WILKES-BARRE — After more than 7½ hours of deliberations, a jury on Friday night found Keith Williams guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
Following two days of testimony, the jury was asked to decide whether Williams acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Brock Earnest last year — or whether it was a cold-blooded revenge killing.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Demetrius Fannick argued that Williams reacted reasonably to being attacked by a strange, menacing man in his own home.
“Keith reacted. He reacted and the trigger went off,” Fannick said. “He was in fear for his safety at the time, and he shot him.”
But Assistant District Attorney Michelle Hardik countered that the fight was over by the time Williams, 42, made the decision to kill a “defenseless man” seated on a couch.
“The fight was over. When he walked out of that bedroom with that shotgun in his hand, he was now the aggressor,” Hardik said. “He was in control when he made the conscious and deliberate decision to point and pull the trigger.”
The shooting took place Jan. 11, 2017, at the trailer Williams shared with his then-girlfriend, Deidre Depiero. They had lived together for a couple years, but the fall before the shooting Depiero met Earnest, 40, while she was hospitalized for what she described as a “mental breakdown.”
After conversing with Depiero for a few days at the hospital, Earnest wrote her a letter saying he would miss her “great smile” when she was discharged. For several months they had almost no contact, but on the night of the shooting Earnest called saying he was dying of mouth cancer — a claim Fannick called a “flat-out lie.”
Williams told Depiero she hardly knew Earnest, and that he thought it was a bad idea to go get him. But Depiero insisted, so they drove about an hour to Earnest’s Montandon home.
On the ride back to the trailer, the trio stopped for beer and cigarettes, drinking along the way as Earnest was “going on about crazy stuff,” Depiero testified earlier in the week.
“Brock was just angry because he said he had mouth cancer,” Depiero said. “He said he wanted to end it with a bang.”
Back at the trailer, the men shot guns for a few minutes and then came inside, where the trouble started. Depiero said they began play fighting, but that Earnest soon turned aggressive and attacked Williams, taking him to the ground.
Depiero stepped in between the men to stop the barrage of blows Earnest was giving Williams, getting hit herself in the process.
When the men separated, Earnest went and sat on the living room couch.
Williams went to the bedroom and loaded a 12-gauge shotgun.
He emerged moments later and, according to Depiero’s account, fired a shot as Earnest sat on the couch, without either man saying a word.
But on Thursday, Williams testified on his own behalf that Earnest had risen off the couch and moved toward him before he fired. He claimed Earnest also issued a verbal challenge, something to the effect of, “Are you ready to go now?”
Williams maintained he was intimidated by Earnest, who had the word “hate” tattooed on his knuckles, the phrase “slow pain” inscribed on his stomach and what appeared to be a lightning bolt inked on his forehead. Earnest, who claimed to have served 17 years in prison, was also much faster and stronger than Williams, who suffers from neuropathy and diabetes, he said.
During her closing, Hardik argued Williams did not believe deadly force was justified — he decided to kill the man who humiliated him in front of his girlfriend and cherry picked the facts to portray it as self-defense.
“No one followed him to that bedroom. No one ever tried to enter that room,” Hardik said. “Rather than remaining in that bedroom behind that closed door with a loaded weapon, he made the decision to exit the bedroom.”
Williams could have called police or ordered Earnest to leave the home, or even have walked out the front door he passed on his way to the bedroom, she said. Instead he made a “calculated decision to kill Brock Earnest,” she said.
“He took advantage of the events as they had occurred and he use it he used it when he told Deidre that he had to kill him,” Hardik said.
The prosecutor pointed to the frantic 911 call Depiero made moments after the shooting in which she indicated there was no reason to have shot Earnest: “Why did you have to shoot him you (expletive) idiot?”
“Listen to the disbelief in her voice,” Hardik said.
But Fannick noted that the night of the shooting, Depiero told troopers she believed Williams was trying to protect himself, and that she did not think Earnest was going to stop the attack, despite having taken a seat on the couch.
“Neither one of them thought he was going to stop, and he made a movement that he wasn’t going to stop,” Fannick said.
Fannick also blasted inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case, noting that while Depiero claimed Williams had been about 15-20 feet away when he fired the fatal shot, the prosecution’s own expert forensic pathologist said the shot most likely came from at most six feet away.
He noted that the expert said the shot came from Earnest’s front, which would have been an impossibility if he were seated on the couch with Williams approaching from a bedroom to the right. And Fannick criticized troopers for failing to measure the height of the shotgun pellets that hit a wall behind Earnest — what he said was a key measurement.
“Don’t you think that’s significant to see if he’s standing?” Fannick asked the jury. “And they want you to take away this guy’s liberty and freedom.”
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