For police officers looking to close a homicide case, it was far easier to put John Williamson Jr. in jail for 13 months than to actually investigate the crime.
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
Who could these men be? What were they talking about? What authority could they represent? K. lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force; who dared seize him in his own dwelling?
—The Trial by Franz Kafka
John Williamson Jr. must have made someone very angry. Maybe he enraged an ancient god or parked a little too close to his neighbor’s car. All that’s clear is that at 6:30 in the morning on Aug. 31, 1998, he was thrown to the ground outside his house and taken away in handcuffs for a crime he knew he didn’t commit.
Williamson had just emerged from his parents’ Marshall Heights SE apartment building. In the early-morning quiet, he was walking across the parking lot behind the building to his black Chevy Blazer. From the moment he got out of bed, nothing about this day had suggested it would be different from all the others. He had stepped into his tan work boots and strapped his pager and cell phone onto his belt, rendering his already squat frame stockier still.
Williamson, nicknamed “Little John,” had planned to hustle from one dusty construction site to the next, as he did every day, keeping a close watch on his eight trucks and growling at his two dozen workers to do more, faster.
But that morning, Williamson noticed some people milling around by his truck—a strange sight, because few were usually up at that hour. Soon, he noticed that there were more than just several people, and that they were coming toward him from many different directions. One of them called out his name. He answered.
“That’s our man,” one cop said, as Williamson remembers it.
The next thing he knew, Williamson was on the ground, watching fingers snatch off his jewelry, pluck out his wallet, and run up and down his body in search of baggies, bullets, or firearms. They didn’t find anything—not then nor weeks later, when police would return to search his parents’ apartment.
Williamson’s wife and father came out of the building right after him, just in time to see a dozen or so policemen dragging him away. Balancing his son’s 5-month-old baby on his hip, John Williamson Sr. started shouting. “What’s going on?” he yelled. “What’s going on?” The police officers looked at him as if he’d lost his mind, but he kept on hollering: “Somebody’s got to tell me what’s going on!”
Finally, an officer came over to John Williamson Sr. and informed him that they were picking John Jr. up for first-degree murder. Whereupon the elder Williamson, dazed and scared, took his grandbaby back upstairs and said to his wife, “They got John.”
At age 16, Williamson had taken over his father’s demolition and dumpster business after his dad was injured in a mugging. Over the next seven years, he modernized and expanded the business, collecting a long list of customers who raved about his honesty and responsibility. Yet when Williamson got fingered by a couple of dubious witnesses for committing a first-degree murder while armed, it was breathtaking how quickly his life unraveled.
It would be 13 months before Williamson would get out of jail, before he would be allowed to exit from a legal pageant hatched in the Homicide Division of the Metropolitan Police Department and played out in Superior Court.
Between his arrest and his acquittal, on Sept. 10, 1999, Williamson would hear reports of his business starting to falter in his absence. At his trial, he’d watch jurors shake their heads in disbelief as they heard the government’s allegations about him. And he’d see police detectives admit before a courtroom audience that they had done few of the basic things police are supposed to do—things like taking notes, for example, or knocking on doors. Or not sleeping with the key alibi witness and wife of the suspect.
On the late-summer morning of his arrest, Williamson just felt confused. And he wasn’t the only one. Not long after the arrest, Jim Abdo visited Williamson in jail. A developer active in Dupont and Logan Circles, Abdo had regularly hired J. Williamson Demolition & Rolloff Services to haul away debris, pour concrete, and sledgehammer through dilapidated walls. To Abdo, it never made sense that Williamson could be accused of murder. “He was grounded. He was making a lot of money. He had a successful company and was winning sizeable contracts around town,” says Abdo. “He was easily somebody who could be envied in the neighborhood.”
Abdo offered to employ Williamson if he could get the court to let him out on a bail bond. But the prosecutor insisted on a first-degree murder charge, which meant Williamson wasn’t going anywhere until his trial. “This is a good guy,” says Abdo. “We’ve sent a lot of work to this kid. It’s not always smooth sailing—it never is—but I wouldn’t stick with somebody that long that I didn’t respect.”
