A heavily-armed Tuolomne County man who was on a mission to start a revolution acted in self-defense when he exchanged gunfire with California Highway Patrol officers on an Oakland freeway four years ago, his attorney told jurors today. In his closing argument in the trial of 48-year-old Byron Williams of Groveland for the incident near the Harrison Street exit on Interstate Highway 580 just before midnight on July 17, 2010, defense attorney Eric Schweitzer said Williams was focused on targeting liberal groups in San Francisco and didn’t want to get bogged down in a gun battle with CHP officers.
Schweitzer alleged that Williams fired at officers only after they shot at him first and said it wouldn’t have done any good for him to kill CHP officers because that only would have sidetracked him from his political plot. However, prosecutor Autrey James said Williams initiated the gun battle and should be convicted of all the charges against him. Williams is accused of premeditated attempted murder of a peace officer, three counts of being an ex-felon in possession of firearms, one count of being an ex-felon in possession of ammunition and an enhancement clause for wearing body armor.
Williams and two CHP officers suffered minor injuries in the shooting incident, which occurred after officers stopped him for speeding and weaving. Schweitzer said Williams motives in firing at officers were “as pure as the driven snow” because he thought his life was in danger. The defense attorney said the gun battle between Williams, an unemployed carpenter, and the CHP officers was “one-way for most of the time” because Williams only fired 10 shots while officers fired 198 shots. Williams fired three shots from a 9 mm handgun and seven shots from a 12-gauge shotgun, Schweitzer said.
Police said that inside the Toyota Tundra pickup that Williams was driving he also had a .308-caliber rifle that can penetrate ballistic body armor and vehicles. According to a probable cause statement filed by Oakland police, Williams told officers after he was arrested because he intended to “start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Tides Foundation is a nonprofit group that advocated social change through philanthropy.
Schweitzer said Williams planned to kill “11 high-level participants in a plot to destroy the United States” because he was upset about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and also believed that, “The First Amendment was being destroyed by legal criminals.” He told jurors, “You may not like Mr. Williams and what he stands for, but that’s not what you’re here to decide” and that they should focus on whether the prosecution has proven that Williams was trying to kill the four CHP officers.
But James said Schweitzer’s contention that Williams acted in self-defense is “a fish story” and Williams admitted to police shortly after he was arrested that officers probably shot at him because “they saw me going for my gun.” Referring to Williams, James said, “Through his words and deeds we (prosecutors) have clearly shown that he had an intent to kill.” The prosecutor told jurors that “a plan to kill 11 people does not make you a patriot” and “attempting to kill four CHP officers does not make you a patriot.” Jurors began deliberating Williams’ fate late today and will resume their deliberations on Wednesday.
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