It is late at night, 1:30 am on March 6, 2014, when a UC Davis student slowly walks back from Shields Library to his apartment on Cowell Blvd., off of Drew Ave. He is literally about to step onto the stairs to take him to his second-story apartment when he hears someone yell, “Hey, hey, hey!” and sees two people approach him.
At first he thought they needed assistance, but suddenly one of them pulls a gun out of his pocket with his right hand, points it at him, bringing it up so quickly it actually makes contact with the left side of his head.
“Give me everything you got or I’ll blow your f—ng brains open,” the individual says. He is not wearing a mask. The victim identifies him by name, identifying him as Jamal Williams.
The victim describes Jamal Williams as cold, calm, as though he had done this before. On the other hand, Eric Rodriguez, who searched through the victim’s pockets and found his wallet, was nervous.
The victim was able to identify them through their yearbook. He said he would never forget their faces. He described Jamal as wearing a darkish hoodie and jeans while Eric wore an all-black hoodie, jeans, a beanie, and was not well shaved.
They would steal his backpack and take off running. They ended up taking a Macbook, notebooks, a calculator, his wallet with $100 and his cards and IDs. And his Adderall which he used for his ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). He seemed most upset about the notebooks with weeks of notes ten days before his final exams.
The victim estimated they took $3500 worth of stuff, including a high end pair of headphones he had borrowed from a friend.
He said he handed the backpack to Jamal Williams. He described Eric, however, as trembling, as though he “didn’t want to be there.” He stopped and wanted to be very clear that Jamal rather then Eric was the person in control. He did not hear Eric say anything and described him as “scared.”
He said they ran off more into the apartment complex than toward the street. It took him 20 minutes to compose himself. He said, “I thought I was going to be murdered.”
The victim said he had taken the Adderall before the incident. He uses it to help him study. While it produces some euphoria, the drug, which is a type of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, doesn’t make him loopy. In fact, he likes to study with it since it sharpens his focus and helps him remember.
It also has tremendous street value.
The main investigating officer was Davis Police Detective Ronald Trn. He picked up the case after Detective Evans, through the use of yearbooks, identified students at River City High School in West Sacramento as the culprits.
Ultimately the court would learn that Detective Trn had gotten statements from four people identified as being at the scene. In addition to Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Williams, there were Tyree Williams and James Miller.
What evolved was something out of the movie Rashomon, where each of the several individuals told a different version of the events. In this case, each was trying to shift culpability away from themselves and toward others.
Jamal Williams told Detective Trn, for instance, that they had gone to Davis, and Tyree Williams and James Miller had gone to steal bikes. They approached an individual who tried to sell them Adderall pills. He said that Eric Rodriguez was with him in the car and not involved in the robbery.
The story kept changing, however, and at one point Detective Trn turned off the recorder and said that they needed to know the truth and they knew that story was not the truth. Time to tell the truth. However, Jamal Williams did not tell the truth, according to Det. Trn.
The detective then interviewed Eric Rodriguez, who told him originally that he had never been to Davis, he didn’t go anywhere that night and he denied knowledge of the robbery.
In the second statement, he acknowledged going to Davis, with Tyree as the driver, and said that he was approached by a guy in the apartment complex trying to sell Adderall.
In a third statement, he still denied the robbery and the gun, but said that Jamal had gone through the backpack and ended up throwing it from the car onto the freeway.
Next, Det. Trn talked to Tyree Williams, who went to Davis to find a party which they never found. He said that they borrowed his sister’s car, he drove and, after dropping everyone off, he found a calculator (which had the name of the victim engraved on the back) and thought it was his sister’s. He said he took it because he needed a calculator for school.
Detective Trn identified Tyree Williams as one of the defendants in this case. It turned out Jamal Williams was not in the room. He is a juvenile and is being tried separately.
James Miller, who appears to be the only one of the individuals not charged, told Det. Trn that Tyree picked them up and took them to a party in Davis. He said that Eric and Jamal left the car at one point and returned with the backpack.
Items came out of the backpack and Tyree Williams was the one who threw backpack behind the West Sacramento Target. He talked about selling the computer, the calculator and the Adderall, but denied knowing that there was a gun.
Det. Trn said that he attempted to get phone records from the defendants, but only managed to get into Eric’s phone, where he found text messages talking about how it was an easy $1400 and that they needed to go to Davis again because it was such an easy mark. They talked about selling the laptop, pills and headphones, and about shooting of the gun.
However, under cross-examination, Det. Trn acknowledged that a lot of those text messages were only received by Eric Rodriguez and that he was unable to determine from his notes who sent what message – which the defense attorneys tore into.
Don Masuda, representing Eric Rodriguez, argued that we need to take into account the motives in the accounts given in this case. He argued that Jamal Williams wants to save his skin. We do not know, from the officer’s admission, who went through the texts.
Masuda questioned the information claiming that Eric Rodriguez had gone through the victim’s pockets, as the victim never told this to the police.
He argued that Jamal Williams robbed this guy alone, and the others are guilty of being accessories after the fact.
Byron Roope, representing Tyree Williams, echoed the comments of Mr. Masuda. He argued that Jamal Williams was the perpetrator, as identified by the victim and investigating officer. Jamal Williams was the only one who implicated Tyree Williams as being involved in the robbery.
Judge Paul Richardson directed Deputy DA Amanda Zambor to focus her argument on Tyree Williams. She noted that he drove the vehicle, he may not have been present at the robbery itself, but in terms of the calculator, selling the property and discarding the backpack at Target, he clearly had enough involvement to be an accessory after the fact.
Judge Richardson ultimately would hold Mr. Rodriguez to answer for the robbery. He noted that he was clearly identified by the victim as being there. He acknowledged that, while he was not a major player, he was directed to take the wallet, and therefore his involvement was secondary but there was enough to hold him to answer to that charge, in addition to being an accessory after the fact.
For Tyree Williams, he knew what was going on with the calculator. On the other hand, while he didn’t point the gun, he did drive the car to Davis. The judge would rule that, while there may have been some evidence that they went to Davis to commit a crime, there was not enough to hold him on the second-degree robbery charge, as he may not have known about the robbery until after the fact.
However, there was enough to hold him as an accessory after the fact.
One of the unspoken factors that may play a role later in proceedings is the mis-identification that the witness made of Tyree Williams, mistaking him for Jamal Williams. No one made a point of this, but the victim clearly stated that he would always remember the faces of the perpetrators in pointing to Eric Rodriguez and Tyree Williams, whom he identified as Jamal Williams.
—David M. Greenwald reporting