Chet Sparks, 16, admitted on the witness stand that he never saw a gun and he assumed the defendant had a gun when he threatened to kill the teens. However, in his sworn statement to law enforcement officers, Sparks never stated that he had seen a gun. Therefore, he never waivered from his testimony about the traumatic ordeal and did not lie on the witness stand.
William Brent Parham of Beeville was acquitted Thursday of five counts of aggravated assault by threat with a deadly weapon.
“Thank you, God,” Parham mouthed quietly toward the ceiling of the courthouse after the not guilty verdicts were read aloud by District Court Judge Mike Welborn.
Parham, 53, shook each of the jurors’ hands as they left the courtroom. Then he hugged his family and friends and clasped his attorney around the shoulders and thanked him.
Parham was indicted in March on five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon-threat, each count a second degree felony offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Bee County sheriff’s investigators said Parham confronted his neighbors with a gun on the evening of Nov. 9, 2008, and repeatedly threatened to kill them.
Four of the five indictments allege that Parham had threatened teens between the age of 15 and 19.
Parham denied the allegations.
Jury selection began Monday and testimony began Tuesday morning. Testimony ended around noon on Thursday.
The prosecution and the defense offered closing arguments after lunch and the jury began deliberating at 2:20 p.m. The jury returned to the courtroom with the five verdicts at 5:20 p.m.
Welborn read each verdict aloud, and Parham was acquitted on all five counts.
“We are extremely pleased by the verdict,” said Victoria attorney Tali Villafranca, who represented Parham. “We understand the jury had a very difficult time going through all the evidence and we appreciate their hard work. I knew from the start that my client did not commit this crime. All we ever asked was that someone listen to his side of the story, and we want to thank the jury, because they are the only ones who have ever allowed Mr. Parham to tell his version of what happened that night.”
Bee County sheriff’s deputies were summoned to a home on Hilltop Road around 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9.
A family who lived at the residence told officers that a neighbor, Parham, had come onto their property and pointed a gun at their kids and their friends and threatened to kill them.
The homeowner, James Lamb, also told investigators that Parham had threatened to kill him, and at one point had ordered him to lie face down on the ground.
Lamb said Parham placed the gun up to the back of his head and might have even cocked it. Lamb told investigators he wrestled the gun away from Parham and then pummeled him into submission.
Lamb’s oldest son testified Tuesday that he, his younger brother and other members of their church youth group were sitting by a campfire located in a brushy area of their property when Parham approached just after nightfall.
Brian Lamb, 19, told jurors he heard what sounded like a clanking of a fence latch from the home next door and shortly afterward Parham appeared at the fence line, located about 10 yards away from the camp site.
“I saw Mr. Parham across the fence line pointing a gun at me,” Brian testified.
“I told him everything was OK, that he could go back home, that we were just building a fire. But he told me to shut up, sit down, or ‘I will shoot you.’ I repeated that everything was OK and that he could go back home; we’re just having a fire. But he kept telling me to sit down and shut up or he would shoot me. I told him I was going to call the police if he didn’t leave.”
Brian’s younger brother, John, and their friends, Chet Sparks, Ricky Cartwell and Ashley Young, also testified that Parham threatened them with a gun that night.
James Lamb testified that he was barbecuing that evening when he heard his children screaming.
“I heard Brian shouting, ‘Get out of here; Get out of here; Everybody get out of here.’ And so I started running in the direction of the fire pit,” he told jurors.
As he ran he heard another voice, one he did not recognize.
“I could hear somebody saying, ‘Get down. I will kill you,’ and ‘You don’t know who you are messing with.’”
As he sprinted toward the fire pit, he passed his son John and his nephew Jeremy, who were running toward the house, Lamb testified. “They said he had a gun.”
Lamb, 41, said he encountered Parham about 20 yards away walking on one of the paths cut through the brush on the Lamb property.
“I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’” Lamb recalled.
