Witnesses to Spokane’s only homicide this year share a common theme, police say: All were there, but all say they know nothing about the early morning shooting that left a man dead in an alley.
Six weeks after John S. “Q” Williams, 38, was killed outside a birthday celebration attended by reputed gang members, four men have been charged with drug or gun crimes connected to the shooting, but police haven’t identified the killer.
“This is not a simple investigation,” said Jennifer DeRuwe, spokeswoman for the Spokane Police Department.
A similar gang-related homicide in 2007 ended in an unusual plea deal that gave the alleged shooter credit for about a year served in the county jail and a conviction for manslaughter after a jury couldn’t reach a verdict.
Details in newly filed court documents reveal similar problems for investigators trying to solve the city’s latest gang-related homicide: uncooperative witnesses who have criminal backgrounds, gang loyalties, a disdain for police and a fear of retaliation.
One man arrested on a witness tampering charge is accused of threatening a teenager who had cooperated with detectives.
Williams, the victim, was shot once in the face, once in the torso and once in the left leg in an alley behind 5405 N. Crestline St. on Jan. 17, according to court documents. Police say gang members had been celebrating the birthday of Ronald L. “Heavy” Shuler at Shuler’s apartment. The Spokane County gang unit raided two homes Feb. 10 in an ongoing investigation into suspected crack-cocaine dealing involving the same gang.
Shuler, who turned 38 the day of the party, faces gun and drug charges after police say they found 6 ounces of crack cocaine and a gun in the convicted felon’s apartment.
Another partygoer, Eric Burton Jr., is accused of possessing the gun that killed Williams.
Now two other men have been charged with possessing that gun after detectives matched their fingerprints to prints found on it.
Police say additional evidence still needs to be processed at the state crime lab and that the case is far from cold.
According to court documents, about 40 people – including Williams and his 21-year-old son – had gathered for Shuler’s birthday party before fights broke out and shots were fired, witnesses told police.
Burton, a 24-year-old reputed gang member convicted of assault in connection to a fatal shooting five years ago, was arrested the day of Williams’ murder. Police found a gun they think fired the fatal shots in a rented 2008 Nissan Altima that Burton had driven to the party, according to court documents.
Police say the gun, a Ruger mini 30 7.62 x 39 rifle, was stolen in a burglary in Chattaroy on Jan. 4.
According to court documents, forensics connected that gun to men police aren’t even sure were at the party: 19-year-old Treg G. Cox, who told police he’d handled the rifle while at the home of a friend, Elexander R. Burgess.
Cox told police that Burgess, 19, had been holding the gun for 28-year-old Antonio E. Cook – another reputed gang member who often stayed with his girlfriend across the street from Burgess’ home, court documents say.
Cook was on Department of Corrections supervision and stored the gun with Burgess because he was prohibited from owning firearms, according to court documents.
The day before Williams was killed, Cook retrieved the rifle from Burgess, Cox reportedly told police.
“Cox later heard through another source that Q and his son had gotten into a fight with (gang members) ‘at a birthday party in Hillyard’ the night before Q was ‘shot in the face,’ ” according to court documents prepared by Detective Kip Hollenbeck.
Burgess met with detectives but became uncooperative, according to court documents.
The next day, Cox told Hollenbeck that Cook had told him to “stay off the streets ’cause he was no longer welcome,” according to court documents. Burgess also reportedly sent Cox a text message that said “we don’t need to talk just play it cool.”
Burgess and Cook recently pleaded not guilty to charges of possession of a stolen firearm and witness tampering in Spokane County Superior Court. Cook also is charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm because his felony cocaine conviction prohibits him from possessing firearms. Burgess is out on $10,000 bail.
Cook remains in jail on $165,000 bail, which includes charges for an alleged home invasion in November.