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But the other Crip won't let it go. He keeps yelling about Eastside Denver. The commotion continues. Bouncers arrive. They take the side of the champagne-spraying strangers. And through little fault of his own, Little Willie gets thrown out of the VIP section of the club, on New Year's Eve, in his own city, and that guy in the Texas Rangers hat keeps dancing, and he's holding that big diamond chain.
Sometime later, in another part of the club, Little Willie punches a woman in the face. He has mistaken her for a man. The incident begins when someone drops a cellphone in a crowded hallway and, while helping to find it in the dark, a woman holds up the line. Little Willie says something offensive about it, and the woman's female companion gets in his face, and Willie slugs her in the jaw. He later comes back and apologizes. He says he never would have done it if he'd known she was a woman.
The lights come on and the club shuts down. The two women are walking out when a tall man in a Pepsi jacket comes up behind one of them and grabs her rear end. The tall man will later be identified as Blair Clark, Brandon Marshall's drunken cousin. The angry women pursue Blair Clark down the sidewalk. He loudly encourages them to offer him a certain personal service. And then an unlikely defender appears: Little Willie, who is not about to let some drunken out-of-towner speak to Denver women that way. He puts a hand inside his shirt, as if he were reaching for a gun.
"That's the wrong move," he tells Blair Clark, who is nine inches taller than he is. "You might not want to do that."
Throughout the evening, the actions of Marshall and his cousin have blurred together. They are both 6'4" African-Americans, born less than a year apart, with moderately dark complexions. They've often been in the same place, doing similar things. In the VIP section a witness thought he saw Marshall spraying champagne; he later changed his mind and said it was Blair Clark. The woman leaving the club initially identifies Marshall as the man who molested her, but Blair Clark later admits he did it. Outside the club the cousins confront Little Willie, the Denver Crip with the newfound sense of chivalry, and although one of the women says Willie points an imaginary gun at Blair—she knows this because he's the same guy who did the grabbing—both Blair and Marshall say Little Willie pointed the imaginary gun at Marshall. This distinction matters, because prosecutors have suggested that either Blair Clark or Marshall delivered the final insult to Little Willie—the assault on his fragile pride that turned him from angry to murderous.
In Marshall's account of his last encounter with Little Willie, he escalates the hostilities. "Man," he angrily tells Willie, "I done offered you guys drinks twice tonight." And when Willie points the imaginary gun, Marshall says, "Man, you ain't got no f-----' gun." Marshall tries to climb a snowbank to go after Willie and his friends, but he slips before he can reach anyone, and the other Denver Crip punches him in the face. But neither Marshall nor his cousin lays a hand on Little Willie.
Here's another version of the story. It comes from the woman who saw Little Willie point the imaginary gun at Blair Clark: "The dude that grabbed my girlfriend's butt, some dude ran up on him, and he, like, palmed him, and dropped him in the snow, he, like, pushed him in the snow, and was just holding him there." The palmer, of course, would be Blair Clark. And while the witness doesn't say who got palmed, prosecutors believe it was Little Willie.
Surveillance video time-stamped 2:10 a.m. shows Little Willie forcing his way through the crowd outside the club, apparently in a hurry. Marshall has seen situations like these before. When a guy runs away in the middle of a fight, it's called going to the trunk. He's pretty sure Willie's going to get a gun. Marshall and his cousin hustle to their Town Car.
You would not be wrong to call the murder of Darrent Williams a simple case of mistaken identity. The evidence suggests that Little Willie meant to open fire on Marshall's limousine—that he thought the white Hummer was Marshall's limousine. The trial judge found this a likely explanation, and so did Marshall when he talked to the police. While educated guesses can be made about how this knowledge affected Marshall (an ESPN report showed he had some 12 encounters with police in the 27 months after the shooting, most of them domestic disturbances), it didn't stop him from becoming a superstar. Darrent Williams's friends believed Williams was destined for the Pro Bowl. Brandon Marshall went instead, and last year he signed a five-year deal with the Dolphins worth more than $47 million.
But Marshall and Williams didn't trade places by chance. It happened because of a decision Williams made, in keeping with the unwritten law of Carter Park. When Javon Walker said, All of a sudden you get cursed by doing what you love, he could have been describing Williams and the fierce loyalty that may have saved Marshall's life.