Prosecutor Roger King, in Opening Statement on Oct 2, 1992

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, Good Morning.

This is my first opportunity to discuss with you the evidence that the commonwealth will present in the matter of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania versus James Dennis.

We will take you back in time and space to October the 22nd of 1991. We’ll take you back inside of a house in the unit block of Cheltenhan Avenue. There lived a young lady by the name of Chedell Williams with her parents and brother. Miss Williams was 17 years of age. She was a junior at Olney High School. She was planning to go to college. She got dressed that day, jeans, sneakers, multi-colored blouse, yellow topcoat, some expensive gold earrings. She was dressed to go to school.

Not too far away was James Dennis. He was also dressing for an occasion. He dressed in red sweat pants, red hooded jacket, baseball cap, and a silver .32 revolver. The irony was Chedell Williams was dressed to go to school, was dressed to enter a future, maybe as a college student. She was dressing to die, and the Commonwealth would submit to you that James Dennis was dressed to kill.

Miss Williams went to Olney High School, and she was late that day, and she was late because she was asking her mother for money to buy a transpass after school. She goes to school, she takes public transportation to the Fern Rock Station. At which time she was to buy a transpass. Keeping in mind James Dennis, the man dressed in red and black and carrying a silver gun, he was waiting on Chedell Williams, waiting and watching for an opportunity to get paid.

He walks up to Chedell Williams and her 17 year old friend named Zahra Howard. Give me your f***ing go earrings. Zahra Howard runs, Chedell attempts to run. She is caught about the shoulders by James Dennis. She then says, okay, take ‘em. In that process she submitted to be robbed. James Dennis snatching one earring and taking the other stood back and fired one bullet to the chest area just beneath the throat of Chedell Williams. Chedell Williams staggered, wandered a few feet, and collapsed in the street.

You will hear from witnesses, ladies and gentlemen, not like those witnesses that you become accustomed to when you watch the sitcoms on the wasteland called television, or the crime shows. This is as real as you get. There are no directors to say, hold it, or cut, let’s do a retake. The lines are not rehearsed. You’ll hear from Zahra Howard telling you of that day that she can’t forget and she don’t like to remember ‘cause her friend Chedell Williams was shot before her eyes. She will pick out this man as the shooter.

But the Commonwealth’s evidence won’t stop there. You’ll hear from a Septa bus driver, you’ll hear him say, I was close enough to her when she was shot to feel the vibrations from the gun. James Dennis shot and killed Chedell Williams. The evidence won’t stop there. You’ll hear from another witness, another citizen, who will tell you, I was doing construction work, I saw him get out of the car, I saw him approach the girl, I saw him struggle with her, shoot her and run toward me. He had a silver gun in his hand. The man I saw is James Dennis. There won’t be gadgets, there won’t be things out of a James Bond movie, it’s going to be what people heard, what people saw, and what people will come here and stand up and tell you.

The scene shifts. Mr. Dennis is identified by each of the witnesses. A lineup was requested. Witnesses go to the lineup, and they pick James Dennis again as the person that shot Chedell Williams. Mr. Dennis comes in and he says, I wasn’t there, I was on the K bus around 2:00, and I was on this bus with a female that I know from the neighborhood. Wrong, Little Jimmy Dennis. We talked to the lady from the neighborhood. She had something very interesting to say. Yeah, I saw him when I was on the bus, but it wasn’t 2:00, it was 4:00. And, yeah, he was dressed all in red and his black leather jacket.

But the evidence won’t stop there. This case, Ladies and Gentlemen, is about life, this case is about freedom, this case is about choices. Isn’t it a sad commentary that you take your life in your hands just because of what you’re wearing, just because you’re there for somebody to get paid? The commonwealth will show that this was a willful, deliberate, and premeditated act of murder. We will show that Chedell Williams never had a chance when the bullet entered the chest, destroyed the lungs. She was dead when she hit the ground.

Oh, no, we didn’t recover the silver gun, we didn’t recover the gold earrings, but we recovered better than that. We recovered the witnesses who actually saw it, who lived it. I’ll ask you to listen to them, evaluate what they are saying. It won’t be a long trial. We’ll start off today with preliminary stuff, what happened, where it happened, where the body was, what kind of weapon caused the death of Chedell Williams, then we’ll break. We’ll come back on Monday and get serious.

We will give you witness after witness who will sit there and tell you that’s the man by the shape of his head, by the shape of his face, by the look in his eyes. And you’ll hear from the contractor who would say the one thing that stuck out in my mind was how cocky he acted after he shot, and, yeah, I started to go after him, but he pointed the gun at me. That’s the man. Listen to the evidence. It won’t be long. And at the end of the Commonwealth’s case we’re going to make a very direct appeal to you, stop Jimmy Dennis. After the evidence, we’ll ask you to stick a fork in him and turn him over. He’s done. Thank you.

Transcribed from Commonwealth vs. James Dennis, Jury Trial, October 2, 1992, Courtroom 453, City Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before the Honorable Frances A. Biunno, J., and a jury.

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