Autopsy photos of a Wyandanch woman who died last year are either the result of a brutal beating that killed her or the desperate medical condition that make it just as likely she died from a fall, attorneys argued Monday to a Suffolk jury.
When the lawyers were done, jurors began deliberating whether Willie Johnson, 60, beat his severely alcoholic girlfriend, Thelma Stewart, 49, to death on May 12, 2015 in the Wyandanch room they rented. Johnson, who served 18 years for a series of rapes in the late 1970s near the Wyandanch train station, is charged with first-degree manslaughter. He faces a maximum of 25 years in prison if convicted.
Defense attorney Donald Mates Jr. of Hauppauge told jurors that little of the evidence against his client was credible. The witnesses in the rooming house who say they overheard the beating were crack addicts and the police investigation was shoddy, he said.
One witness, Mates noted, gave a fake name to police when she called 911, another fake name to police when they interviewed her and then disappeared for a day in the middle of her testimony during the weeklong trial before Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn in Riverhead.
“She might have been high when she testified,” Mates said.
Mates said no blood from such a prolonged beating was found in either the bedroom or on Johnson and there were no marks on his hands.
Johnson’s story that Stewart got her head-to-toe bruises, broken jaw and broken nose by falling or bumping into things is plausible when one considers her alcoholism, Mates said. He reminded jurors that the victim’s tongue was bright yellow because her liver was so damaged.
“She is not a healthy woman,” Mates said.
Assistant District Attorney Raphael Pearl said the only trial witness whose story was absurd was Johnson.
“He thought that maybe she had fallen?” Pearl said, adding that in addition to the extensive external injuries, Stewart’s spleen was ruptured.
Pearl said the problems of others in the rooming house was just a distraction. Their stories — that they heard a beating followed by moaning — are consistent and corroborated by the 911 call recording, in which Stewart’s moaning is audible.
“If they were going to lie, couldn’t they have given us a better lie?” Pearl said. “Couldn’t they have told us they saw the beating?”
When cops caught up with Johnson, Pearl quoted his words to officers: “I didn’t do it! She fell!”
“Are those the words of an innocent person?” Pearl said.