Iridescent - posted on 12/15/2011 ( 5 moms have responded )
"A young life lost but no answers: Reflections on covering the Julian Williams murder trials
By Emily Gurnon
Updated: 12/15/2011 06:51:20 PM CST
Julian James-Robert Williams, 2, was killed in St. Paul on Sept. 10, 2009. His death was a homicide and is unsolved.
It was 2-year-old Julian Williams' lunch box and backpack that got to me.
From my seat in the front row of the gallery area of a Ramsey County courtroom last week, I watched as prosecutor David Miller emptied the contents of the two into a separate box during the mother's trial in his murder.
The proceedings of the day had not yet started, and the jury had yet to come in.
Julian died of a brutal beating in the early morning hours of Sept. 10, 2009 in St. Paul. Both his mother, Jessica Caldwell, and her boyfriend, Demetrius Willis, were charged. Caldwell was acquitted on Saturday. Willis was convicted on the least serious of the seven charges against him.
In the backpack were a couple of paperback picture books, two diapers, a pair of kids' blue jeans and sweater, a package of wipes and a box of Graduates brand chicken and pasta wheels. In the lunchbox: a plastic bag of dry cereal. Some of the dry cereal spilled out. Miller carefully picked it up and put it back in the bag.
The "Handy Manny" backpack had an extendable green handle on it, and 2-year-old Julian toted it around by himself. "He was very independent," his mother said from the witness stand.
Somehow, seeing these everyday items was more upsetting to me than seeing the autopsy photos, including a photo that showed the bruises under Julian's scalp after it was peeled back from his skull.
I've seen more than my share of those truly awful pictures, and heard much gut-wrenching testimony,
in my job as a courts reporter. People ask me how I can do it, particularly with crimes involving kids, particularly since I have kids of my own. I do it because it's my job, and I have to work hard to do it right. I have to get the information into my notebook. I don't have the time or energy to get emotional.
But as I looked at Julian's belongings close up, I thought: This was a real kid. He wore those clothes and held those books. He would have eaten that cereal, probably with his fingers, as a snack. Those diapers would have hugged his bottom. My eyes welled with tears.
From the beginning, the case was a difficult one.
Willis had previously been convicted of second-degree manslaughter, a charge that involved only "neglect or endangerment of a child." He was acquitted on four charges of murder and two of first-degree manslaughter.
In his trial, which took place in September, Willis testified that he did nothing to hurt Julian and didn't see Caldwell harm him, either.
Caldwell said the same - if Willis had hurt her son, "one of us would be in the hospital," she said in her trial.
She demurred when a police investigator struggled to get her to acknowledge that Julian had been killed, saying, "I'm not gonna call anyone a killer."
In August 2011, two years after Julian died, she said in a recorded phone conversation with her brother from the Ramsey County jail, "... obviously nobody, you know, sat there and boom boom boom him."
Doctors said the fatal beating had to have occurred mere hours before Julian's death. That meant it was either Willis or Caldwell, prosecutors argued.
The trials gave no real answers. The one or two people who know what happened to Julian are keeping it a secret. Where do we go from here when an innocent little boy is dead? Where is the resolution?
One juror sent me an email this week after the verdict in Caldwell's trial.
Not one of them believed that Darrell Spencer, Caldwell's teenage brother, had anything to do with Julian's death, as the defense had proposed. And they didn't believe that Caldwell was the killer, yet she "was not as good of a mom as the defense made her out to be."
The experience was difficult.
"I saw and talked about some things that I hope to never see again, and they are still there when I close my eyes," the juror said.
Me, too. Yet I'll be back in the courtroom when Willis is sentenced Jan. 4, and I'll be there when the next child is killed or hurt. Because this is our community, these are our children, and you need to know about it.
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522."
The facts are that one of the two murdered this child, and both get away with it because they can't figure out which one. Should the law be changed to charge both? How?