The criminal trial for former Bastrop County Deputy Daniel Willis is in full force. Willis is being accused of murdering 47-year-old Yvette Smith after fatally shooting her twice on the night of February 16, 2014 when he responded to a call regarding a disturbance.
The case has been wrought with turmoil, especially after the sheriff’s department issued several statements claiming that a weapon was seen in Smith’s possession and that Smith had been ordered to come out of the house and show her hands – statements which were later retracted.
Earlier today, the state called three people to the stand, two of whom were present on the night of the shooting murder.
First witness testimony
The first person to take the stand was Bastrop County Patrol Supervisor Sgt. James Davenport. When asked about the scene of the crime, Davenport described it as “chaotic,” and admitted that he had not reviewed incident reports or the police car dash cam video. A little odd, since it is his duty as a supervisor to do so.
Davenport told the court, “It was all locked,” referring to the footage. The footage was later reviewed and discredited all previous claims made by the sheriff’s department. The back and forth with the department giving erroneous testimonies may lead jurors to believe that the department has something to hide and certainly doesn’t favor Willis’ case. Hopefully he has a good Texas criminal defense lawyer on his side because at this point, the case doesn’t appear to be leaning in his favor.
The next person to take the stand was an 11-year-old boy. His mother, Amy Vela, is married to Chris Thomas, the son of Willie Thomas, who was dating Smith at the time. She was the one who made the 911 call.
The boy, who was present on the night of the shooting, told jurors he heard gunshots and witnessed Smith fall to the ground. He admitted that he did not recall every detail regarding the shooting, but he clearly remembered that Smith did not have anything in her hands, like a weapon, which would at least give some justification to the idea that Willis fired in self-defense.
The third person to testify in court was Smith’s twin sister, Yvonne. She described her late sister as peaceful and someone who never acted in a violent manner. She also explained that it was her understanding that her sister did not have a gun.
On Thursday, the court heard the 911 call, which provided additional details on the moments leading up to the fatal shooting.
In the call, Vela is heard saying that her boyfriend and his father were “trying to go at it with weapons.” Weapons which Vela described to former dispatcher Hannah Gardner-Perry as “sledgehammers and all kinds of stuff.”
Gardner-Perry told Vela to stay inside the house and to stay hidden. From another room, Vela described the altercation between father and son as stemming over a dispute over keys to a motorcycle.
Soon after, Vela told the dispatcher that someone loaded a gun, though she did not say who. She then told the dispatcher that the gun was placed on a table.
It was at this point that Smith walked to the front door to check on Willie. Right after, shots were fired and screams were heard in the 911 call recording. Willis was later revealed as the shooter.
The dispatcher’s statement
Gardner-Perry said in court that there were some issues with her dispatch system that night, which could prevent information from being properly communicated to officers. Another dispatcher, Megan Burse, was also relaying information with officers at the scene.
Burse also testified in court, saying there were issues with her call sheet refreshing and never told Willis that the gun was placed on a table. She told the jury that she believes she said there was a man behind the door with a gun.
In court, Willis said he thought Smith had a weapon when she stepped onto the front porch. In some ways, it could be argued that the whole thing was an issue due to miscommunication between police and dispatchers. However, officers have a responsibility to thoroughly assess a situation before firing. “Believing” someone has a weapon is not the same as actually seeing a weapon. At no point was Smith asked to stand down or to put whatever weapon Willis believed was in her possession on the ground. Whether there was a miscommunication issue or not, shots were fired immediately after Smith opened the door. She wasn’t even given the chance to comply with officers.
Criminal defense attorneys said they will likely rest their case on Monday.