Judge: 911 calls can be used in murder trial

A judge ruled Tuesday that a jury will be allowed to hear a series of 911 calls made by a Baton Rouge woman less than three weeks before her ex-boyfriend allegedly fatally shot her and two other women inside a Progress Street home in September 2011.

In the recorded calls, which were played during a hearing in state District Judge Richard Anderson's courtroom, Clarissa Cobbing reported to police that Courtney Williams threatened her, beat her and twice kidnapped her toddler.

Cobbing, 19, made the 911 calls on Aug. 23, Sept. 1 and Sept. 5, 2011.

Cobbing; Britney Lee, 18; and Josephine Lathers, 76, who was Lee's grandmother, were shot to death Sept. 10, 2011, inside a home at 1056 Progress St., shared by Lathers and Lee. Cobbing was staying at the north Baton Rouge home.

Williams, 23, of Baton Rouge, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the slayings, and prosecutors have said they intend to seek the death penalty.

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

East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings argued Tuesday that Cobbing would have been a witness against Williams in the Aug. 23, Sept. 1 and Sept. 5 incidents, but she said Cobbing's witness status was not the primary reason for the killings.

"These incidents are clearly relevant. They're all so close in time," Cummings told Anderson in asking the judge to allow the prior incidents to be used as so-called ‘other crimes evidence' at Williams' capital murder trial.

"He may have eliminated her as a witness in this case, but he did not eliminate her 911 calls," the prosecutor added.

Kyla Romanach, one of Williams' attorneys, countered that Williams cannot get a fair trial if the prior incidents are put before the jury.

"We believe it is too prejudicial," she told the judge.

At the end of the hearing, Anderson said he would allow the state to use the evidence of other crimes.

A trial date has not been set in the case.

Cobbing first reported problems with her former boyfriend Aug. 23, 2011, when she told police Williams walked into a Utah Street home and punched her in the face as she sat in the living room with family members, a police report states. She also said Williams took her cellphone and ran from the home.

Cobbing's cousin, Dy'Quisha Cobbing, testified Tuesday she was in the room that night and witnessed the incident at the home of Dy'Quisha Cobbing's grandmother.

Lakeisha Sutton, a friend of Clarissa Cobbing, also testified that Williams came to the home at 1056 Progress St., on Sept. 1, 2011, and took Cobbing's 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 is charged with simple kidnapping in that incident.

Clarissa Cobbing called 911 several times that day, once telling a dispatcher that Williams told her he had poured gasoline around the house and was threatening to come back and light it. Williams is charged with attempted aggravated arson.

Another one of Clarissa Cobbing's cousins, Donnell Cobbing, testified he was baby-sitting Cobbing's daughter Sept. 5, 2011, at a birthday party at a home on Lorraine Street when Williams came and took the child.

Police reports indicated Williams' brother returned the child to detectives the next day. Williams is charged with a second count of simple kidnapping.

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 also was convicted in Juvenile Court of aggravated battery in 2005 and forcible rape in 2005 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.

Williams' attorneys stated last week in court documents they believe he is mentally retarded and therefore cannot be executed by the state.