A Howard County jury began deliberations yesterday in an assault and obstruction of justice case against a Howard County police corporal accused of abusing his wife. The trial featured allegations of police bias and prosecutorial agendas.
Jurors began discussing the charges against Michael K. Williams, a 17-year police veteran, at 3 p.m. and were still deliberating last night.
Williams, 41, faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, felony assault.
The case focused attention on differences between the Howard police who investigated the case and the Carroll County prosecutors specially assigned to try it - revealing a relationship strained by perceptions of unfairness.
While the Howard police captain who investigated accusations by Williams' estranged wife, Elizabeth, testified that he did not believe there was enough probable cause to sustain charges against his colleague, Carroll prosecutors implied that Howard police officials afforded special treatment to one of their own.
It was for that reason, Carroll prosecutor Natasha Byus said during closing arguments yesterday, that Elizabeth Williams stopped cooperating with Howard police officials after reporting an alleged August 2001 assault - and decided against reporting a new assault allegation in October.
"Why didn't she call the police? The defendant is the police," Byus said.
But defense attorney Clarke F. Ahlers said that it was Carroll prosecutors who would not cooperate - for instance, declining offers to interview his client.
"When Michael Williams is caught between two warring entities ... he tries to do the reasonable thing," Ahlers said during his closing argument.
Williams was charged with misdemeanor assault last September, about a week after Elizabeth Williams accused him of slamming her against a dining room table and biting her on the shoulder in their Columbia apartment Aug. 26.
Although police were called to the house after the fight, it was Elizabeth Williams and not police investigators who filed the misdemeanor assault charges. Michael Williams was placed on administrative duty and his police powers suspended after the incident.
It appears that the two reconciled for awhile. Elizabeth Williams sent a letter to Howard prosecutors on Sept. 17, 2001, asking them to drop the charges against her husband.
Elizabeth Williams then filed a second set of charges against Michael Williams, alleging that he pointed a gun at her and threatened her Oct. 20.
Michael Williams, who testified yesterday, denied that the October incident occurred. Of the August incident, he said his wife was the aggressor and he only bit her in self-defense after she bit him, according to an interview with police that was taped Sept. 6, 2001, and played in court Tuesday.
Ahlers focused yesterday on what he said were several discrepancies in Elizabeth Williams' testimony. For example, he said, she testified that she never told her husband that she was pregnant, but defense witnesses testified that she told them she was - and one lent maternity clothing to her.
Ahlers also alleged that Elizabeth Williams "manipulated" her two teen-age sons, each of whom testified that he witnessed one of the incidents.
"You have the power to right this injustice. You have the power to give him back what he had before he was falsely accused," Ahlers said.
But Byus said other witnesses corroborated Elizabeth Williams' accounts.
Her sons testified that they saw the assaults, Byus said, and the police officers called to the apartment last August saw the bite mark on her shoulder and the scuff marks, spilled soup and broken table - evidence of a fight. Issues such as whether or not Elizabeth Williams was pregnant is "a lot of smoke," she said.