Like many folks’, Williamson’s work record was cleaner than his personal history. A baby-faced 24-year-old with a quick smile, Williamson grew up in a rough patch of neighborhood. He dropped out of Coolidge High School against his parents’ wishes at age 15. And his legal record since then featured some unattractive bullet points: In 1996, Williamson got a year on probation for punching a cab driver, who he says hit him first. The next year, he was charged with assault and robbery for pushing a city inspector and then breaking her camera. Williamson, who insists to this day that the inspector was harassing him, pleaded guilty and got placed on probation again. Four months later, he drew one more assault charge for brandishing a crowbar at a man who he says maced him; those charges were dropped.
Williamson had never done any jail time, though. And he had no history of carrying guns around or selling or using drugs. At the time of his arrest, he was getting to work at dawn and often continuing a job through the weekend, according to his clients. He owned three properties and more than 20 dumpsters, and his projects that year included repairing D.C. schools’ roofs and handling about $100,000 in contracts with Abdo.
Luckily for him, Williamson was making enough money to hire Kenneth M. Robinson, a respected criminal defense attorney who has practiced in Superior Court for 30 years. At first, Robinson says, the details of Williamson’s predicament looked pretty standard, including his client’s insistence that he was innocent. In fact, Nick Kourtesis—a lawyer serving as Robinson’s investigator on the case—admits that he initially figured Williamson was guilty. But by the time they went to trial, both attorneys stood personally as well as professionally behind Williamson. Says Robinson: “I’ve gotten a lot of guys off who killed someone. But I’ve only had two guys I knew were innocent—and this was one.”
United States vs. John Williamson Jr. begins with a single shot fired at about 5:30 in the evening of June 28, 1998, in a small, no-man’s-land park on the 500 block of Division Avenue NE. Nearby Lincoln Heights residents say that anybody who’s in that park is either doing drugs or selling them, no matter what the hour. And once dusk settles in, anything at all can happen.
All parties agree on the basic choreography of that evening: A red sport-utility vehicle jumps the curb and barrels up the grass into the park, where Derrick Jefferson is standing. Three men get out of the truck and pass around a gun. There is some yelling about someone owing someone else money, and then one of the men punches Jefferson in the face. The same man then shoots Jefferson in the lower back. Just as quickly as it appeared, the truck careens out of the park.
Jefferson, a 32-year-old resident of the neighborhood, lies on the ground, bleeding. But he’s not gone yet. First to a bystander and then to a police officer, Jefferson says these crucial words: “John did it.”
An ambulance whisks Jefferson off to D.C. General Hospital. For at least 35 minutes after he’s shot, Jefferson remains conscious, according to hospital records later introduced as evidence in court. He’s able to answer questions, informing medical staff that he had taken heroin earlier in the day. At no time—either on the scene or at the hospital—do any police officers ask Jefferson any more questions about his attacker. For instance: “John Who?”
“This guy’s dying in the hospital, and nobody’s talking to him,” says Judy Horan, a juror on the case, echoing sentiments expressed by many of her fellow jurors.
Later that night, Jefferson lapses into a coma. On July 1, he has a heart attack from which he is never to recover. In a vain effort to save him, doctors cut off both of his legs. But about five weeks after the shooting, on Aug. 3 at 3:30 in the morning, Jefferson succumbs.
During all that time, while Jefferson lies dying in the hospital, no police work happens. Sixth District Detective Kathy Sanderson, assigned to the case the night of the shooting, takes ill soon after, leaving work for about a month. In her absence, no one else is assigned to the case. (When contacted at the police department earlier this month, Sanderson refused comment.)
But when Jefferson dies, the shooting is reclassified as a murder and gets passed to Homicide Detective David A. Carter. Good news, it would seem. First of all, Carter is actually coming in to work, unlike Sanderson. And, as a trained homicide detective with nearly 10 years of police department experience, he can be expected to jump-start the heretofore nonexistent investigation of Jefferson’s death.
