27 Jul 1999
Chicago, Illinois (USA)
TDoR list ref: tdor.info/27 Jul 1999/Barretta Williams
Barretta was shot 16 times, pistol whipped, tied up with speaker wire, and gagged with a sock taped into her mouth during an armed robbery by her new boyfriend. Her friend Pebbles was also shot, but survived.
All through the night that [trans woman] Barretta Williams was shot and killed, her house guest, Pebbles, had a bad feeling that something awful was going to happen. In town from Portland, Ore., for the Miss Continental pageant in late July 1999, Pebbles was getting bad vibes about her visit. Those bad vibes would eventually be confirmed as that night ended in a shooting that left Williams dead and Pebbles near death after being shot three times at close range.
She and Williams had just returned to Williams' South Side apartment after a night at the Baton club when Williams announced that her new boyfriend was coming over. Pebbles heard Williams drop her keys from her third-floor apartment to Brown, whose nickname was Spade. Even with her feelings of foreboding, she trusted Williams' judgement. "She was very picky about who she let in her house," she said.
But by the time Brown got upstairs, it became clear that he'd brought someone else—who had a gun—with him. The men barged in, and Key immediately demanded that Williams take him to her safe. Pebbles figures that Brown thought Williams had a lot of money because she had a nice apartment and had been saving up for [gender confirmation surgery]. Williams refused to open the safe, claiming she didn't know the combination.
Enraged, Key tied Williams up and told Brown to tie up Pebbles. Pebbles could tell Brown was nervous, and his shaky hands tied a knot that wasn't very secure. The men left Pebbles and Williams alone in the bedroom with the safe, and Pebbles described Williams' demeanor as completely calm. "'I've been through this before,'" Williams told Pebbles, saying the men would probably take whatever valuables they could and leave.
But Pebbles had a bad feeling, and she started formulating a plan.
"I was preparing myself for getting shot," she said. The men walked around Williams' apartment for about an hour, Pebbles said, collecting things to take out. They eventually called in a third man, Jones, to help them carry the unopened safe out of the apartment.
Soon, Williams' roommate came home, and called upstairs to have a key dropped down to him. Pebbles saw her chance to escape, and she wriggled free of her bonds and tried to close and lock the bedroom door that separated she and Williams from the men. The safe blocked the door, however, and Key forced his way into the room. And began shooting.
He shot Williams once at point-blank range, killing her.
As he approached Pebbles, she looked up at him and begged him not to shoot. He leveled the gun at her, shooting her once in the back of the head, once in the face and once in the arm. She had used her arm to block a shot she thinks was aimed at her heart, and the bullet went all the way through her forearm.
As the shooter left, she tried to stand up and go for help. She felt blood pouring from her head, and then, she said, "I felt a hole in my face, and that really flipped me out."
The last thing she remembers is the ambulance ride to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she awakened several days later to discover that Williams was dead.
William Jones, 23, pled guilty to murder in mid-March 2001 and received a 20-year sentence. Spanish Brown, 25, and Michael Key, 22, were to be tried in late April, but both avoided trial by reaching plea agreements. Brown, who was romantically involved with Williams at the time of the shooting, received 40 years, and Key, the gunman, is to be sentenced in mid-May of that same year.