Andrew Dys

Will second jury convict Chester councilman’s killer, or will he go home?

Christopher Moore will stand trial again this week for murder in connection with the shooting death of Chester City Councilman Odell Williams.
Christopher Moore will stand trial again this week for murder in connection with the shooting death of Chester City Councilman Odell Williams.

In April, when the jury hung, Christopher Moore did not hang his head. The admitted killer of Chester City Councilman Odell Williams smiled.

Because he was not sent to prison for life.

In a few days, Moore will find out if that smirk he had on his face April 23 – after six days of trial – was worth it.

Because Moore will be on trial for his life – again.

And again, the use of guns, by the living and the dead, will be on trial. Without men using guns, there was no death and there is no trial.

But gang members carry guns and Odell Williams, the retired cop, carried guns, and used them.

The retrial begins Monday. It is like the first trial that took six days never happened.

With one big exception: Moore’s testimony – he claimed self-defense in testifying to the killing in April, is already on the record. If he changes his story, or the other alleged gang members who were with him on that night of death in November 2014, change their story, then prosecutors can try to bury them all.

“It’s a toss up case – the facts really are not in dispute,” said Kenneth Gaines, a criminal trials expert and professor at the University of South Carolina law school. “What’s on trial here is was it murder or self defense? There is little doubt – none really – that the defendant will have to testify again and claim he had no choice but to defend himself.”

The trial Monday will again be in Fairfield County, because Moore claims intense media coverage of him being a killer, a gang member, in jail and trying to get out for 18 months, means he can’t get a fair trial in Chester where the crime happened, and where the killing tore the heart out of the community.

Same judge: Paul Burch of Pageland will again be at the helm. Same prosecutors, same defense lawyers, same evidence of guns and bullets and death and a claim by Moore that Williams chased the gang members through Chester’s streets, shooting at them, before Moore fired the fatal bullet in a fusillade of 17 shots.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the upcoming trial. But during the past trial, they called Moore a lying conniver who was trying to rewrite the killing to make himself out to be a victim. Moore, prosecutors said, lay in wait, fired a rifle several times and only stopped when Odell Williams was shot in the face and died.

Moore’s lawyer, 6th Circuit Deputy Public Defender William Frick, confirmed that the trial will start Monday, but declined to discuss any specifics of what the second trial might bring.

“We are ready to go to trial,” Frick said.

Except this time 12 new jurors will decide if Moore is a murderer, or Odell Williams was a vigilante bent on street justice.

“A new jury – it could go either way,” said Gaines, the law professor. “The prosecutors will say again that this was a bad guy who had a gun he shouldn’t have had because he is a criminal, and he was going to commit another crime at the time. The defense will say again because it is a legitimate point, that if the victim hadn’t chased them, and shot at them, that this never would have happened. The victim chose to chase them. He didn’t call the police to handle the situation. The defense will say the dead man caused it all.”

A difference this time is testimony from Moore and other defendants led to prosecutors having admissions that the gang members – although the word gang is barred from the trial – plotted an armed robbery of a rival gang. Moore will now face an additional charge of conspiracy to commit armed robbery as well as the murder and weapons charges during the trial, Frick said.

Moore’s history is well-documented and prosecutors will undoubtedly again hammer him. A convicted felon at the time of the killing, despite being just 18 years old, Moore lied repeatedly about involvement until he finally admitted it, but still claims self-defense. Prosecutors say Moore is a killer who chose to shoot Williams.

But Moore, and Frick, will again go after Odell Williams – the 69-year-old victim. A retired police officer who carried a gun, Williams chased the men through Chester for miles before he was shot by Moore. The defendants claim Williams was shooting at them first and they were trying to escape.

Moore’s defense is simple: Odell Williams took the law into his own hands.

Moore repeatedly has said in court that he would trade places with Williams if he could. That he has changed and put a life of crime and involvement with bad guys behind him.

But come Monday that means nothing. A jury will decide if he is a teen who shot to protect himself, or he is a devious killer who has lied repeatedly to try and squirm out from a killing that stunned Chester and South Carolina.

Odell Williams’ family will have to sit through another trial, testify again, cry again as all the terrible facts are played out. Chester will have to hold its breath.

When it is over and the jury decides – or maybe deadlocks again– Moore, the admitted killer, could either smile, or weep.