Carter even has a leg up on the case, since he was one of the cops who reported to the scene of the crime the night Jefferson got shot. Because it was a serious crime that could turn into a homicide, he assisted Sanderson that evening and interviewed at least one witness. The witness allegedly showed Carter the house of the person the witness believed had fired the shot.
Only Carter didn’t take any notes the night of the shooting—at least, that’s what he’ll claim on the stand over a year later. Sanderson, however, will testify that Carter did take notes. But they will never be produced at trial. And neither Carter nor Sanderson staked out the house where the supposed suspect lived. Not then, and not ever. Carter will admit on the stand that he didn’t even knock on the door of the house to see if someone named John actually lived there.
Carter did find out, however, that someone named John Williamson Jr. owned the property in question and had even lived there once, more than a year earlier. Now, he rented it out. But later, at the trial, Sanderson’s notes will indicate that the witness pointed to the house next door, where the victim—not Williamson—lived. But Carter will insist that the witness pointed to Williamson’s house as the home of the shooter. He will make this claim on the basis of memory alone, of course, since he will have no notes.
Citing ethical concerns, officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office said they could not comment on the record as to the efficacy of the police investigation in this case. “Any time there’s a problem, our policy is to work within the system and take concerns that we have to the [Metropolitan Police Department]—or any agency,” says spokesperson Channing Phillips.
Regarding the lull between Sanderson’s and Carter’s investigations, Terry Keeney, chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Homicide Section, says the procedural problem was addressed when the police department started farming its homicide detectives out to the various districts last spring. Now, he says, the detective who is assigned to a case at the beginning is supposed to stay on that case, whether the victim lives or dies. “One of the reasons Homicide decentralized was just this problem,” Keeney says.
Lt. Robert Tate, the official in charge of 6th District detectives, says he has no comment on Sanderson’s or Carter’s police work, because he wasn’t supervising them at the time of the shooting. He has overseen Carter since May 16: “His performance since I’ve been here is up to standard, but that’s only been for a few months.”
Defense attorney Lou Hennessy did work with Carter in the Homicide Division before Hennessy left the department to become a lawyer. They worked together from 1994 to 1995, Hennessy says: “Dave Carter did a hell of a job while I was there. He was sincere, and he put forth a diligent effort.” Carter has had one citizen complaint filed against him, but a department spokesperson says that the investigation is pending, so no details can be released.
The day Jefferson was shot, Williamson was in North Carolina, he says, hundreds of miles away. He and his wife, Ann Jenkins, were on a weekend trip—ostensibly to visit friends and relatives, but really to steal some time alone in yet another effort to salvage their relationship. “Since we met, we’ve had problems,” Williamson says. There was a domestic violence assault charge on Williamson’s record, which was dropped. During the eight years they were together, Williamson says, Jenkins cheated on him more than once. (Jenkins refused comment, referring questions to Williamson and his attorney.)
At the time of his arrest, Williamson and his wife and kids had moved into his parents’ house on B Street SE. He was spending some nights there, others at an apartment he had rented nearby.
The afternoon leading up to the shooting, Williamson and Jenkins were driving back to D.C., according to both of their accounts. Around 12:45 p.m., they stopped in at an old family friend’s house in Fayetteville, N.C., to catch up—a visit the friend would later confirm in trial testimony. Williamson’s cell phone records from that day show that he called his wife’s aunt to check on his kids. He also made several work calls. It’s impossible to tell from the cell phone records where Williamson was when he made those calls, but their timing and destination jibe with his alibi. Williamson and his wife would each testify that they left their friend’s house in North Carolina shortly after 2:30 p.m. to begin the six-hour journey home. Jefferson was shot in the park at about 5:30 p.m.
Three hours after the shooting, Williamson was back in D.C., collecting his kids from their great-aunt, according to his testimony. In his closing statement, Robinson defended the alibi: “Unless Mr. Williamson can break all speeds of sound, he could not have gotten to Washington in time to shoot [Jefferson] and then pick up the kids.”
