictly on the evidence and not on emotions. So ignore the last remark.
Mr. King: I made that remark to quote a philosopher by the name of Voltaire. “One owes respect to the living but to the dead one owes nothing but the truth.”
What is the truth? You heard from the friend, Miss Howard. She was there. She was there when laughter ended in silence, she was there when fear crept on her face and the face of her friend. “Give me your f’ing earrings.” She was there when the fear turns to panic. They both run, she sees the individual that she identified as James Dennis chase her friend into the street, struggle with her, fire one shot, leaving her dead. Mr. Mandell stands up and he says, that’s not enough. Because she said, “I think”. You saw her on the stand, Ladies and Gentlemen. Was she lying? Was she evasive? Did she stand strong? Did at any time she say, this is not the man?
But our evidence didn’t stop there. In an urban situation, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s now popular to use clichés. Back in a drug epidemic, somebody said “Just say no.” And all the citizens were up in arms following “Just say no.” Then at another time, someone said “Get involved.” And then what people call the Ghetto code, I didn’t see anything, I don’t know anything, I don’t want to become involved.
In this case, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would hasten to add that wasn’t the case. You have Zahra Howard, the friend, you have James Cameron, the bus driver, you have Thomas Bertha, the contractor. Why did they get involved? Because something happened that should not have happened. Something happened that was tragic. And maybe, as my grandmother once said, if you can’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. And in this particular case, I would submit to you that you witnessed a show. That show didn’t come from this side of the room, but it came from that side of the room.
If you can recall, right before I stood up to give my opening remarks, there was a request. I requested a sequestration order, all witnesses who are going to testify to some facts, go outside, because we don’t want your testimony influenced. I would submit to you, Ladies and Gentlemen, when a defense tells you it produced witnesses, those witnesses had a ringside view. Those witnesses knew exactly what it was that they were going to testify to. And, oh, yes, at one point in my career, I spent some time in Tinseltown, Los Angeles. Yeah, I went to school in Los Angeles. I went to Law School in Los Angeles, the fantasy capital of the world.
But you didn’t see a fantasy here, Ladies and Gentlemen. You did not see actors. At the end of a five-minute take, you did not see a director say, cut, or you did not see someone splattered with food dye and say, okay, Zahra, we didn’t like the way you gestured on that, let’s go back and do it again so the people at home can be in the take. This case is not about this.
If you want to cast any doubt on Miss Howard, I submit to you that there is no doubt in other testimony. Did you see when she looked over at him? Did you see any emotion? Did you see her at times trying to re-live and communicate with you? I submit to you, if you believe Zahra Howard, that’s enough to convict James Dennis.
Mr. Cameron, he took the stand. He wears glasses. But on my instructions, he took them off and he looked at you. Was he evasive? Did he stand strong? And believe me, Ladies and Gentlemen, at this time when the male role in the community is questioned, it is refreshing to see two men like Mr. Cameron and Mr. Bertha stand up, out of outrage, stand up, because someone has to stand up, with the degree that our young people are laid down.
Miss Howard, Thank you for coming forward. Charles Thompson, he come in here, yeah, he’s the only person I called that had some kind of taint on him. He has an open case involving drugs. But who is he a friend of? What group is he a member of? I give you, Ladies and Gentlemen, the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania versus James Dennis.
James Murray. A friend of mine once said in a situation involving what is truth and what the interest is, maybe blood is thicker that water. I don’t know. That’s your job. Do you think he was telling you the truth? Do you think he was telling you the truth? He can remember something one day, and can’t remember now. And, oh, the 1:53. But that wasn’t rehearsed. Somebody had a teleprompter. 1:53. But that was done in anticipation, if you can recall, early on.
I saw some of you looking at me kind of strange. What is this map and these pins? The red one is Fern Rock Station, the blue one is Old York Road. So the defense was kind of boxed in. Three and a half to four minutes away. And if you remember me asking Mr. Murray, would it surprise you to know, sir, that that time is listed as the first time the police responded, not the time of the incident; he could have shot Chedell Williams with a running car and a running start and been home in time for his father to see him take the bus. But, Mr. Mandell, in anticipating that I would say that, already told you. He’s right.
