Gruesome details dominate trans murder trial

Jurors in the Diamond Williams murder trial heard gruesome details of the trans woman’s death this week, including that her severed pelvis was discovered in the Schuylkill River.

The trial began Feb. 26 in Center City and is expected to continue through next week.

Charles N. Sargent is accused of murdering Williams in July 2013 inside the Strawberry Mansion residence he shared with his then-girlfriend, Veronica Johnson. But Sargent claims he stabbed Williams in self-defense after she became violent during a sexual encounter and then dismembered her corpse.

Sargent pleaded guilty to making terroristic threats, abusing a corpse and possessing an instrument of a crime while abusing a corpse but denies murdering Williams.

According to police, Sargent initially said he deposited all of Williams’ body parts in a vacant lot. But evidence disclosed during the trial indicates he threw Williams’ pelvis into the Schuylkill River. The victim was 31 years old at the time of her death.

On Feb. 28, jurors were shown color photographs of several of Williams’ body parts strewn in a vacant lot. They also were shown a photograph of the left side of Williams’ head with a deep puncture wound made by a cylindrical object, possibly a screwdriver.

According to police, Sargent has admitted stabbing Williams with a screwdriver.

On Feb. 27, Veronica Johnson testified that she arrived home from work on the morning of Williams’ death and learned from Sargent about the presence of a corpse.

Johnson said she saw Sargent drag Williams’ body from the second floor of her residence to the basement, where authorities believe he dismembered the corpse with an axe.

Johnson didn’t immediately call 911 but her son Lamar Johnson notified police several days later, after he learned about it. Lamar testified after his mother but said he couldn’t recall details of the incident.

At one point, Common Pleas Judge Diana L. Anhalt became impatient with the young man and urged him to answer questions in a direct manner.

After the Johnsons testified, photographs of blood splatter inside their residence were shown to jurors.

“We found a whole lot of red stains on the second floor of this particular home,” testified Officer Clyde Frazier of the city’s Crime Scene Unit.

Photographs of bloody clothing, carpet stains and plastic bags also were displayed to jurors electronically and on an easel.

Looking disheveled in a brown pinstripe suit, Sargent is serving as his own attorney. He’s closely guarded in the courtroom and isn’t permitted to leave his seat to address jurors. The prosecutor, Kristen J. Kemp, also must remain near her seat.

Sargent repeatedly misgendered Williams when referring to her during the trial.

Dr. Albert Chu, deputy medical examiner for the city, also misgendered Williams in the courtroom. Chu repeatedly referred to Williams as “Mr. Wood,” “he” and “him” while testifying about the case. Chu did so even after Kemp displayed a photograph of “Diamond” tattooed on Williams’ arm.

When questioned by PGN outside the courtroom, Chu declined to comment publicly about his testimony.

Sargent’s clashes with Anhalt began early in the trial during jury selection. Sargent wanted a prospective juror to serve on the panel even though she voiced a belief that defendants are probably guilty. But Anhalt disqualified the prospective juror, saying she wanted to ensure a fair trial for Sargent.

Sargent faces a penalty of life imprisonment if found guilty of first-degree murder. Prosecutors aren’t seeking the death penalty. He remains incarcerated pending the outcome of the trial.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.