Death Row Convict Back in Court After Former City Attorney's Alleged Flub

San Quetin State Prision, home of California's death row
San Quetin State Prision, home of California's death row

Barry Williams spent 30 years on California's death row at San Quentin State Prison for killing a rival gang member in 1982. But now the South L.A. gang member is in Los Angeles County Jail, awaiting a July court date. Terry Thornton, a press deputy for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, says Williams is in the midst of a retrial.

Officials at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office were unable to confirm this. But a Superior Court spokeswoman said that Williams had been in court Friday morning and was scheduled to return either July 25 or July 28. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department inmate records show Williams behind local bars on no bail.

A retrial could be seen as a black mark for former L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. A judge last year threw out Williams' conviction because Trutanich, then a gang prosecutor in the DA's office, allegedly failed to fully disclose the name of a witness.

"Trutanich's failure at trial," U.S. District Judge David O. Carter wrote in his ruling, "was deeply troubling."

A witness named Patricia Lewis had testified that she saw Williams shoot victim Jerome Dunn from a vehicle driven by a woman named Jean Rivers. However, Rivers was an alias, and her true name was allegedly kept from the defense.

That and other alleged improprieties were enough to overturn the conviction and get the State Bar to levy against Trutanich allegations of suppression of evidence, moral turpitude and presenting false testimony. The former city attorney, who used Williams' conviction as part of his successful, tough-on-crime run for that office in 2009, has denied wrongdoing and is fighting the State Bar's misconduct charges. That matter is scheduled to be heard Aug. 28, says Laura Ernde, managing director of communications for the Bar.

Williams was a member of the Neighborhood Family Swan Bloods and Dunn was a Grape Street Crip from nearby Watts. A 1981 shooting that claimed the life of Grape Street Crip Donald Billingsley was tried separately and got Williams life behind bars on top of his death row status.

Gang expert Alex Alonso, a professor of Chicano and Latino studies at Cal State Long Beach, says giving Williams a second chance in the case is the right thing to do. "They make it very difficult for a gang member to put up a fair defense," he says.


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