Let’s talk about alibi. And an alibi doesn’t have to be what some people conjured up, but an alibi has to cover the time in question. Surely the defendant can’t be in two places. So the father was put on, I guess to say at the time that it was reported to the police, my son was getting on the bus. I said, really. Let’s see who he said he was on the bus with. Latanya Cason. We even called her, not the defense. She came in and said, I was at work at 2:00. I saw him somewhere between 4:00 and 4:30. Try again, Jimmy. That one didn’t work.
You saw Mr. Dennis, that peaceful law-abiding person on the witness stand. When confronted with what the police took from his father’s house, what did he tell you? The police planted it.
Mr Mandell: Your Honor, I object to that.
The Court: The jury will recollect whether or not that was the evidence.
Mr. King: Police planted it.
Now, let’s play this game “where is”. If you believe the Commonwealth’s witnesses, ladies and gentlemen, where was all of the people called for character witnesses back on the day this happened? Maybe someone could have said, since you are peaceful and since you are law-abiding, you don’t want to do this, ‘cause chances are, you’re going to get caught. As I look at three video cassettes here, that was the news of Chedell Williams’ demise, there’s no mention of James Dennis. So let’s scratch that witness that said, I heard it on the T.V.
Two finger rings, one gold chain, earlobes bleeding from where the earrings were snatched. Did she leave a legacy? I hope she did. And it’s not in a – It’s not in a slogan or cliché, don’t wear jewelry. It’s not in a slang and it’s not in a cliché, if you wear jewelry go in a group. What this is about, Ladies and Gentlemen, is stopping the person from trying to take advantage. Wearing earrings when they sell you those earrings, they don’t put a sign on them that says, wearing these earrings might by hazardous to your life. But that’s the reality under which we now live.
Oh, yeah, I’m the prosecutor in this case. I call the shots. I decided who you would hear, the form of the evidence you would hear. I would submit to you that you heard from the witnesses. You saw what there was to see. Because by the time the police got there, there was a gold button, a few drops of what could have been blood, and three witnesses, Mr. Cameron, Miss Howard, and Mr. Bertha. They came in here. You saw them. They were not actors. And they stood up and they told you what they saw.
But getting back to Mr. Dennis and his friends, the ones that he has conference calls with but they never talked about the case. One of them came in a said, yeah, I’m a casual friend of his. I just happened to look at my watch that day and it was 2:15. Do you believe that? The football player, Newt was his name. He can come in here and tell you that I remember what happened at practice that night. He couldn’t even tell you the score of the game three days later. Do you believe that? He told you, I started on the team, but I can’t tell you what the score was. Then somehow, I guess he saw a cue card, oh yeah, the score was 32 to 6. Do you believe that? I won’t be much longer, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Let’s talk about what you heard, what you saw, draw you conclusion. There might have been times, either late yesterday or this morning, I seemed to have been irritable. You’re not to concern yourselves with that. It was completely unrelated to the facts in this case. It was more directly related to the role of a prosecutor and what is expected of us. We are expected to play fair. I submit to you, we played fair. We are expected to be open. I submit to you, we were open.
Mr. Mandell: Objection, your Honor.
The Court: Just go to another line. It’s argument. We’re concerned with the evidence in this case.
Mr. King: That’s exactly what I’m getting to.
The Court: All right. Proceed.
Mr. King: The irony in this case, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the medical examiner, Dr. Perlman, she came in, and she told you, very close gunshot wound to the neck, striking the major veins, the jugular, through the lungs, lodging in the back. I submit to you that based on her testimony, Miss Williams was dead by the time she struck the street and by the time the fire rescue got there, and by the time that the police got there.
This is a case that you can’t look at what the police did and fault them. I would submit to you, we only get into difficulty when Mr. Dennis accuses the detectives of not putting down what he said. Do you believe that? And when Mr. Mandell says that we don’t have fingerprints. But from the scene, a gold button, a projectile, taken from the back of Miss Williams. And most people know that with a revolver there won’t be shell casings. What was he talking about? Maybe he was alluding to what an old law professor said, that when you have facts on your side, argue the facts, when you have law on your side, argue law, and when you have neither, you point fingers. What else could we have done?
