JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A St. Louis man imprisoned for nearly two decades in a teenager’s 1993 dance hall murder is seeking a new trial, claiming he was a victim of mistaken identity and a flawed police investigation.
Anthony Williams, 33, was found guilty by a jury of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence without parole in the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Cortez Andrews on Dec. 31, 1993, during a brawl outside a teen dance. Williams was also 14 at the time, an eighth-grader. He was later certified to stand trial as an adult.
In an appeal filed Tuesday in Jefferson City, where he is imprisoned, Williams said seven other people at the dance have offered recent statements that he was not the shooter. Three of those witnesses who said that Williams was standing in front of the dance hall when shots were fired from a vacant lot to the east were summoned to the courthouse expecting to testify but never called as defense witnesses by Williams’ previous lawyer, said Columbia attorney Jennifer Bukowsky, who is handling the new appeal. Four previous appeals to state, city and federal courts were denied.
The habeas corpus petition — a legal claim of actual innocence — also criticizes St. Louis police for distorting statements made by others at the dance in order to charge Williams.
Two teens identified Williams in a four-person police lineup, though both acknowledged at his trial that they didn’t see who fired the gun at a fundraiser for a drum and bugle corps. Cortez, who was shot in the back of the head, was a corps member.
One girl said Williams suggested at the dance that the fight would lead to a shooting, adding that he did not specify an intended victim or suggest he would be involved. She later identified Williams in the lineup but also testified that Williams had not fought Andrews — in part because she came to Andrews’ aid during the dust-up.
The “statement to police and her identification of him in the lineup were both critical to the Circuit Attorney’s charging decision in this case,” Bukowsky said. A second, male witness “was merely assuming Anthony was the shooter because he saw him involved in the fight,” she added.
The appeal also argues that St Louis prosecutors didn’t disclose that police had interviewed another suspect the night of the shooting that fit the physical description of the shooter provided by witnesses.
Before the shooting, Andrews’ twin brother, Courtney, got into a fight with another youth, according to the appeal. Bukowsky said that as the fight spread, her client participated but did not fight either of the brothers. The dance let out at midnight on Dec. 30, 1993, with 50 to 60 teens lingering outside when shots rang out minutes later.
Bukowsky said her client is one of two Missouri inmates and 79 nationwide sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed as 14-year-olds. She initially planned to only seek a resentencing hearing before deciding to pursue the innocence claim. The private attorney is representing Williams at the request of the state public defender’s office.
The appeal still seeks a resentencing hearing for Williams in light of a June 2012 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting life sentences for juveniles as a constitutional violation of the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
A St. Louis police spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an interview request. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which will defend the appeal, does not comment on pending cases, said spokeswoman Nanci Gonder.
Cortez Andrews was the son of a St. Louis police officer. Four years after his death, his 17-year-old brother was also gunned down in what police called a gang-related shooting.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)