Motive for '10 killings disputed

Rick Morrocco Williams

A stolen dog. A bludgeoned mini-van. Two bullets and a samurai sword.

These are among the central elements in the double-murder trial of Rick Morrocco Williams, a 26-year-old accused of gunning down his two former roommates on North Charleston's Durant Avenue.

The trial began Monday afternoon with both sides agreeing that Williams is responsible for killing Nathaniel Lonnie, 58, and Angela Ferguson, 44, on Dec. 31, 2010. But just how it all went down is subject to dispute.

Prosecutors say Williams shot the couple in a fit of rage after Lonnie booted him from the house. The defense insists Williams acted in self-defense after Lonnie and Ferguson attacked him with a samurai sword and a box cutter.

A neighbor found the bodies of Lonnie and his longtime girlfriend sprawled on the floor of their home on Jan. 3 of last year. Attention quickly shifted to Williams, who had been staying at the home with his girlfriend, who was Lonnie's stepdaughter. Relatives have said the two men just didn't get along.

In his opening statement, Assistant Solicitor Michael Nelson told the jury that the men's bad blood boiled over when Williams was accused of stealing a neighbor's dog. Lonnie and Williams argued, and Lonnie told him to leave. On his way out, Williams grabbed a baseball bat and systematically smashed out the windows in Lonnie's minivan, he said.

Lonnie chased him off with an old sword, but Williams later returned with a pistol and shot Lonnie and Ferguson, Nelson said. Each was killed with a single bullet to the head. Williams later bragged about the killing to his girlfriend, telling her to watch the TV news to see what he had done, he said.

"Two shots, two dead bodies -- for absolutely no reason other than he was angry as sin because the man who owned the house told him to get out," Nelson told the jury.

Williams' lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Beattie Butler, told a much different story. He acknowledged that Williams and Lonnie argued, and that Williams had smashed the windows of Lonnie's van in a moment of anger.

But Butler said Williams later returned to the home not to seek revenge, but simply to collect his belongings.

Williams was in the process of gathering his things when Lonnie returned home and flew into an alcohol-fueled rage at seeing the young man back in his house, Butler said. Lonnie grabbed his steel-bladed samurai sword and left Williams with no choice in the small room but to fight or be "skewered, sliced or carved," he said.

Williams shot Lonnie to save himself and then had to shoot Ferguson as well after she came at him with a razor blade-tipped cutter, Butler said.

When North Charleston police caught up with him a few days later, Williams confessed to his role in the killings, confident that he had acted in self-defense, he said.

Neighbor James Young, whose dog was at the center of the dispute, testified about the heated argument between Lonnie and Williams that preceded the shootings. At one point, Young said, Williams proclaimed, "I will kill everyone in this house."

On cross-examination, Young acknowledged that he did not mention this threat to investigators after he found the bodies and called police. At the time, he said, he didn't think Williams would actually kill the couple.

North Charleston police Officer Lewis Smoak testified that Lonnie mentioned no specific threats against him when police were called to the home to take a report on the vandalized van just after midnight Dec. 31 -- about four hours before the killings.

Police Officer Clinton Ivey, first on the scene after the bodies were found, testified that there were no swords, box cutters or other weapons found near the dead couple to indicate they had been armed.

Testimony in the trial resumes this morning.