At some point after he got back from North Carolina, Williamson says, a man he knew in the neighborhood told him that Jefferson had been shot. Jefferson had worked for Williamson a few times, doing manual day labor, so Williamson knew him. He says he had been forced to stop hiring him because Jefferson had gotten sick on the job whenever he didn’t get a heroin fix, and clients had complained. “He wasn’t a good worker,” Williamson says. But Jefferson continued to ask him for money and work on a regular basis, he adds.
It was not until two months after the shooting that Williamson was arrested. He spent that morning being interviewed by Carter at police headquarters. At that time, Williamson didn’t know that Jefferson’s brother had gone to the detective a couple of weeks earlier and shown him a picture of Williamson with Jefferson, taken at a club. The brother hadn’t seen the shooting, but he had heard that someone named John was responsible.
That same day, Carter called in an eyewitness to the crime, who identified Williamson in a photo. So did another man, who did not see the shooting but who said he saw Williamson driving around in a red truck with Jefferson beforehand. Less than a week later, another eyewitness had picked Williamson out of a photo lineup. To Carter, it seemed like a locked-up case.
But all of those witnesses said they knew Williamson previously from the neighborhood, so if they had wanted to accuse him, they wouldn’t have had any trouble picking him out of a photo lineup. And none of them identified Williamson until after Jefferson died. There could be any number of explanations for why they didn’t come forward sooner, but Robinson speculates that they may have wanted to be sure the victim didn’t suddenly wake up and say something different. All
the witnesses were hanging out in the park at the time of the shooting, and, Robinson theorizes, could have been associated in some way with the real shooter.
Two of the government’s three witnesses had serious and lengthy criminal records. In fact, one of the eyewitnesses had been arrested on an outstanding warrant the same day he identified Williamson. In exchange for his cooperation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office cut a deal: The government agreed to downgrade a robbery charge to attempted robbery and to drop a charge accusing the witness of failing to appear at a previous hearing, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The prosecutor also agreed to inform the judge in that case that the witness had cooperated in the Williamson investigation. And the prosecutor promised not to object if the witness were sent to a drug program on a stolen-vehicle charge. That witness also had a history of drug use, according to court records.
In addition to problematic witnesses and nonexistent notes, Carter’s investigation had other holes. The night of the crime, after a wounded Jefferson said someone named John had shot him, he also said the shooter had driven a red truck. Eyewitnesses reported a red truck as well. But the police found no evidence that Williamson had ever owned a red truck.
The description called in to the police dispatcher the night of the shooting indicated that the perpetrator was 5-foot-5, 210 pounds, and bald. Williamson was 5-foot-9 and 250 pounds. Not the same, but close enough—except that Williamson had a full head of hair.
Also, as Robinson stressed in court, Jefferson probably knew Williamson’s last name—after all, he had worked for him and seen him around the neighborhood, and all of his trucks and dumpsters had the name painted on their sides. So if John Williamson shot him, why didn’t he say, “John Williamson did it”?
“John Williamson is not the shooter,” Robinson told the jury. “And the reason he’s not the shooter is that he has a black truck with Maryland tags, not Virginia tags; he has hair; he’s not the right size; and he’s in North Carolina. I don’t know what more I can do. If those were hurdles, I’d be an Olympic champion.” Robinson called his own witness from the D.C. jail, who testified that he had been in the park that night and had seen the shooting. The witness said the shooter was not Williamson, whom he knew from the neighborhood.
To judge from trial transcripts, court documents, and Williamson’s claims, Carter did not concern himself with these trifling details. When he interrogated Williamson, for example, Carter did not ask him where he was the night of the murder, Williamson says: “To this day, they never once asked me where I was.”
