The Waynesburg man accused in the 2019 movie theater shooting was found not guilty Friday on the most serious felony charges surrounding the incident that left a teenage boy with a gunshot wound to his leg.
In a split decision following more than 14 hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Chris Williams of two felony counts of aggravated assault and one misdemeanor charge of terroristic threats, but convicted him on lesser charges of reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and two counts of simple assault. Judge Valarie Costanzo, who presided over the case, also found him guilty of summary offenses of disorderly conduct and harassment.
Williams placed his hand over his mouth and began to cry after the jury read the verdict, before receiving a hug from defense attorney Al Lindsay.
“I can feel comfortable about it. It was a great relief,” Lindsay said about his client’s emotions after the verdict was read.
He said Williams was happy to avoid the two felony charges, which would have jeopardized his position as a corrections officers at SCI-Greene near Waynesburg, where he’s been placed on unpaid leave since being charged in the shooting last April. Lindsay did not know if the conviction on the four misdemeanors would impact his job at the state prison.
“We’re very pleased to get free of those felony counts,” Lindsay said.
Williams, 55, was on trial this week accused of confronting a group of six teenage boys while watching a late-night showing of the movie “Us” on March 23, 2019, at Washington Crown Center mall’s movie theater.
Multiple witnesses testified that Williams told the boys to “shut the (expletive) up” before he punched Lamar Wormsley in the face, prompting the group to strike back in defense of their friend.
The jury convicted Williams on all charges related to the fight, but acquitted him on nearly everything that transpired afterward.
Investigators alleged that after the brawl, the teenage boys left the theater and were chased by Williams, who pulled out his handgun when he saw several of them in an exit hallway. Williams pointed his gun at Anthony Ward, then 17, and there was a scuffle for the weapon, prompting it to fire and striking the teen in the right leg.
Ward testified this week that Williams called him a racial slur and pointed the gun at his head, but the teen was able to push the weapon toward the ground before it fired into his leg. Ward had to have the bullet surgically removed from his right calf, and he still has bullet fragments in his leg and a large scar where he was shot.
However, Williams claimed four of the boys were waiting for him in the hallway when he turned the corner, and he feared they were going to attack him again, prompting him to pull out his gun in self-defense.
The jurors began their deliberations Thursday night and continued all day Friday. The jury notified Costanzo about 4 p.m. that they were deadlocked on two charges, but the judge sent them back to deliberate for a few more hours in an attempt to come to an agreement. The all-white jury of eight women and four men came back with the split verdict shortly after 7 p.m.
Williams will now be sentenced by Costanzo at 9 a.m. Aug. 5. Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte, who prosecuted the case, said they will ask that Williams serve jail time. Schulte said he also planned to have Ward and his family speak during the sentencing to let Williams know how the fight and subsequent shooting have affected them.
“This was never, ever, ever about Black vs. white,” Schulte said after the verdict. “It was about right vs. wrong.”
Williams is white, while the six teens he was convicted of attacking during the fight inside the theater are Black.
Williams is free on $100,000 unsecured bond while he awaits sentencing.