DNA evidence names killer when victim could not

photo by Clay Thorp

When BPD officer Joshua Jackson first came upon the Paradise Market in the 1000 block of Washington Boule­vard to find 34-year-old April Danna bleeding profusely and begging for him to save her life, the 4-year midnight shift officer said the police-issue rain coat he used to try and stop Dan­na’s bleeding did little to keep the mortally wounded Danna alive before paramedics arrived.

“By the time they got there, she hardly had much life left in her,” Jackson said.

Within just one minute of Jackson’s arrival, a Beaumont Police Department dash cam­era showed jurors Danna con­vulsing and failing to respond to Jackson in what, despite his best efforts, would prove to be the last moments of life.

Moments before Jackson’s arrival, Michael Sennet was closing the Paradise Market where he worked as a security guard and groundskeeper and heard Danna’s pleas for help. But when he walked around the corner to find Danna, he said he wasn’t prepared for the grue­some sight.

“She tried to stand up and that’s when blood started flow­ing out of her, like someone threw a bucket of water on her,” Sennet said. “That’s when I called 911.”

Once Danna was whisked away to St. Elizabeth Hospital where she was pronounced dead minutes later, a man police would later identify as Jaylan Rochard Williams, aka “J-Ro,” would be seen on the same dash cam asking police what happened.

Danna would die without identifying her killer. But earlier this week, the man accused of killing Danna was convicted and sentenced for her murder.

Jaylan Rochard Williams, 34, was indicted by a Jefferson County grand jury April 19, 2012 for murder, a first-degree felony.

Police and prosecutors even­tually presented a story of Beaumont’s underbelly, of crack-addicted prostitutes, of drug-addicted johns and of Danna’s killer, who was sup­posedly her protector and lover, or maybe simply a pimp.

Emmanuel Seagars, a self-admitted crack smoker who propositioned Danna for sex in exchange for drugs moments before she was murdered, testi­fied he and Danna were smok­ing crack at his home. He was surprised Danna did not leave after a few hours.

“She was hiding,” Seagars said on the stand. “That’s what she said.”

As to whom Danna was hid­ing from, witnesses including Williams’ second cousin, who broke down on the stand, told jurors Danna was hiding from Williams, who had developed an addiction to “dip,” or ciga­rettes laced with chemicals like PCP or even embalming fluid.

She said Williams had already threatened her life and Danna’s before she was mur­dered. But she wasn’t con­vinced it was Williams who murdered her cousin, saying it was no coincidence that she was with Seagars before she died.

“He came to get her from me and 30 minutes later, she’s dead,” the cousin testified.

Williams’ defense attorney would jump on this opportunity to poke holes in the prosecu­tion’s theory, saying there was no definitive proof that Wil­liams committed the murder.

Indeed, the testimony of Wendy “Star” Flowers — another prostitute and alleged lover of Williams — would test the prosecution’s theory as she testified Williams was with her at the time of the murder.

But prosecutors pointed out that it was Williams’ threats to these witnesses that caused them to change their stories, many of which had been docu­mented by police in the form of sworn affidavits and police statements, once they were on the stand.

It wasn’t until jurors saw a police interview of Jaylan Wil­liams taken in the hours after the murder that Williams’ true physical and mental state were taken into account.

In the video, a rambling, admittedly crack-high Wil­liams bounces around the room, screaming, banging on furni­ture and refusing to acknowl­edge the death of Danna. Police questioned Williams for some two hours in the video, all the while trying to pinpoint Wil­liams’ whereabouts in the hours before and after the murder.

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Williams said.

After it was clear Williams was unable to tell police a coherent timeline of his where­abouts, BPD Detective Deau­champ is heard summing up the interview.

“You can’t keep your story straight in your head right now, brother,” he said. “And it’s showing big time.”

A prosecutor familiar with the case said Williams would later attack police officers in a drug-fueled rage at the end of the video, but the attack was not shown to jurors. The state would rest Friday, March 21, after a jailhouse trustee who worked at the barbershop where Williams was receiving a haircut said he heard Williams admit to his barber that he killed April Danna. In his closing arguments, Williams defense said Danna’s story was one that too many of Beaumont’s residents are exposed to — a life of drugs, crime, prostitution and hopelessness.

“The life that she lived is beyond words to describe, that people in Beaumont, Texas, could live like that. No mother or father would want their child or children to live under those circumstances,” the defense said. “A life was wasted, no doubt about that.”

But the state’s prosecutor said the DNA evidence taken from Williams car was evidence enough of his murderous actions, including DNA taken from a pair of shorts and from inside the car that had both Williams’ and Danna’s blood on them. The prosecutor said technicians also found bleach present in the car, suggesting Williams destroyed much of whatever other evidence might have existed.

“Maybe she’s a prostitute,” the prosecutor said. “Does that make her any less a human being? She never got the chance for redemption, she never got the chance to clean her life up because he took it away from her.”

After deliberating almost an entire day, a jury came back Monday, March 24, with a ver- dict of guilty for Jaylan Williams, sentencing him to 35 years in prison a few hours later.

Anthony Long, April Danna’s stepbrother who attended much of the trial, said he was relieved the trial was over but somewhat disappointed at the jury’s sentence.

“April didn’t even make it to 35,” he said.

According to a press release, Williams must serve at least half his sentence before he is eligible for parole.