Moreover, Williamson says, Carter refused to let him call an attorney. The detective, he says, would ask him questions in the form of statements of fact. “He was just talking in circles,” Williamson remembers. “He’d say, ‘You knew Derrick, right? You killed him, didn’t you?’…’You sell drugs, too, don’t you?’” For a while, Williamson says, he emphatically denied the accusations. But eventually he stopped talking altogether and just shook his head yes or no: “I seen my conversation with him wasn’t going anywhere.”
Detectives aren’t supposed to make friends with the accused. But impressing jurors is somewhat more important—at least at trials the city wants to win. And it was in the courtroom—far from the scarier streets of far Northeast, out of the dank interrogation rooms of police headquarters—that Williamson’s case began its pathetic turn from tragedy to farce.
Of the seven jurors contacted by Washington City Paper after the September trial, all singled out Carter as the least believable witness. “Carter was not credible. He was totally disinterested in everything,” says one juror. “He didn’t take any pride in doing a job well. It was unbelievable that he could do so little,” adds the juror, who requested that
her name be kept confidential out of concern for her safety.
Carter became a homicide detective in 1994, according to his testimony. All told, he’s been with the police department for nearly 10 years. He declined to answer questions about his investigation, except to point out that the case was not his responsibility until Jefferson died. He arrested Williamson, he said, because “he was identified by witnesses.”
“To the person, we couldn’t believe how bad the investigation was,” says juror Charlie Ericksen. Ericksen has served on two other juries in D.C. and three juries in L.A., but he says this trial was unlike any other. “It was incredible. It totally destroyed any confidence you would have in the police department.”
Robinson capitalized on such frustration as he defended Williamson. “Did you bring your handwritten notes with you today, Detective Carter?” Robinson posed as his first question to Carter.
“No, I did not,” Carter answered.
“Do you have any?” Robinson asked.
“No, I do not.”
Setting the tone for the rest of the cross-examination, Robinson laid into Carter. “Isn’t that unusual for a homicide detective? They sell them at the F.O.P. store across the street, these little notebooks for detectives, and you flip them like Jack Webb in Dragnet, right?”
“Sure,” said Carter.
In fact, if you haven’t spent 13 months in jail before reading it, the trial transcript is downright comical. At one point, Carter testified that he had heard the name John Williamson for the first time in August. Later on in his testimony, he contradicted that very important point. “I mean, if I recall correctly, he was initially identified by Detective Sanderson as John Williamson,” Carter said.
“When was that?” Robinson asked.
“I don’t recall the specific day,” Carter answered.
“Well, was it July, June, or August?” Robinson asked.
“I don’t recall.”
“You have a note on that?” Robinson asked.
“I do not have a note on it, no,” Carter responded.
In his closing statement, Robinson poked fun at the detective, who—as many of the jurors would later remember—sweated profusely on the stand. “You can come to court for 20 years and not see a detective sweat like he did on cross-examination. Not because I’m great—because he knew he was lying,” Robinson told the jury. “Why? Because it’s just a big game to him.”
“I don’t care whether [Jefferson] was involved in drugs or not,” Robinson went on to say. “It’s outrageous that somebody gunned him down like that and that he had to have his legs amputated and go through five weeks of all that pain and suffering and die like that. And these detectives are too busy? Well, get somebody else on the case.”
Weeks after the trial, Robinson is still fuming over Carter’s performance. “[The police] did a shoddy, do-nothing investigation,” he says. “Carter was without question the most incompetent homicide detective I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been on the job a long time.”
In most murder cases, it’s next to impossible to know what really happened the night of the crime—even after the verdict is in. This case was murkier than most, cluttered with conflicting testimony and devoid of hard evidence. Chances are we will never know who did the shooting. But almost everybody in the courtroom seemed to agree that if Williamson was guilty, the police and the prosecution didn’t begin to prove it.
Two months after the verdict came in, the rave reviews of the Williamson drama are still pouring in. “The highlight of my career,” says the court reporter. One of the jurors, thoroughly entertained by the Williamson case, says she asked court officials if she could sit on D.C. juries professionally.
