Crime

New trial in death of young Miami mom

Diane Metelus, with her son, Jamari Erick Williams. She was the innocent and accidental victim of stray bullets aimed at someone else in her Brownsville neighborhood.
Diane Metelus, with her son, Jamari Erick Williams. She was the innocent and accidental victim of stray bullets aimed at someone else in her Brownsville neighborhood. Family photo

During an evening block party in Brownsville, gunfire suddenly erupted. Residents scrambled for cover. Bullets wounded two young children.

And 21-year-old Diane Metelus, a young mother returning from a market, died when struck by errant bullets.

The callous crime in November 2010 — an all-too-familiar tale of an innocent victim claimed by inner city violence – was seemingly solved when detectives arrested a man named Jerron Williams for her death.

But after his conviction at trial, defense lawyers raised a new theory that two reputed Miami gangsters known as Screw and Scar were actually to blame. Armed with recordings of jail phone calls and key testimony from another jailed gangster called Little Bill, the lawyers presented their case to a judge.

And he agreed. In a rare decision earlier this month, Circuit Judge Miguel de la O overturned the jury’s verdict and ordered a new trial. “It is not difficult for this court to conclude that it is far more likely than not that Screw and Scar were responsible for the shooting,” the judge wrote in a 35-page order.

Miami-Dade prosecutors are now mulling an appeal or whether to retry Williams — who was convicted chiefly on the eyewitness testimony of a woman who knew him from the neighborhood.

“We are presently considering our options in light of Judge de la O’s decision,” said State Attorney’s office spokesman Ed Griffith.

Amy Weber, the defense attorney who led the post-conviction investigation, said Williams is finally getting justice.

“Jerron Williams put his trust in God, never gave up hope, and inspired everyone involved in this project to persevere,” she said. “He feels truly blessed and is grateful for the opportunity to vindicate himself from these false accusations.”

The case opens a window into the tangled web of Miami’s street gangs — and the difficulty authorities face in unraveling rivalries consummated by bloodshed. The drama, played out over years in the streets, jail and court, features a cast of characters that could populate a story line on the gritty crime show The Wire.

Metelus was the victim of tragic circumstance, collateral damage in gang warfare. She worked at McDonald’s and studied at Brown Mackie College, hoping to become a medical assistant.

“She was very good person,” said her mother, Nancy Metelus. “She had many people who loved her.”

On the night of Nov. 12, 2010, Metelus had gone to a corner store in Brownsville, a rough section of Miami north of the Airport Expressway, to buy cigarettes before she was to take the bus to pick up her baby son at her mother’s house. People were congregating outside her apartment building. Four men in a sedan pulled up, some of them wielding AK-47 assault rifles. Gunfire rang out. The two children, ages 12 and 3, were wounded. Metelus did not survive.

From her second-story kitchen window, an eyewitness identified Williams, 35, whom she knew as “Gaitor.” Detectives believed that the gunmen were looking to kill a man known as “Bo Jeezy.” A second witness told police that Williams, earlier that day, was seen in the same car looking for Bo Jeezy.

Williams was actually tried twice for murder. In his first trial in 2012, a judge declared a mistrial after his brother, Devin Williams, was arrested — in front of the jury — for witness tampering.

Police accused Devin Williams, a Florida corrections officer, of making a threatening gesture at the eyewitness. He was later acquitted and got his job back.

At the 2013 re-trial, jurors convicted Jerron Williams of the lesser crimes of manslaughter and aggravated battery. Judge de la O sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

But several months later, Assistant Public Defender Weber began unraveling another version of events. The focus: twin brothers Keith “Scar” Williams and Kenneth “Screw” Williams — neither related to Jerron.

Investigators believe the twins ran the violent “New Moneii” gang, which dealt dope at Liberty City’s Annie Coleman housing projects, commonly known as “The Rockies.”

The brothers have made the news before.

They are believed to have ordered the daylight assassination of a rival in 2008. During the shooting in Brownsville, one gang member shot and killed Derrick Days, a 10-month-old baby who was sitting on his father’s lap.

Two teenagers were convicted and are now doing life sentences. The Williams brothers were not charged and deny involvement. However, the brothers were later charged with trying to kill the state’s star witness. Scar and Screw were convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

According to Jerron Williams’ defense team, the brothers had been feuding for years with Bo Jeezy – real name: Emmanuel Duncanson, member of the rival gang “Str8 Drop.”

Two days before the Metelus murder, Screw was shot in the butt and back. He believed Bo Jeezy and another man, David Sands, were responsible.

Early on Nov. 12, 2010, Sands was shot dead on a Brownsville house porch. Hours later, according to the defense’s theory, Scar and three cohorts pulled up the apartments, opened fired from inside their car — and killed Metelus by mistake.

The theory was corroborated by a convicted murderer, William “Little Bill” Brown. He claimed that Screw, while in jail, confessed that the brothers were behind the attack that killed Metelus.

During a two-day court hearing in December, Brown also served as a “translator” for jail phone calls rife with street talk between a slew of gang associates. A man nicknamed Slim, one participant in the attack on Bo Jeezy, recalled being with the twins on the night “that girl got killed.”

Judge de la O, in his order, wrote: “Although the conversations are in coded language, the entire context of those phone calls appears to show that Scar and Screw admitted their involvement in the homicides of David Sands and Diane Metelus.”

At the hearings, prosecutors floated the idea that Scar and Screw may have been falsely bragging to pump up street cred for a book they planned to write.

As for Brown, 24, he is suspected in a slew of murders in Miami. According to court testimony, Brown surfaced as possibly being involved in a notorious 2009 mass shooting in Liberty City that killed two people and wounded seven more during a daylight dice game.

Ultimately, Brown pleaded guilty to one murder and conspiracy in another. He agreed to cooperate against co-defendants in another high-profile slaying: the 2010 killing of 15-year-old Sabrina O’Neil, caught in a drive-by shooting at the Coleman housing project.

The judge found Brown’s testimony, supported by physical evidence and other witnesses, was credible. “Brown is – almost literally – risking his life by testifying for [Jerron] Williams,” he wrote.

The twins, however, insist that Brown is a liar bent on falsely implicating them. Though his lawyer, Screw said neither brother “had any involvement” in the Metelus slaying.

“Everybody is always trying to blame them for every crime that occurs,” said lawyer Jean-Claude Dugue. “They vehemently deny any involvement in any crime, in any wrongdoing in that time or in the area.”

The bad blood between Brown and Screw surfaced in a very public way in August 2013.

Brown was part of a group of inmates who attacked Screw at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional when cell doors mysteriously opened all at once. The security breach ended when Screw hurled himself from the second tier of the jail wing. Screw suffered a fractured vertebrae and broken ankle.

Brown wasn’t the only credible witness, the judge found. Bo Jeezy himself — the man believed to be the target of the attack — testified that he was friendly with Williams and “there was no reason why [he] would have tried to kill him in 2010.”

As for the key eyewitness, the judge acknowledged the woman “undertook great personal risk” in testifying. But discrepancies in her testimony, along with the new evidence, gave him “grave doubts” about her recollection.

The judge’s decision did not sit well with Nancy Metelus, the victim’s mother. She still believes Williams played a role in the killing.

“It’s heart breaking,” Nancy Metelus said. “I thought I had had some closure, and now it’s been opened all over again.”

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