Jury: Man guilty in hot oil assault

After 45 minutes of deliberation, a jury Thursday found Tirell “Rell” Willams, 26, of Philadelphia, guilty of robbery, theft and simple assault. Williams and three other men threw hot oil on victim Michael Stewart during a Jan. 6, 2012, drug deal gone bad. A cell phone and a wallet belonging to Stewart also were stolen during the attack.

“This crime is just a symptom of the drug problem,” Assistant District Attorney Martin Wade said.

The incident took place inside 875 Memorial Ave., the residence of Amy Baird, who met Stewart for the first time that night at Fifth Avenue Tavern. After several drinks, she invited Stewart back to her apartment, Baird testified Thursday.

“This was the case of a girl who led a lot of people to make bad decisions,” Williams’ defense attorney Julian Allatt said during closing arguments.

The pair decided to purchase marijuana, according to Baird’s testimony. Her supplier, whose identity Wade said still is unknown, delivered a package of drugs and left. Later, Baird realized the package contained crack cocaine. She called back and requested he return with the desired drugs, Baird testified.

Baird’s supplier returned with three other men, including Williams, with whom she had an ongoing sexual relationship, she testified. Williams and Baird went upstairs where he asked her to have sex with him, but she refused because Stewart was downstairs, she testified.

Baird was alone in the upstairs restroom when she heard a commotion downstairs, she testified.

“(Stewart) was balled up on the floor,” Baird testified. “They were huddled around him, punching him and kicking him.”

Williams told Baird to leave the kitchen where the assault was taking place so she waited in the living room, she testified.

Eventually the assault ended, the men left and Stewart stumbled into the living room.

“(Stewart) had grease all over him. His head was cut,” Baird testified.

The men had smashed a beer bottle over his head and had thrown a pot of hot oil on him, Stewart testified. He also felt someone rummage through his pockets to remove his cell phone and wallet, he testified.

While no weapon was displayed during the course of the assault, one of the men said, “Stand him up so I can shoot him,” according to testimony.

When Baird returned to the kitchen, she saw “broken bottles, grease and chicken wings all over my floor,” she testified.

During an interview with Agent Trent R. Peacock of the Williamsport Bureau of Police, Williams said that some of the crack cocaine was missing from the bag and that Stewart “didn’t want to give up the money so we jumped him…Our intention wasn’t to go in there and rob him. It was just a money thing.”

The investigation into the identities of Williams’ accomplices is ongoing, according to Wade.

While Williams freely admitted to having assaulted Stewart, he consistently denied having participated in the robbery, claiming he had no use for the cellphone or the $150 dollars that were taken from Stewart’s wallet.

“I’m not pretending to know who took items out of (Stewart’s) pants,” Wade said during closing arguments. Instead, Wade argued that Williams was culpable as an accomplice.

Williams was found not guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery, an outcome that surprised both Wade and Williams’ defense attorney. Whereas conspiracy requires a prior agreement with someone, one can become an accomplice spontaneously, according to Wade.

“The outcome on the conspiracy count is evidence of a conscientous jury that listened closely to the instructions and tried their best to follow them. To me, that suggests their verdict was correct and thoughtfully considered,” Wade said.

Williams will be sentenced 11 a.m. Feb. 4, 2014.