COLUMBIA — In the first day of the trial of Damon A. Williams, the man accused of killing Nathaniel Bentley in a robbery last year, the prosecution called a man who pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery in April for his involvement in the incident.
Michael Jaco, the witness, appeared in court in a black-and-white striped jail uniform issued to inmates at the Boone County Jail, his hands bound in chains. Jaco and Williams, once friends, barely made eye contact during Jaco’s testimony, which lasted almost an hour.
Williams, 24, is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and two counts of armed criminal action. The charges stem from a June 2008 home invasion that occurred in the duplex Bentley shared with two roommates at 3610 Pimlico Drive.
Jaco, originally charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action along with the robbery charge, accepted a plea agreement to testify against Williams in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Three other men were charged in the robbery. Malcolm Washington, 27, pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and second-degree murder and was sentenced in October to 20 years in prison. Quillan Jacobs, 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery and was sentenced in August to seven years in prison. Denzell Smith, 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery. Smith has yet to be sentenced.
Jaco said that on the morning of June 9, 2008, he and Williams were at a motel with Washington, Jacobs and Smith. He said the men were smoking marijuana together at the hotel room for most of the day and said they had discussed robbing a “lick” — someone with money and drugs.
All five men left the motel in the same car, and while driving, Jacobs pointed out Bentley’s house. The men made plans to enter the house to steal money and drugs, Jaco said.
The five men had two guns between them: Washington carried a .25-caliber pistol, and Jaco carried a .38-caliber pistol that he had stolen two days earlier in a burglary, Jaco said.
Jaco said Williams asked for Jaco’s pistol and then told him that he would “show him some gangster shit.”
Jaco said that he, Washington and Williams entered the house through an unlocked back door with towels covering their faces. The three men demanded money and drugs from the people who were in the living room of the house.
Jaco said Washington and Williams went upstairs, where Bentley’s room was, and that he heard a “scuffle” followed by a single gunshot, after which Jaco and the two men fled the house and left in the car they arrived in.
Jaco said that while the men were in the car, Williams told him he shot Bentley.
Afterward, Jaco said, the five men went to a friend's house, and that all of them were “shaken up.” He said the men hugged each other and that Washington was crying.
“We thought it would be the last time we would see each other,” Jaco said. “Everybody was really messed up.”
Williams said at that point, “'God forgive me for this,'” Jaco testified.
Jaco turned himself in to police a few days later at the insistence of his parents, but he said that he did not tell the full truth about the incident until April 2009, when he signed the plea agreement.
Initially, he said, he tried to blame the entire incident on Williams and had lied about the timing of the incident and those who were involved.
Christopher Slusher, Williams’ attorney, focused on this inconsistency during his cross-examination of Jaco, as well as the deal he made with prosecutors, saying that his testimony in the case would save “years and years of his life.”
Slusher said Jaco’s original charges could have brought him a sentence of 50 years in prison. The deal offered by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Richard Hicks includes a recommended sentence of 20 years.
Ashley Renshaw, 25, testified she was in the living room of Bentley's duplex when the robbery began. She said two of the intruders went upstairs, and after the gunshot one ran down the stairs while the other, who she testified was "stockier than the others," walked down the stairs calmly and said "we're murkin' . . . in 2008."
When Hicks asked what "murkin'" meant, Renshaw said, as she began to cry, that it means murder.
Columbia Police Detective Steve Brown, a witness for the prosecution who interviewed Bentley's roommate Jordan Davis after the robbery, said he didn't think Davis could identify anyone beyond the general characteristics he had described in the interview.
Slusher asked the detective if Davis ever mentioned one of the intruder's eyes being "sunken," and the detective said Davis had not. During his testimony Wednesday morning, Davis said he identified Williams from his mug shot on a TV news report because he recognized the "sunken eyes."
Adrian Carpenter, Washington's girlfriend at the time of the robbery and murder, said all five men came to her sister's house after leaving Bentley's duplex. She said Washington was "physically sick and crying."
When Hicks asked what the other men were doing, she said, "They were crying, and one was laughing."
Hicks asked Carpenter who was laughing.
"It was Damon," she said.
The trial continues at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.