Last week's issue of Sports Illustrated featured an incredible story by senior writer Thomas Lake, about the mysterious 2007 murder of Denver Broncos defensive back Darrent Williams. The story chronicles Williams' last night alive, a New Year's Eve he spent in Denver with friends and teammates. One of those teammates was a man many think was the intended target of the fatal bullets, Brandon Marshall, now of the Miami Dolphins.
Marshall did not comment for the article, though his various accounts of that evening are detailed thoroughly. His story has changed periodically over time, but at one point Marshall told a police officer that if he didn't "act rowdy," Williams would probably still be alive.
That night clearly stayed with Marshall too. He told a prosecutor, "I think about every night." Seeing his teammate murdered affected Marshall's perception of the entire city of Denver. From Lake's story:
"Ten months later Denver police stopped him for allegedly driving drunk and going the wrong way on a one-way street. On the way to the drunk tank, according to an officer's report, Marshall said, 'Why ain't you guys out looking for Williams's killer? I hate Denver. I hope I get traded. I hate this f------ city.' Last year Marshall finally got his wish, escaping Denver to play for the Dolphins nearly 2,000 miles away."
The story shows how a disgruntled Denver gangster had several encounters with the group of football players throughout the night, interacting several times with Marshall and his cousin, Blair Clark. Marshall told prosecutors that he tried several times to make peace with the man known as Little Willie, offering to buy him drinks twice that night. Outside the club, witnesses saw Marshall's cousin push Little Willie into the snow. Not long after, the gangster was seen in surveillance footage, rushing to his car, probably to get his gun.
Lake, a regular in the Best American Sports Writing anthology, writes of the murder:
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"You would not be wrong to call the murder of Darrent Williams a simple case of mistaken identity. The evidence suggests that Little Willie meant to open fire on Marshall's limousine -- that he thought the white Hummer was Marshall's limousine. The trial judge found this a likely explanation, and so did Marshall when he talked to the police. While educated guesses can be made about how this knowledge affected Marshall (an ESPN report showed he had some 12 encounters with police in the 27 months after the shooting, most of them domestic disturbances), it didn't stop him from becoming a superstar. Darrent Williams's friends believed Williams was destined for the Pro Bowl. Brandon Marshall went instead, and last year he signed a five-year deal with the Dolphins worth more than $47 million."
The murderer was sentenced to 1,152 years in prison. Marshall led the Dolphins in receiving last year.