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NORFOLK, Va. — A chief petty officer facing murder charges repeatedly said during his court-martial Tuesday that he acted in self-defense when he shot an unarmed man outside of a sports bar in 2008, although he said he didn't know what happened to the victim's weapon.
Chief Information Systems Technician (SW) Rodney Williams has already been convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Nicholas Nalls by a civilian jury, but the Navy was unhappy with the outcome of that trial. The Navy believes Williams' active-duty status at the time of his state trial — where he appeared in his military uniform in court each day — influenced the jury's decision. Williams was sentenced to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine in March.
If convicted of premeditated murder, Williams faces a maximum penalty of life in prison, according Jennifer Zeldis, spokeswoman for the Navy's Office of the Judge Advocate General.
Military prosecutors say Williams was upset that he had been escorted out of the bar after spending hundreds of dollars there with a friend. Witnesses have testified that Williams was asked to leave by the bar owner after being told not to take off his shirt on the dance floor several times.
Williams disputed that testimony — as well as nearly everything else about a half-dozen other witnesses said — while on the stand Tuesday.
Prosecutors said Nalls slapped Williams on the head as he was being escorted out of the bar, although Williams said Nalls' shoulder bumped him once they were outside, exchanging words. Williams said he couldn't recall exactly what Nalls said but he felt that it was aggressive in nature.
"What caught my attention is not what he said, but how he said it," Williams said.
Williams said after they bumped into each other that Nalls pointed to his waistband and showed him a weapon, causing him to retrieve a handgun out of his own car only a few feet away. He said he didn't leave the scene because he didn't want to leave his friend behind, who was somewhere in the bar still.
He said as he walked around his car he saw three other men outside and that Nalls reached for a gun in his waistband and that's when he started firing.
"I'm just trying to survive. I'm not trying to get hurt that night," Williams said.
Williams fired all 14 rounds in his weapon, striking Nalls eight times and hitting another man in the foot. No other gun was ever found.
Throughout the trial, military prosecutors have inferred that Williams may have been drunk at the time of the shooting. Williams has said he only had four beers the night of the incident, although documents read in court noted he had a $183 bar tab between him and his friend and that he had withdrawn more than $200 in cash earlier that day. Prosecutors also noted that Williams vomited twice after being arrested.