August 14, 2014

Sobbing survivor of double slaying fingers Wallace as executioner in Richland courtroom

A slaying’s sole survivor testifies about her near death and the sound of gunfire that killed her boyfriend and another man.

Sobbing at times, and with a look of terror on her face, Raquel Weston told a Richland County jury on Thursday how she heard the gunshots as a killer executed two of her friends in a Garners Ferry Road apartment one summer morning.

“Is he (the killer) in the courtroom today?” 5th Circuit assistant prosecutor April Sampson asked Weston.

“Yes – over there in the burgundy shirt,” testified Weston, a 24-year-old nurse at a Columbia hospital and nursing home and the star witness in a double-murder trial now in its fourth day at the Richland County courthouse.

Weston pointed to William Wallace, a lanky 29-year-old ex-convict whom prosecutors say shot two of Weston’s friends to death in an apartment in June 2012 and stole $10,000 in cash in what law officers describe as one of the most cold-blooded killings in the Midlands in recent years.

To get rid of Weston, the only witness to the killings, Wallace and a friend put her in a car and drove her to a wooded area off Bluff Road near Bible Way Church, she testified. There, she was marched into the woods, pushed to the ground, repeatedly shot and left for dead.

But the would-be assassin was a bad shot. Weston survived gunshot wounds to the head and right arm. She pulled herself up and walked to the road, where she found a passer-by who called law enforcement.

That day had started routinely enough, testified Weston, who was on the witness stand nearly an hour. The University of South Carolina graduate had worked a 12-hour shift at a local hospital and came back to her apartment at 7 a.m. on June 28, 2012. Falling asleep, she was awakened around 10 a.m. by a call from her boyfriend of three years, Athell Johnson.

Johnson was a drug dealer, and she often kept large amounts of cash for him in her backpack at her apartment, Weston testified.

“He (Johnson) said bring the money and hurry up,” Weston testified, chewing her lip and sinking down on the witness stand. “He never told me to hurry up before.”

When she arrived at Johnson’s apartment, she let herself in with a key. When the door opened, Wallace – whom she knew – grabbed her and pulled her inside.

“I saw Athell lying on the right side of the living room. His feet were tied up. His hands were tied behind his back,” Weston testified. Normally, Johnson – who was paralyzed from the waist down – was in his wheelchair, but the wheelchair was empty and across the room.

A friend of Johnson’s, Jamall Pratt, 23, was also on the floor, tied hand and foot. They both had been bound with garbage bags, Weston testified.

A fourth man, a friend of Wallace’s named DeAndre Diggs, 38, was also in the apartment, holding a big kitchen knife. Weston had never seen him before.

Then Wallace said he was angry at Johnson. “He told me that Athell is going to die. I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘He violated me.’”

Johnson and Pratt were taken into other rooms, and Diggs went outside. Then Wallace went into each room and fired two shots in each room, Weston testified.

“He comes back in the room, he says, ‘They’re gone’,” Weston testified.

Earlier this week, a pathologist testified each man had been shot in the head at close range.

Wallace then took her outside to the car, where Diggs was waiting. As Wallace walked with her, “He told me he liked me more than I know and kissed the back of my hand,” Weston testified.

Once they left the busy Garners Ferry corridor and it was clear they were headed to a secluded wooded area, Weston testified, she began to get scared.

Behind Bible Way Church, on a dirt road in an area called Beckham Swamp, Wallace stopped the car and told Diggs to walk Weston into the woods.

“I got out of the car, I asked William, I said, ‘Please don’t hurt me.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’”

Then, Weston testified, she walked with Diggs, who had a pistol, down the road. “He told me to walk in the woods. I said, ‘For what?’ Then he pushed me. I started to run and then I tripped. I fell, and then he shot at me.”

For a long time, she lay in the woods, her eyes closed. Her arm hurt from a gunshot wound, and unknown to her at the time, she had a head wound. Finally, when she felt Wallace and Diggs were gone, she got up and went to the road.

Within minutes, a passer-by came along. By chance, they quickly encountered a county deputy, who called EMTs. Weston was conscious and was able to give Richland County detectives Wallace’s name and told them where they would find the bodies of Johnson and Pratt.

Wallace was taken into custody several hours later. Diggs was arrested several days later.

Diggs – who turned state’s evidence in hopes of a lighter sentence – testified Wednesday, giving a version of events that paralleled that of Weston’s. Diggs, who worked at the chicken processing plant in West Columbia, is still in jail awaiting sentence.

The case will likely go to the jury Friday. Judge Robert Hood is presiding. Late Thursday, the judge told Wallace – who could get a maximum of life in prison if convicted – he must decide whether to take the stand Friday or invoke his right not to testify.

Wallace has already served one prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter. Diggs is also an ex-convict, having served two years in prison on a cocaine distribution charge.

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