A month passed. Where’s the gun? Beats me. But to a 99 percent certainty, it was a gun like this. We showed you that gun. Where are the earrings? A month later. Is he kidding? Did he really expect us to recover the earrings?
And finally, ladies and Gentlemen, Commonwealth will ask you for one verdict and one verdict alone. Guilty of murder in the first degree. Why is it murder in the first degree? Because it was a willful, deliberate, and premeditated act. It was willful in that if you believe the evidence, Mr. Dennis set out with a gun. It was deliberate when he decided to take that gun out, when he decided to aim it, and certainly when he decided to pull the trigger that sent a projectile into the chest, through the jugular vein, through the lung, taking Miss Williams’ life. First degree murder. Lying in wait. Waiting, watching, for an opportunity to take a life.
And Mr. Cameron said, if you believe him, and I submit to you he’s a credible witness, she says, take it, take them. The robbery having been completed, but peaceful and law-abiding James Dennis, if you believe the evidence, exhibited a coldness of heart, a recklessness of consequences, a mind set with one thing, taking this young lady’s life. And as I sit down, Ladies and Gentlemen, the buck stops right here. And I’m not talking about the buck that goes up and down, I’m talking about the buck that you are. You are this community. You are the Commonwealth. This case is entitled the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania versus James Dennis. These are your streets. This is your town. The victims, the witnesses, and the defendants are products of a system that we all support. Mr. Lincoln said, “Judgement falls on a person when there’s something within that person we cannot abide.” I would submit to you that’s greed and murder. If you believe the witnesses and if you believe them when they say James Dennis is the man, that’s the man, that’s his face, it was a gun like this, he had a gun like this in his waistband, forget the would have, should have, could haves and deal with it.
Thank you, Mr. Bertha, Thank you Mr. Cameron. Mr. and Mrs. Williams, I wish that I didn’t have to give this to you, and I wish that I didn’t have to give this speech, for what has been lost, that cannot be replaced. You’re in the hall of justice. Chedell Williams, as she rests in peace, are asking for justice. The people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is asking for justice, asking for justice based on the evidence that you heard. We would accept nothing less.
And if you need something to lean on, lean on what’s right. And if you need some strength to do what you have to do, reach out and touch somebody’s hand. But you stand up and you come back in this courtroom, and you’ll deliver a verdict based on the evidence. And that evidence is, you may sing, Jimmy, you may run Jimmy, run, Jimmy, now. The people are here, run, Jimmy, now, the truth is here, run, Jimmy, now, the verdict will be cast by these people based on the evidence, nothing else.
Race had no place in this. And, yeah, we produced three negative character witnesses. For all of the people saying all of the good things, there was some bad, and you heard it from three people. And maybe in answering the question, who is the real Jimmy Dennis, it might remind you of that childhood rhyme, about the little girl with the head full of curls, when she was good, she was very, very good, when she was bad, she was terrible.
In this case, I submit to you, Miss Williams suffers in any final solution. Miss Williams is dead, and the evidence shows that James Dennis killed her. The Commonwealth asks you for a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. We will not compromise where, I submit to you, that was a cold blooded act of murder, willful, deliberate, and intentional, based on the testimony of the witnesses and the doctor. Thank you. And as I said in my opening, stick a fork in him and turn him over. He will be done when you say he is done. Thank you.
Mr. Mandell: Objection, your Honor. May we see you one more time.
(Discussion in robing room as follows:)
The Court: I’m just saying, ignore that last remark, it’s nothing more that rhetoric.
Mr. Mandell: Your Honor, for the record, I would like to once again request a motion for a mistrial based on the previous motion that was made, together with all the additional objections that were made thereafter.
The Court: Objection’s overruled. I’ve given them a cautionary instruction. It’s obviously nothing more than rhetoric. Any other caution that you want?
Mr. Mandell: No.
Mr. King: Thank you, sir.
(Discussion in robing room concluded.)
End of closing.
Transcribed from Commonwealth vs. James Dennis, Jury Trial, October 15, 1992, Courtroom 602, City Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before the Honorable Francis A. Biunno, J., and a jury.Return to Previous Page