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Last suspect convicted in prostitute’s death

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Published:   |   Updated: February 28, 2014 at 10:44 PM

CLEARWATER — His defense attorney tried to portray Darryl DeWayne Williams as different from the other two men accused of killing a crack-addicted prostitute before her body turned up in Lake Maggiore on Christmas Day 2011.

The other two men — Santonio Smith and Letrell McKnight, who were convicted last year in the death of Stacia Berman — were drug dealers who came up with the plan to do away with Berman after she stole shoes Smith intended to give his children as gifts.

Williams, in contrast, was merely a crack addict in thrall to Smith and McKnight because they had the drug Williams so badly needed, defense attorney Jorge Angulo told jurors Friday.

“They had a lot of people there to call on to do anything they wanted,” Angulo said, referring to the various people smoking crack that night at 527 Eighth St. N. They selected Williams, now 37.

“You do what we want and you’ll get your reward (crack),” Angulo said.

The tactic didn’t work.

After deliberating for two hours and 40 minutes, a jury found Williams guilty of first-degree murder in Berman’s death.

Pinellas Circuit Judge R. Timothy Peters sentenced Williams to life in prison without any chance of parole, as he did McKnight and Smith in June.

Williams showed no emotion upon hearing the verdict. His brother had attended some of the trial but wasn’t there Friday. Berman’s sister also attended parts of the trial this week, but found the details to her sister’s death so troubling she couldn’t stay, Assistant State Attorney Fred Schaub said in court.

Originally, McKnight, now 23, and Smith, now 24, were to be tried along with Williams last year, with Williams representing himself. But he decided at the last minute he needed an attorney and the one appointed asked for more time to prepare.

After Smith discovered the shoes missing, he called Berman and told her to come back to his apartment, where all three men, according to a witness, set upon her.

She was beaten, choked with an electric cord and burned with an iron before she was dumped into the back of a Chrysler 300 owned by the mother of a man smoking crack at the apartment, authorities say. Then she was transported to Lake Maggiore.

At some point, McKnight went to a Walgreen to purchase Clorox. The suspects poured bleach on Berman and made her drink it before they dumped her in the lake, prosecutors say.

When she was discovered in the lake, Berman’s body was wrapped in a bed skirt, her neck was entwined with the electrical cord and her head was wrapped with two plastic bags.

Inside one of the bags was a Walgreen’s receipt for three bottles of Clorox McKnight had purchased, and the transaction was captured on store videotape, police reports state.

Schaub, the prosecutor, disputed Angulo’s assertion that his client was something of a bystander.

Williams was seen at various points helping the other two stuff Berman into the Chrysler, dragging her by the hair and assaulting her, Schaub said.

Prosecutors needed to prove Williams participated in Berman’s kidnapping to get a first-degree murder conviction under Florida’s felony murder rule, Schaub told jurors.

Anyone who participates in a felony, such as kidnapping, during which someone dies can be guilty of first-degree murder even if he didn’t intend to kill the person or didn’t commit the killing.

Angulo said Smith and McKnight lived at the apartment, where there were only two mattresses in a loft, while Williams only visited to smoke crack. But Schaub said some neighbors saw Williams there so frequently they thought Williams lived there, too.

“They were in fact friends, very good friends,” Schaub said. “You’re not going to involve someone in the acts unless you can trust them.”

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504.

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