Jurors hear 911 call of arson try prior to shootings

A frantic Clarissa Cobbing told a police dispatcher on Sept. 1, 2011 — nine days before she and two other women were slain inside a Progress Street home — that Courtney Williams had poured gasoline around the home and threatened to ignite it, a jury heard Wednesday.

A recording of that 911 call and two others that Cobbing, 19, made earlier the same day, as well as a previous call made on Aug. 23, 2011, were played for jurors at Williams’ first-degree murder trial.

Baton Rouge Fire Department investigator Dennis Jenkins testified he found a “large pour pattern” of gasoline on the front porch of the 1056 Progress St. residence, and two or three other spots where gas had been poured on the ground along the south side of the home.

“Was the odor of gasoline strong?” East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings inquired.

“Yes ma’am,” Jenkins answered.

Williams is accused of fatally shooting Cobbing, his former girlfriend; Britney Lee, 18; and Lee’s great-grandmother, Josephine Lathers, 76, on the afternoon of Sept. 10, 2011, at the Progress Street home shared by Lathers and Lee. Cobbing was staying at the home.

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

In a videotaped police statement the night of the shootings, Williams denied being in Baton Rouge the day the women were killed and said he was in Port Allen the entire day. The jury watched that tape Wednesday.

“I didn’t kill nobody,” Williams told detectives in his statement.

But Lester Sutton testified he saw two men run from the Progress Street home, followed by an armed Williams, after shots rang out inside.

Sutton said he saw Williams shoot one of the men, Eric Dozier, in the street.

In a hospital interview the jury heard Wednesday, Dozier told police he was on the porch of the house when a man he identified only as “Courtney” went into the home shortly before the firing began.

Dozier also identified that man as the person who later shot him in the leg.

Williams, 24, of Baton Rouge, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the killings and faces an automatic sentence of life in prison if found guilty as charged.

He also is charged with one count of attempted first-degree murder.

Cummings said she expects to rest the state’s case Thursday.

Prosecutors last year dropped their plan to seek the death penalty against Williams after doctors determined he is mentally retarded.

The U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of mentally retarded people.

Cobbing’s friend and Lee’s first cousin, Lakeisha Sutton, testified Wednesday that she was with Cobbing on Sept. 1, 2011, when Cobbing dialed 911 to report the arson threat.

Sutton acknowledged she did not see Williams pour gas around the house.

“Did you smell gasoline?” Cummings asked her.

“Yes ma’am, once we got outside,” Sutton replied.

Williams was charged with attempted aggravated arson.

In a police interview three days after the fatal shootings, Williams denied pouring gas at the Progress Street home and threatening Cobbing. The jury heard that interview.

Cobbing’s cousin, Dy’Quisha Cobbing, testified she was living with Cobbing on Utah Street on Aug. 23, 2011, when Williams walked into the home, punched Clarissa Cobbing in the face, took her cellphone and ran from the home. The jury heard the 911 call made by a crying Clarissa Cobbing.

Lakeisha Sutton told the jury that Williams came to the Progress Street home on Sept. 1, 2011, and took Cobbing’s then-2-year-old daughter, who is not related to Williams.

Sutton said she was baby-sitting the child. She said Williams returned a short time later and dropped the child off down the street. Williams was charged with simple kidnapping in that incident.

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

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. Williams turned 21 on Jan. 17, 2011 — eight months before the fatal shootings.