He said Parham appeared dazed and walked like a “zombie.”
“I said, ‘It’s me, James, your neighbor.’” But Parham walked up to him quickly and ordered him to get on the ground, Lamb told jurors.
Lamb said he complied.
Then Parham ordered him to lie face down, Lamb testified.
Lamb told jurors that he heard what sounded like the gun being cocked.
He said Parham apparently attempted to club him in the back of the head with the butt of the gun but stumbled.
Lamb testified he was lying on his stomach and looking back over his shoulder at Parham at the time.
When Parham lost his balance, Lamb reached up and grabbed the gun, he testified.
He said he managed to get to his knees and pull the gun in front of him. In doing so, he threw Parham off balance and to the ground, Lamb testified.
He said he bit Parham’s hand to make him relinquish the grip on the weapon.
Lamb said he had served as a scout for the Army’s Delta Force during the first Persian Gulf War and had extensive training in hand-to-hand combat. He said that training helped him to disarm and subdue Parham.
After taking the gun away, Lamb said he grabbed Parham’s throat with his free hand and with the gun in his other hand used it to pummel Parham into submission.
Villafranca asked Lamb why he felt it necessary to beat Parham with the gun once he was no longer in danger.
Lamb said he had talked to Parham months before and Parham had told him he was a former Navy SEAL.
Lamb told jurors he wanted to make sure Parham was no longer a threat.
“I was fighting for my life,” he said.
Lamb admitted he was worried he had killed Parham.
He said he told his wife, Susan, to call EMS.
Villafranca told jurors that Parham was not a Navy SEAL.
Villafranca questioned the veracity of the kids’ sworn statements.
While cross-examining John on the witness stand, Villafranca got the 16-year-old A.C. Jones High School junior to admit he had lied on a sworn statement to investigators when he claimed to have seen Parham earlier that day, that he did not actually see a gun that night.
John also confessed he lied under oath when he said he told Parham earlier that day to “be quiet” after Parham allegedly yelled at him to stop making so much noise next door.
Chet Sparks, 16, confessed he also did not see a gun, even though one of the indictments against Parham states he “exhibited” a deadly weapon when he was allegedly confronted by Parham that night.
“I saw a person but not a face,” Sparks told the six-man, six-woman jury. “He told us something to the effect, ‘Sit down or I’m going to kill you.’ He told us he was going to shoot; I assumed he had a gun.”
Villafranca was astounded by the admission: “So, you yourself never saw a gun?”
“You just assumed he had a gun?”
“Yes, sir. I saw that he had something in his hand.”
“You saw someone in the dark and you just assumed he had a gun, isn’t that right?”
Ashley Young, 15, also testified that she never saw Parham or a gun that evening, despite the allegations on an indictment naming her as a victim of aggravated assault by threat.
She admitted a sworn statement she made to a sheriff’s investigator on Nov. 12 — three days after the event — and used to pursue an indictment against Parham, was not true.
“In your statement to the lead investigator you said, ‘John said that the guy got his brother, Brian,’” Villafranca said, reciting the affidavit. “But you knew that wasn’t true. You knew ‘the guy didn’t get Brian.’”
Ashley, a Skidmore-Tynan High School freshman last November, said she made the statement out of fear Brian had been killed.
“But you gave this statement three days later,” Villafranca replied. “At that point you knew the guy did not get Brian, like John said. You knew Brian was not dead. Why didn’t you tell the truth?”
Ashley shrugged her shoulders.
“That was a lie, wasn’t it?” Villafranca asked.
“Yes, sir,” Ashley responded.
Parham, who retired from the Navy after 22 years and who had served the last 10 years as a correctional officer at the Garza West prison near Beeville, said he was the real victim that night.
He said he had been working on his lawn that day and later that evening when he spotted a “large fire” next door, he went to investigate.
He said he stuffed his 9mm pistol in his back waistband to protect himself from varmints and snakes, and walked toward the property next door to investigate.
