On Nicholas Jabbar Williams’ 22nd birthday, his trial for first-degree murder began.
Williams, a Waldorf resident, is on trial for allegedly shooting and killing his close friend, Cameron Marcel Townsend, on Dec. 14, 2017. At the time, the Maryland Independent reported that Townsend’s body was found with several gunshot wounds to the torso in the area of Holly Avenue and Spruce Street in Waldorf. Eyewitnesses reported hearing gunshots and seeing a dark-colored car flee the scene shortly after the shots were fired.
The jury selection in the trial took most of the day Monday, and opening arguments in the case were heard Tuesday morning in front of Circuit Court Judge Donine Carrington Martin. In his opening statement, Assistant State’s Attorney John Stackhouse walked the jury through the alleged course of events that night. Williams and Townsend, along with two other men, had first traveled together to Prince George’s County that day, followed by a Washington, D.C., shoe store in the Georgetown area before returning to the Waldorf home of one of the group, where Williams and Townsend parted ways with the other two.
One of the men was intoxicated and “a bit of a mess,” Stackhouse said, and had no way of getting home. Williams was called and asked to pick the man up, Stackhouse said, but he never returned.
“Twenty minutes later, he murdered Cameron Townsend,” Stackhouse said, noting that an eyewitness saw “an individual standing over the body” then get in a car and speed away. Stackhouse said the court would hear in the trial that the following day, Williams had parked his car “way away” from his family’s home and spent his time at home doing laundry and “a lot of cleaning with bleach.”
“He made some mistakes, though,” Stackhouse said. “People always make mistakes.” In this case, Stackhouse said, the court would learn that the investigation returned a shell casing in the car that matched the ones found at the crime scene. Williams’ shoes allegedly had DNA consistent with Townsend’s on the soles as well, Stackhouse said, and the police also located a bullet lodged in the car door consistent with those on the scene.
The state, said public defender Ariel Werner in her opening remarks, “has got it all wrong.” The two men were close, Werner told the court, and were both best friends and coworkers, and Williams even briefly lived with Townsend. Townsend’s real murderer, Werner said, is still out there.
“Nick saw his best friend murdered, and there was nothing he could do,” Werner said. “Powered only by terror and adrenaline, he fled. ... He is falsely accused of slaying one of the people he cared for the most.”
In life, Werner said, Townsend was not above reproach. He was “playing the part of a hardened soldier,” Werner said, and lived by the motto “Trust none, fear none.” Townsend was involved in criminal activities involving drugs and guns, she said, and there were people who wanted him dead. That very night, Werner said, Townsend was allegedly en route to a drug deal.
“There were people out there who had a bone with Cameron Townsend, a desire to harm him,” Werner said. Williams’ actions that night and in the days immediately after were motivated by fear for his own life, she contended, and not the actions of a guilty individual. Once they’d apprehended Williams, Werner said the police “put on blinders” and did not investigate the possibility that anyone else killed Townsend.
“[Williams] had no motive, no reason to slay his best friend,” Werner said, adding that the actual murder weapon was never found. “No matter what story they tell you, it will be just that: A story.” Williams knew he’d be “treated as a suspect,” she added, “and here he is, falsely accused.”
Testifying Tuesday, an eyewitness to the crime said he was at home that evening in bed with his windows open when he heard “a tremendous amount of noise” and went to investigate. He knew “exactly what [the noise] was,” the man said, and when he went to his window he saw a car outside with a man standing next to it and a body on the ground beside it. The man standing near the car leaned down, the witness said, and “touched the body and asked if he was alright.” Shortly thereafter, that car “took off hard and fast as he could.”
Another couple, who had been returning from Christmas shopping, testified to finding Townsend’s body on the ground as they were returning home. They stopped and checked his pulse, they said, and found nothing. Another woman who found his body said she thought he was just passed out until she “saw the holes and the blood” when she tried examining him.
On Wednesday, Williams’ mother took the stand. “We clean when we’re stressed,” she said, and as a military family cleaning with bleach is the norm and something Williams would have done anyway. She didn’t recall saying that behavior was “out of character” at the time, which she attributed to both the amount of time elapsed since the incident and the high level of stress surrounding her son’s arrest.
One of the men with Townsend and Williams that night said the fourth man with them that day was intoxicated on Xanax, but the others were sober.
They returned to his home around 7:50 p.m. that night, the man testified. He called Williams to pick up their friend about 10 minutes after he left, the man told the court, but Williams “said he didn’t feel like it” and refused to return. He recalled Townsend had a gun with him that day, but was unsure where it was kept.
When he learned of Townsend’s death the next day, the man said, he called Williams, who said he didn’t know what happened after he dropped Townsend off at at Waldorf liquor store around 7 p.m.
The man said when he examined his text messages and the time stamps, he thought it was “peculiar” when he noticed the time Williams gave didn’t match with when they had all been together the previous evening.
Williams’ trial was ongoing as of press time Thursday.