DENVER (AP) — A gang member convicted of killing Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams in a drive-by shooting was sentenced Friday to life in prison plus 1,152 years after family members recounted the devastating impact of the killing.
Willie Clark, 26, was convicted of first-degree murder in the New Year's Day 2007 slaying of Williams after a confrontation at a nightclub.
Rosalind Williams called her son's slaying a cowardly act and said gang violence must be stopped.
"Now, whenever someone tells me happy New Year, it hurts," she said in court. "Now, when anybody says happy Mother's Day, it hurts because my baby will never be able to tell me happy Mother's Day again."
She urged Clark to show remorse for the violence: "Make your mom and your dad proud. I know my son made me proud," she said.
Clark, however, smiled at times as he leaned and whispered into his attorney's ear while Williams and other relatives spoke.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Tim Twining said Clark lived in a gang culture where a simple insult was enough to send him into a murderous rage.
Clark, along with two other suspects, also faces a first-degree murder charge in the slaying of a witness less than a month before Williams was killed.
During a hearing earlier Friday, Clark was declared a habitual criminal, making him eligible for the 1,152 years in prison. He had two prior felony convictions and also was convicted of 16 counts of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the Williams case.
The sentencing followed a failed emergency appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Defense attorney Darren Cantor also asked District Court Judge Christina Habas to excuse his client from listening to Rosalind Williams address the court about the murder of her 24-year-old son.
Prosecutors portrayed Darrent Williams as a peacemaker as his friends argued with gang members who had taken exception to the special treatment afforded the celebrated athletes outside the nightclub.
"All I can think of is that he was killed simply because of the jealousy and selfishness of Willie Clark," said Tierria Leonard, the mother of Williams' 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.
She told Judge Habas her son had asked if Williams had his cell phone with him in the casket when he was buried then had cried uncontrollably when he realized he couldn't speak to his father again.
Leonard also said their daughter had refused to run track for a time because she was afraid of the starter's pistol.
Cantor and defense attorney Abraham Hutt have 45 days to file an appeal. Both left the court without comment.
Witnesses testified at trial that Clark had exchanged words with then-Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall as Williams arrived at the nightclub with a group. The confrontation escalated inside when somebody in Williams' group sprayed champagne in celebration.
The dispute continued outside as Williams and his group tried to leave. Witnesses said Clark desperately searched for a gun following the altercation, hopped into an SUV to catch up with a limousine carrying Williams, then fired the fatal shots.
It took prosecutors and police nearly two years to build their case against Clark, partly because those who witnessed the shooting were part of a gang drug ring under federal investigation, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has said.
Several witnesses eventually testified they saw or heard from Clark that he fired shots from the SUV into a stretch Hummer limousine carrying Williams and 16 others from the nightclub shortly after 2 a.m. Williams died in teammate Javon Walker's arms.
Defense attorney Hutt tried to undercut the credibility of five prosecution witnesses during the trial, saying they had their sentences reduced by a combined 188 years for testifying.
Hutt said the prosecution's star witness, Daniel "Ponytail" Harris, faced a life sentence for a drug charge but will be released within two years. Harris testified he was in the SUV and saw Clark fire the shots.