When he was about 20 yards away, he asked, in loud voice, “What’s going on over there?”
“Did you go over the fence line, onto their property?” Villafranca asked.
“Did you draw your gun?”
“No, sir, there was no need for that.”
Parham (pronounced Param, the “h” is silent) said he took a few more steps toward the fence line and when he was about 18 feet away he saw someone behind him out of the corner of his eye.
“In just a quick second, I saw a person behind me with what looked like a long wooden club in their hand,” Parham testified.
He said the person struck him on the head with the object and the blow was so powerful he crumpled to the ground face down.
“The next thing I know I felt hands grabbing my calves and dragging me,” he recalled. “Then I passed out.”
When he awoke, he was in a hospital undergoing surgery for injuries to his head and face.
He said doctors told him his face had 14 or 15 fractures and he had a hole on his temple the size of a grapefruit.
Parham said medical bills have amounted $120,000.
‘Poor police work’
Villafranca blamed much of his client’s legal problems on shoddy police work by the Bee County Sheriff’s Department.
He said the sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene to find James Lamb holding a gun and standing over the unconscious body of Parham, yet Lamb was not patted down or arrested for assault.
Villafranca said deputies never cordoned off the area to preserve the crime scene or interviewed the Lamb children or their friends that night.
Deputies never photographed the ax that Brian was carrying earlier that evening, he said.
More importantly, Villafranca said, sheriff’s investigators never interviewed Parham to get his side of the story or go onto his property or search the Parham property for traces of blood or a struggle.
Villafranca asked Deputy Derek Franco, who was the first officer to arrive at the scene, why he didn’t place Mr. Lamb in custody on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
“He (Lamb) was acting out of self-defense,” Franco replied.
“You were assuming, were you not, Mr. Franco, that Mr. Lamb was telling you the truth? He may not have been. He may have been lying.”
“That’s true,” Franco admitted.
“So it’s certainly possible that the real victim in this case is Mr. Parham?” Villafranca responded.
“It’s possible,” Franco replied.
“Don’t you believe somebody should have gotten (Parham’s) side of the story? Wouldn’t that have been good police work?” Villafranca asked.
“Yes,” Franco responded.
“You would certainly agree with me that this was not good police work,” Villafranca asked.
“No, it was not,” Franco said.
Villafranca asked similar questions of Bee County Sheriff’s investigator Steve Martin, the lead investigator in the case.
“Don’t you believe the crime scene should have been cordoned off, and that maybe the officers should have checked for other guns?”
“Yes, sir. That should have been done,” Martin agreed.
“Did anyone check the ax handle for blood?”
“Did anyone look for the ax?”
Villafranca asked Martin why he didn’t interview Parham.
Martin said he did try, but admitted he did not make that many attempts.
Villafranca asked Martin why he didn’t search Parham’s property for evidence of a struggle.
“There was never an independent investigation by the Bee County Sheriff’s Department, was there?” Villafranca asked. “This man (Parham) was never interviewed and asked to give his side of what happened, was he?”
“No, sir,” Martin replied.
Martin confessed that he wished he would have gone over to Parham’s property to search for evidence.
“It would probably have been a good idea,” he said.
Villafranca vilified Martin for railroading Parham by suggesting what witnesses should say in their sworn statements, which were later used to indict his client.
‘Nine months of hell’
Jurors deliberated for exactly three hours before returning five not guilty verdicts.
Parham, wiping away tears, hugged and kissed family and friends in the courtroom after the jury left.
He blasted the Bee County Sheriff’s Department, the Bee County District Attorney’s office, the Lamb family and the Bee-Picayune.
“I was treated as a second-class citizen,” he told a Bee-Picayune reporter. “My life is ruined. The past nine months have been pure hell for me and my family. I couldn’t even show my face in public. I want back what was taken from me, my dignity and my respect.”