All that was left Friday in Chester – after a Winnsboro jury Thursday found an admitted gang member guilty of killing Chester councilman Odell Williams –was the defense lawyer typing up a notice of appeal.
And for the community of Chester, it was a day to deal with the aftermath.
Christopher Moore, 19, who claimed he changed in jail waiting for trial, who claimed he would switch places with the dead man if he could, who claimed self-defense, was on his way to prison for the rest of his life. A jury found him guilty in less time than it takes to watch a movie. A judge – so outraged that a felon had a gun to shoot another man – gave Moore life in prison without so much as a sip of water needed to think about it.
The crime was that bad.
Drugs, guns and gangs again equal death and prison.
The first trial in April ended with a hung jury. Moore afterward rejected a plea offer for manslaughter, said William Frick, his lawyer. The second trial this week ended with a guilty verdict for murder. Moore will now live and die in a cage.
Sixth Circuit Solicitor Randy Newman said after the verdict the people of Chester are safer with Moore in prison.
The public may have won safety, but Williams’ daughter told everyone afterward that nobody won, that another black male was gone to the system, and her father was dead.
“This is a punch to the gut, and all we can do is try to make improvements in our community,” said Angela Douglas, also on the Chester City Council where Odell Williams sat for 20 years. “Two families have lost so much. We must teach our young people, especially our young men of color, that there is something better out there for them. That life behind bars or dead is not written in stone for them.”
Chester City Council member Annie Reid called the whole 21 months from Williams’ death to the second trial “sad.”
“The whole community loses when this happens,” Reid said, speaking about violence and guns, drugs and gangs. “Odell Williams, a fine man, is gone. A young man is off to prison forever. Nobody won.”
Reid said maybe the conviction will send a message that the criminal life, the gangs and drugs and the guns, is no answer.
“That life leads to nothing but the jailhouse,” Reid said.
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, whose officers arrested Moore and the other gang members, who has said his life and his family and his officers were threatened by gang members during the investigation, said Friday the trial and Moore’s own admissions should show there is a gang problem in Chester County that he and his deputies are working to eradicate.
Underwood has several programs aimed at changing teen behavior.
“We can all show them that they can do better,” Underwood said. “We can show them if they go to school, get an education, good things will happen.”
But Underwood, the first black sheriff of Chester County, is a cop. Good intentions aside, programs to change behavior aside, violence, drugs, guns will not be tolerated, Underwood said. The violence and gunplay of Nov. 4, 2014, is never acceptable, Underwood said.
A good deed, a good action, is just as easy to do as a criminal action, Underwood said, by any person of any race or color.
“People should be able to feel safe, to live in their homes and be out in their yards and walk around their neighborhoods,” Underwood said. “That’s why we are out here all day and night. To protect and serve those people.”
William Frick, Moore’s lawyer, called the whole case “a tragedy.” This was never a case where there was any doubt Moore shot and killed Williams. All that was in question was whether the jury would believe Moore was a cold-blooded killer or trying to defend himself.
Frick said Moore has intelligence, he has talent, he has potential, but all that was lost in the life before the shooting. Moore basically grew up and lived a “street life,” Frick said. And that street life of getting high, being in a gang, committing crimes and getting caught and convicted ended where it almost always does: prison. This time for life.
Moore said in court he had changed while waiting in jail 21 months for trial. He was no longer the violent criminal he had been who spent days smoking pot, hanging around with a bad crowd.
But that was after the gang decided to rob another alleged bad guy, with illegal guns. Odell Williams stepped in and within minutes on Nov. 4, 2014, he was dead.
Moore, Frick said, “found out too late that there are other ways to live” besides the street life where guns and drugs and violence are just as common as lunch.
“It is just sad to see that potential lost,” Frick said of Moore. “He could have done great things.”
But before his arrest Moore did not do great things. He was arrested several times in Rock Hill and Chester, convicted of crimes, and because he was a criminal he had no legal right to have a gun. But he had a gun. Not just any gun, but a semi-automatic rifle called an SKS, from eastern Europe, that Frick said almost anyone in conversation would call an assault rifle. That kind of gun has one purpose: to kill people.
And it did. It was used to kill Odell Williams.
Frick said he is a Democrat but he is a South Carolina Democrat. He said he’s not sure if stiffer gun-control laws would even work.
“If the Brady Bill ( which banned some weapons) hadn’t expired in 2004, maybe that gun is not on the street and does not end up in Chris Moore’s hands,” Frick said.
The way it played out was Odell Williams, 69, was shot dead by that rifle on Nov. 4, 2014. He was a proud black man who gave his whole life to his community as a cop until retirement and then a councilman, a coach and a mentor to young black men. He was a concrete mason and community benefactor and civic lion.
He even coached at least one of the young black men he was chasing that day. Then another of those young men in that truck got out and shot him and killed him.
There is no doubt that Odell Williams, told that gang members had guns and had scared his wife, chased the men and shot at them. He did not call police. He tried to handle it himself instead and he ended up dead.
There is also no doubt, in the words of Moore himself, that the gang members were plotting a robbery of another gang leader, and all the felons had illegal guns and had smoked enough marijuana to get high as kites.
Drugs, guns, gangs – then chaos and shooting, death and tears, funerals and courtrooms. Prison cells.