Jury convicts Williams in BR triple murder trial

Overjoyed relatives of the victims cheered late Thursday as a prison van carrying Courtney Williams left a downtown courthouse after a jury unanimously found the Baton Rouge man guilty in the domestic violence-related shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and two other women inside a Progress Street home in September 2011.

The van took illiams, 24, back to East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, but after state District Judge Richard Anderson sentences him to life in prison March 28, he will be headed straight to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Williams stood emotionless inside Anderson’s courtroom Thursday night as an East Baton Rouge Parish jury of six women and six men convicted him on three counts of first-degree murder in the killing of Clarissa Cobbing, 19; Britney Lee, 18; and Josephine Lathers, 76, at the north Baton Rouge home shared by Lathers and Lee.

“That’s the type of person he is. He’s just a cold-hearted person,” Cobbing’s relieved mother, Rose Cobbing, said outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse.

“I’m just happy that justice is served,” said Lakeisha Sutton, who is Lathers’ granddaughter, Lee’s cousin and Clarissa Cobbing’s friend.

“I feel good. I am very happy about that. We’re all happy with this outcome,” Rose Cobbing added.

Williams was Cobbing’s former boyfriend. Lathers was Lee’s great-grandmother.

Prosecutor Dana Cummings, who spoke with jurors before leaving the courthouse, said she was very relieved and happy for the victims’ families.

“They (the jury) thought that the evidence was strong,” she said. “They thought the threat phone call was the coup de grace.”

In that recorded Feb. 8 prison phone call, which the jury heard earlier Thursday, Williams allegedly made threats against witnesses in the triple-murder case and mentioned his then-upcoming trial.

Jurors also listened to a series of 911 calls that Clarissa Cobbing made less than three weeks before the fatal shootings, reporting to police that Williams had threatened her, beat her and twice kidnapped her toddler. Baton Rouge police have said they consider the shootings acts of domestic violence.

Cummings told jurors the 911 calls detailed a “pattern of abuse” directed at Cobbing by Williams.

“He terrorized her for so long. He didn’t have any consequences. Did he feel emboldened? Perhaps,” Cummings told the jury in her closing argument Thursday morning.

Authorities have said Williams was not arrested, prior to the fatal shootings, in any of the alleged incidents leading up to the killings because police could not find him.

“Courtney and Clarissa had a rocky relationship, but that doesn’t mean Courtney killed Clarissa,” Williams’ lead court-appointed attorney, Kyla Romanach, countered in her closing argument Thursday afternoon.

Romanach said afterward that the “mountain of other-crimes evidence” introduced by the prosecution during the trial will be a focus of Williams’ appeal. Anderson ruled last February that Clarissa Cobbings’ 911 calls could be played for the jury.

“I respect the verdict. I don’t agree with it,” she said. “They just didn’t see it our way.”

The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes.

Romanach presented an alibi defense earlier Thursday, arguing that Williams was in Port Allen on Sept. 10, 2011 — the day of the killings — and could not have been in two places at once. Williams did not testify.

Romanach called two of Williams’ cousins to the stand who said they were with him in Port Allen that Saturday, but neither cousin could account for Williams’ precise whereabouts at the time of the mid-afternoon killings.

Prosecutors dropped their pursuit of the death penalty against Williams last year after doctors determined he is mildly mentally retarded. The U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of mentally retarded persons.

Williams was convicted in Juvenile Court in the mid-2000s of aggravated battery and forcible rape and given juvenile life sentences for each crime, East Baton Rouge Parish 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.