The final pratfall of the case against John Williamson occurred on a lunch break. It was five days into the proceedings, and juror Ronetta Smith was carrying around a lot of reasonable doubts in her head. Smith, a 20-year-old self-described entertainer, grew up “three traffic lights away” from the shooting and lives there to this day. So, unlike most of the jurors, she could visualize all of the streets and dark corners depicted in the testimony.
Smith says she had never put too much faith in the police, but the trial left her even more skeptical than before. “The police work was terrible. Nobody really asked any questions. It was like, ‘OK, we have a dead person in the park on Division Ave.’ It was just another dead person. It was like they didn’t really care.”
It was in this already suspicious state of mind that Smith and a fellow juror went off to have lunch together on a park bench in the lingering summer sunshine. They were trying not to think about the case, because talking about it would have been against the rules. But Smith couldn’t help but notice Williamson’s wife walking across the street. And then she noticed a man in a police uniform walking beside her.
“I guess one of them must have noticed that we were sitting there, because they stopped walking side by side, and he started walking a few steps in front of her,” Smith says. But their stealthy maneuvering didn’t last very long: The officer and Jenkins both turned and went into Burger King at 501 G St. NW, Smith and the other juror report.
Later that same day, Officer Byron Purnell got on the stand. Purnell was called as a witness because he had been one of the responding officers to the scene of the shooting. He had recorded an eyewitness description of the shooter—a description that would later conflict with Williamson’s profile. And, incidentally, he was having an affair with Jenkins.
Williamson thought he recognized Purnell’s name when he heard it in court. While he was in jail, his wife had admitted she’d started an affair with a cop, he says. She’d said the officer had nothing to do with his case, but his wife’s niece had told Williamson the cop’s name, he says. When he heard the name, he leaned over to his attorney and said, “That’s the guy.”
From the jury box, Smith also recognized Purnell. She put two and two together and realized it added up to one stupid cop. “I was like, ‘Oh, no, that’s him,’” Smith remembers, laughing. She wrote a note to the judge relaying what she had seen: “While on my lunch break, I seen the Defendant’s wife and Officer Pernell [sic] creeping to Burger King.”
In response to Robinson’s questions, Purnell admitted under oath that he had had intimate relations with Jenkins. But, Purnell said, he had broken off the relationship two days into the trial. And he claimed he had just run into Jenkins at Burger King by coincidence. The defense also called Jenkins to testify, and, like Purnell, she claimed that—amazingly—they had not realized their mutual connections to Williamson until recently.
Purnell did not return repeated calls requesting comment. Nor did 6th District Cmdr. Rodney Monroe.
Williamson’s father, however, says that while his son was in jail and Jenkins was living with him and his wife, Purnell would come by the house in his patrol car two or three times a week. One evening, as Williamson Sr. was pulling up in his pickup truck, he saw Jenkins kissing Purnell, he says: “She was up the street from my house with her head hanging over, kissing the policeman in the scout car.”
Williamson Sr. says he didn’t say anything to his son’s wife then, but a few weeks later—when she told him she was moving out—he told her he was glad to see her go. “I just couldn’t take it….She said she’s leaving, and I said, ‘Yes, you are, and when you come back, things ain’t going to be the same anymore. I don’t appreciate it—you ain’t giving us no respect at all.’” After she left, Williamson Sr. and his wife continued to care for their granddaughters, he says.
Williamson’s mother, Jessicener Williamson, was sitting in the second row of the courtroom on Sept. 10 when the jury foreman read the verdict aloud. All told, the jurors had deliberated for less than an hour—they would have been quicker, Ericksen says, except that everybody wanted to dish about the case’s absurdities. “They were busting at the seams,” he says.
When Williamson’s mother heard the verdict, all she could do was grasp her husband’s hands. When she went out into the hallway afterward, the mother of the shooting victim gave her a hug, she says. Then, outside, she waited for her son to be released. A dozen people from her congregation waited with her, along with a handful of jurors. They sat outside—for an hour and a half—until John Williamson Jr. emerged, crying, from the courthouse doors. Even the court reporter and one of the marshals came out to congratulate her, she says: “I never was so amazed.”
