Defendant in Bentley murder on trial this week

Monday, November 2, 2009 | 5:47 p.m. CST; updated 8:43 a.m. CST, Tuesday, November 3, 2009

COLUMBIA — The man accused of pulling the trigger in the June 2008 shooting death of Columbia resident Nathaniel Bentley, 22, will stand trial this week.

Damon A. Williams, 24, has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and two counts of armed criminal action in Bentley’s death, which occurred during an early morning home invasion at Bentley’s duplex, located at 3610 Pimlico Drive.

The trial will begin Tuesday afternoon if jury selection is completed that morning. Selection will take place in Pettis County.

Williams' trial comes after four co-defendants pleaded guilty to various charges stemming from the incident. Quillian Jacobs and Denzell Smith, both 18, pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery in March and April, respectively.

Michael Jaco, 18, pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery in April, and Malcolm Washington, 26, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in June.

Williams pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges in July. Charges of first-degree robbery and armed criminal action against him were dropped.

Williams later decided to withdraw the guilty plea. The prosecutor then filed a new charge. This time it was for first-degree murder.

Williams faces a life sentence if convicted of the charges. He still appeared relaxed, leaning back in his seat and smiling frequently, while waiting to go before Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton during pretrial motions filed Monday.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Richard Hicks said Jaco would “definitely” testify in Williams’ case, and added that Washington would “maybe” testify.

The fact that his two co-defendants would testify in his trial was not news to Williams. Hicks filed a motion to include evidence that, while incarcerated with Jaco and Washington, Williams twice held up a sign in his cell directed at the men that said “rat” and included a cartoon drawing of a rat.

Hicks said this showed Williams has “consciousness of guilt.”

“He’s not calling them a liar,” Hicks said. “He’s calling them a rat.”

Hicks said Williams caused other disturbances during his incarceration. According to Hicks, during one such incident, Williams provoked other inmates and would not cease his behavior because he said he was already facing a life sentence.

Hicks said Williams' actions indicated an “expectation of conviction,” which he said has been upheld in other cases.

Williams’ attorney, Christopher Slusher, said he would object in court to references to both incidents.

“That’s not relevant to what happened that night,” Slusher said, referring to the night of Bentley’s death.

Hicks and Slusher agreed that it would take about two-and-a-half days to hear evidence in the case, which should conclude by Friday.

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