On the evening of December 28, 1976, Calvin Williams and his brother, Carl, were at a local neighborhood lounge, Vernell’s Bar, located near the St. Bernard Housing Project in New Orleans.
Four friends, Keith Norse, Thaddeus Griffin, Norbert Matthews, and Fred Gibson, were also at the bar and left about 11:30 p.m. After walking a short distance, Matthews left Norse, Gibson and Griffin to return to his home. As the three men continued, they were approached by two men, one of whom shot fatally Norse three times in the head.
The survivors identified the assailants as Calvin and Carl Williams. A search executed 10 days later at the home of Calvin's mother turned up a green army jacket fitting the description of the jacket Calvin Williams was wearing at the time of the attack and a .38-caliber pistol. Calvin Williams was arrested later that day and indicted along with his brother for the first-degree murder of Keith Norse. Carl Williams was never apprehended.
Calvin Williams went on trial in 1977 in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. The three surviving witnesses testified that as they were walking, Carl Williams ordered Norse at gunpoint to stop and then fired a shot at him. Gibson and Griffin immediately fled from the scene, but Griffin, after running some distance, turned and saw Carl Williams holding Norse. Two or three additional shots were fired.
Griffin continued to run but turned a second time to observe what was transpiring. As he did so, he said, Calvin Williams fired at him. In the meantime, Gibson had caught up with Matthews and told him that Calvin and his brother Carl had shot Norse. They returned to the scene of the crime where they discovered Carl Williams standing over the victim's body with Calvin Williams several yards behind. They testified that Calvin was wearing a green army fatigue, a dark knit hat, and green "shades," the same outfit he had been wearing when they saw him earlier at Vernell’s.
On seeing Matthews and Gibson approach, Calvin and his brother fled down the street, according to the witnesses. Williams was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
After numerous appeals were denied, Williams filed a post-conviction petition that was granted in 1992 because the prosecutors failed to disclose a police report that that included statements by a key witness that were materially inconsistent with the witness’s testimony, and which also disclosed that the witness had failed to identify Williams at a police lineup. Williams was released from prison in 1992. The charges were dismissed in 1996.
In 2007, Williams was awarded $140,000 in state compensation, but in 2008 a state appellate set aside the award and ordered further hearings. On remand, the state chose not to go forward and the original $140,000 award was reinstated.
– Maurice Possley