Death penalty off table for accused killer Courtney Williams

A prosecutor said Wednesday she is dropping plans to seek the death penalty against a Baton Rouge man in the 2011 shooting deaths of his former girlfriend, Clarissa Cobbing, and two other women because doctors have determined he is mentally retarded.

Cobbing’s mother said Courtney Williams deserves to be put to death for what he did on Sept. 10, 2011 — despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars the execution of mentally retarded persons.

“I really wanted him to get the death penalty. He should have,” Rose Cobbing said in a telephone interview. “Him being in jail for the rest of his life is not what I was looking for at all. Pretty much I have to accept it.”

Williams, 23, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the killing of Clarissa Cobbing, 19; Britney Lee, 18; and Josephine Lathers, 76, who was Lee’s grandmother, at a north Baton Rouge residence.

The women were shot to death inside a home shared by Lathers and Lee at 1056 Progress St. Cobbing was staying at the home.

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

Police documents show Clarissa Cobbing had called police at least three times to report incidents of Williams threatening her, beating her and kidnapping her toddler.

“He stalked my daughter for weeks and months,” said Rose Cobbing, who now cares for her daughter’s two children — a 2-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. She said the children are “doing great.”

State District Judge Richard Anderson ruled earlier this year that a jury will be allowed to hear a series of 911 calls Clarissa Cobbing made less than three weeks before she was killed.

Williams does not have a trial date.

East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings, who previously notified the defense of her intention to seek the death penalty, said doctors chosen by the defense and prosecution reached the same conclusion — that Williams is mentally retarded.

Cummings said she had an ethical duty not to continue pursuing the death penalty against him.

“He’s mildly mentally retarded,” Cummings said “I don’t agree with the law, but that is the law.”

Baton Rouge Capital Conflict Office director David Price, one of Williams’ attorneys, said prosecutors made a “correct decision that’s mandated by law.”

Rose Cobbing said she doesn’t agree with the law.

“It’s not fair. The death penalty ought to be on the table for him,” she said. “That’s not going to send a good message out.”

Clarissa Cobbing first reported problems with her ex-boyfriend on Aug. 23, 2011, and those problems continued until Sept. 5, 2011 — five days before Williams allegedly killed her, police reports indicate.

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.

In a 911 call on Aug. 23, 2011, played in Anderson’s courtroom in February, Cobbing told police that 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.

Lakeisha Sutton, a friend of Cobbing, testified at the hearing 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 is charged with simple kidnapping in that incident.

Cobbing called 911 several times on Sept. 1, 2011, 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.

One of 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 indicate Williams’ brother returned the child to detectives the next day. Williams is charged with a second count of simple kidnapping.

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

Rose Cobbing said everyone who knew her daughter misses her greatly.

“My daughter got along with everybody. She was a beautiful person. She was bright. She was loving. She enjoyed life,” Cobbing said. “Every time I go into that courtroom, it just hurts my heart.”