HOUSTON – The driver of a tractor-trailer carrying more than 70 illegal immigrants was the most "heartless and evil" member of a smuggling ring because he didn't help his passengers as they slowly died, a prosecutor said Tuesday in his opening statements at the man's trial.
When the truck was discovered abandoned at a truck stop about 125 miles southwest of Houston (search) in May 2003, 17 of the people inside had died of dehydration, hyperthermia and suffocation, including a 5-yeay kicked out a signal light and cried for help, Rodriguez said, Williams demanded more money from other ring operators because he feared his human cargo would damage his truck.
"At no time during that entire trip did he ever open the doors to see what was going on," Rodriguez said. "He was the most heartless, evil and cruel member of the organization."
Williams' attorney, Craig Washington (search), told the jurors his client was not responsible for the deaths even though he transported the illegal immigrants.
Washington said Williams would have helped the immigrants who screamed for help and tried to claw their way out of the hot, airless trailer, but he didn't speak Spanish and didn't understand their cries. He said Williams offered them water but couldn't understand what was happening to them.
Williams' attorneys have argued that he was singled out for the death penalty because he is black. Most of the other defendants were Hispanic.
The trial of Williams, 34, a Jamaican citizen who lives in Schenectady, N.Y., had been postponed four times since its original January start date because of appeals over the possible death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court (search) declined to hear the case on Monday.
The trial could last six to eight weeks.