Threats, beatings preceded BR slayings, prosecutor says

A gun-toting Courtney Williams leapt onto the porch of a north Baton Rouge home looking for Clarissa Cobbing, his former girlfriend, moments before going into the home and killing her and two other women in 2011, several witnesses testified Tuesday at his first-degree murder trial.

Two of those witnesses said they saw Williams, of Baton Rouge, shoot Britney Lee, 18, at midafternoon on Sept. 10, 2011, but did not see Cobbing, 19, or Josephine Lathers, 76, get shot at the Progress Street home shared by Lathers and Lee. Cobbing was staying at the home.

Lathers was Lee’s great-grandmother.

“He shot Britney. He was standing over her,” said Selena Paul, who was 15 and fixing Shameika Lee’s hair on the porch when Williams came to the home in search of Cobbing.

Paul told a 911 dispatcher shortly after the shootings that she didn’t know who fired the shots.

“I was nervous,” she said Tuesday to prosecutor Dana Cummings.

“Any doubt in your mind?” the East Baton Rouge Parish assistant district attorney asked about Paul’s later identification of Williams as the shooter.

“No ma’am,” Paul replied.

Shameika Lee told jurors she’s 100 percent sure the man she saw shoot her sister was Williams, now 24. “He asked where Clarissa was” before entering the home, she said.

Daniel Lee, a brother of Britney and Shameika Lee, told the jury he was inside the home, saw Williams coming through the backyard and hid in a closet until the shooting stopped.

He said Cobbing was still alive when he emerged from his hiding place and asked him to call the police.

Williams is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the slayings and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted as charged.

Prosecutors last year dropped their plan to seek the death penalty after doctors determined Williams is mentally retarded. The U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of mentally retarded people.

Baton Rouge police have said they consider the shootings acts of domestic violence.

In her opening statement earlier Tuesday, Cummings told jurors that Williams made Cobbing’s life a living hell in the weeks leading up to the triple slaying.

Cobbing made a series of 911 calls between Aug. 23, 2011, and Sept. 5, 2011, reporting to police that Williams threatened her, beat her and twice kidnapped her toddler, the prosecutor said.

“Courtney Williams made Clarissa Cobbing’s life a nightmare,” she told the jury.

Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a police spokesman, has said Williams was not arrested in any of the alleged incidents leading up to the killings because police could not find him.

State District Judge Richard Anderson, who is presiding over the trial, ruled in February 2013 that jurors will be allowed to hear the 911 calls made by Cobbing. “You can’t consider this case in a vacuum,” Cummings told the jury.

Kyla Romanach, one of Williams’ court-appointed attorneys, countered in her opening statement that there is no physical evidence linking Williams to the killings.

Romanach said a rapper named Corey Williams, no relation to Courtney Williams, was arrested in January 2012 and found in possession of the .380-caliber handgun used in the slayings.

“It was Corey Williams’ gun that killed Clarissa Cobbing, Britney Lee and Josephine Gathers,” she said. “Courtney Williams never had possession of the murder weapon.”

Courtney Williams was convicted in the mid-2000s in Juvenile Court of aggravated battery and forcible rape and given juvenile life sentences for each crime, District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said.

Juvenile life means youths ages 14 to 17 can be held in juvenile custody until their 21st birthdays. Courtney Williams turned 21 on Jan. 17, 2011.