These days, when Williamson’s mother talks about her son’s time in jail, she sounds half enraged and half just plain weary. She defiantly tells the story of how—when the police came to search her house a couple of weeks after her son was arrested—she sat them down at the dining-room table and talked about their relatives, many of whom she knew through her work. Jessicener Williamson is a minister at the New Mt. Carmel Free Will Baptist Church on the 5300 block of Gay Street NE. Then, while the police conducted their search, she stood behind them, praying and singing.
Jessicener Williamson’s proud voice cracks only when she starts talking about visiting her son in jail. “I could not touch him for 13 months. When I would go to that jail…my head would be swimming,” she says. “It’s a terrible feeling, a glass that separates you and your blood. That’s awful.”
Back at home, she would wake up in the middle of the night and see her husband pacing back and forth. “He’d hold his head out the window just trying to breathe,” she says.
And Jessicener Williamson is still worried about her son. He was beaten up in jail toward the end of his stay—he says four guys jumped him in his cell and told him he should plead guilty. At the trial, the jurors could see that his eye was still swollen. While incarcerated, he missed his daughters’ first and sixth birthdays. And now he has credit troubles. “He’s always been a workaholic,” Jessicener Williamson says, and with his business foundering and his debts mounting, he’s more stressed-out than ever. “He doesn’t talk a lot. And I think it is because he has a lot of pressure on him, thinking how can he get out of this mess he is in.”
During the first few days after he was released, Williamson—frantic for business—called every number in the thick stack of business cards he’d collected over the years. He stopped in to see Abdo, who had hired Williamson’s company for about a dozen renovation jobs around town over the past three years. “He gave me a big hug,” Abdo says. When Williamson mentioned that it was his birthday that day, Abdo suggested that they celebrate.
But Williamson declined. “He said, ‘No, I gotta work,’” Abdo says. Williamson is currently providing dumpster services to Abdo, just like old times.
When I see him in October, Williamson says he’s been working until midnight at an Adams Morgan site and starting again at 5:30 a.m. Once upon a time, Williamson says, “I’d wake up in the morning and didn’t owe nobody. Now, everybody’s like, ‘I want my money, I want my money.’” While he was in jail, his wife was handling the business along with his dad, and not to great effect. He says he has fallen behind on house and car payments and lost three of his trucks.
When Williamson talks, he sounds slightly out of breath, and when he is forced to sit down, he sits on his hands—as if he’d rather not see them lying idle in his lap. During a two-hour conversation one recent Friday, Williamson takes four business calls on his cell phone. The calls consist of short and serious exchanges about moving that dumpster over there and getting another dumpster out to 14th Street.
“I knew [the police] did some messed-up things, but I didn’t know it was gonna be like that,” says Williamson, who appears more numb than outraged these days. “Any time you got the police sleeping with your wife while you’re in jail, I mean, that’s messed up.”
According to Williamson, Jenkins and Purnell are still seeing each other, despite Purnell’s testimony to the contrary. When Williamson went to pick up some of his belongings from Jenkins’ new apartment soon after he was released, he saw Purnell there in his patrol car, he says. Williamson and Jenkins are currently in the process of getting a divorce. The business cards Williamson hands out these days still have her name on them—but it’s scratched out in blue ballpoint ink.
When he’s leveling out squares of cement at a work site, Williamson’s brow is furrowed. When he’s talking about how glad he is to be out of jail, he smiles and shakes his head, as if he’d won the lottery. It’s hard to get him to indulge in a fit of resentment—at least in public. “You just don’t want to be pissed-off all day,” says Williamson. “That’ll get me right back in [jail]. And I don’t ever want to go back.” He says he and his lawyer have discussed suing the city or the police department in the future. For now, he says, he is more concerned about getting his life back together.
Officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office say they currently have no plans to prosecute anyone else for the Jefferson murder. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.