A Chester man was found guilty of all charges on Friday for hitting his girlfriend twice with his truck, killing her
MEDIA COURTHOUSE – A Chester man was found guilty on all counts on Friday of hitting his girlfriend twice with a Nissan Titan pickup truck in a Tinicum Sunoco parking lot in 2019.
Daniel Williams, 39, of the 900 block of Terrill Street, was convicted of first degree murder, vehicular homicide while driving under the influence, aggravated assault, aggravated assault while DUI, of accidents resulting in death or injury, attempted homicide, possession of an instrument of crime and two counts of DUI in the death of Shantel Marie Harmon, 26, on the night of August 22, 2019 .
The jury deliberated for nearly three hours before returning the verdict, which includes charges for a second victim who was struck by Williams’ Nissan Titan when he drove it into the storefront of the Sunoco Service convenience store Station at 15 Industrial Highway.
Tinicum police were called to the Sunoco for a report of a motor vehicle accident and possible hit-and-run at approximately 8:53 p.m. on August 22, 2019. Jurors heard from Tinicum Constable Andrew O’Neill, who said he had arrived to find a large hole in the store’s main entrance with shelves pushed back or knocked over and merchandise strewn across the floor.
Two women were being treated by paramedics inside the store, O’Neill said. One of them was Desiree Scott, who said she had gone to the Sunoco that evening for snacks when she heard running and then a thud. Scott said she turned around to see a topless woman covered in blood. The petite woman was lying a few feet outside the gates of Sunoco near a large truck.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God!'” Scott said during testimony before Court of Common Pleas Judge Mary Alice Brennan. “I pick it up and take it to the store. We haven’t even made it all the way through the doors and I hear a shrill noise, turn around and see the vehicle drive through the glass doors, hitting us both. We flew to the back of the store.
Scott said she came back moments later. She saw the other victim lying on the ground and tried to reach for him, but could not move due to leg and abdominal pain. She then heard the truck back out of the store.
Medical personnel transported both victims to Penn Presbyterian Hospital, where Harmon was pronounced dead from multiple blunt injuries. Scott remained in the hospital for some time and received blood transfusions for internal bleeding, as well as multiple leg surgeries. She is still dealing with the effects of those injuries, she said.
While Scott identified Williams in court as the truck driver, she admitted during cross-examination by defense attorney Michael Dugan that she was unable to identify the driver during a interview with the police only a few hours after the accident. She said there was a lot going on at the time, including the treatment of the injuries she had suffered.
Jurors also heard from the victim’s sister, Mercedes Harmon, who said she overheard a telephone conversation between the victim and the defendant in which Williams threatened her life.
“He told her she couldn’t break up with him, that if he couldn’t have her, no one could have her – he would kill her first,” Mercedes Harmon said. “She laughed it off. I don’t think she thought he was serious.
County Detective James Rearden went through numerous crime scene photographs with Assistant District Attorney Laurie Moore, pointing out the evidence that was collected, including Harmon’s shoes and a plastic bag she was carrying , as well as pieces of the Titan that were left behind.
Rearden also reviewed surveillance footage which he said showed the Nissan driving eastbound on the Industrial Highway and entering a turning lane for Rt. 420. Harmon can be seen exiting the passenger side door, passing behind another vehicle stopped behind the Nissan and crossing the westbound traffic lanes toward the Sunoco, Rearden said.
Harmon, holding her purse and a plastic bag, has no shirt on and is seen driving through Sunoco’s parking lot as the Nissan turns around and chases her, Rearden said. The video shows the Titan hitting Harmon once right outside the doors of the convenience store, Rearden said, then backing up as Scott goes to move the woman. The truck then slams the two women into the store as the truck enters the front doors and drives about 15 feet inside, he said. Debris can be seen falling from the truck as it backs up and leaves the scene.
A local man who was driving to the Sunoco that night testified that he saw the truck speed past the store, then reverse and take off. He decided to follow the truck as it drove away, following it to Chester on the phone with 911 and providing details of its location and the truck’s license plate number.
“I followed him because, ‘See something, say something,'” Robert Derrick said. “I just went a little further.”
Derrick said he never lost sight of the vehicle until the truck turned down a dark road near 9th Street and Morton Avenue. He decided at that point that he had followed long enough. He waited a few moments for the police to come, then directed them to where he last saw the vehicle turn onto Congress Ave.
Eddystone officer Michael Golden said he met Derrick on Morton Avenue, then posted himself with about five other officers and slowly drove down Congress looking for the truck, using a Ridley Township police vehicle as a barricade . There had been a report that the driver might be armed, he said.
Officers found the vehicle parked behind an address in the 500 block of East 8th Street, Golden said. They identified him by the plate number Derrick had provided during his pursuit. A man identified as Williams was found hiding under a nearby white truck with the keys to the Nissan in his pocket, according to testimony. He was taken into custody and placed in a Ridley police cruiser.
Rearden said he photographed damage to the Nissan and a pink slip in the glove box showing the vehicle was registered to Williams. He also found Harmon’s shirt inside.
A blood test was taken on Williams at Crozer Chester Medical Center. Forensic toxicologist Dr Richard Cohn said Williams had a “significant concentration” of cocaine metabolites in his system, as well as significant amounts of morphine and fentanyl, likely heroin.
Tinicum Police Chief James Simpkins, who had been the township’s only detective in 2019, also recounted the investigation he undertook. This included collecting and reviewing surveillance video, talking with Scott at the trauma center while she was being treated, and drafting search warrants for Williams’ truck, DNA and cellphone records. .
Simpkins said the timestamps on the videos were quick about nine and a half minutes and that the incident happened between 8:52 p.m. and 8:53 p.m. He also said the coordinates extracted from Williams’ phone data this week had placed him at the scene of the crime at that time.
Dugan argued in closing Friday morning that there had been a “rush to judgement” to charge Williams. He noted that only the victim’s sister provided a possible motive, but there was no other evidence that Williams had ever threatened Harmon.
Dugan also pointed to DNA evidence collected from the truck that came back positively for Williams and Harmon, as well as a third unidentified individual on the steering wheel and front bumper. This person, he argued, was the real killer.
Dugan also questioned why Williams’ phone and wallet were not taken from her before she arrived at the hospital and why location data was not collected in the nearly three years leading up to the trial.
“Two years and 11 months after this crime, we will magically find information on a cell phone, in the middle of a trial?” He asked. “It’s America. It’s not fair.”
But in his conclusion, Moore noted that prosecutors never really know the defense’s game plan until the trial is underway. Once the strategy became apparent that Dugan would claim his client was not the driver, she said, Simpkins went back for cellphone data showing that Williams was, in fact, at the scene of the murder at that time.
Moore said Harmon was running for her life in that parking lot, looking over her shoulder in fear for someone she probably still loved, even in her final moments. But more evidence than just Mercedes Harmon’s testimony pointed to a tumultuous relationship.
Harmon’s credit card was found in Williams’ wallet, she noted, indicating she had to go through him to get her own money. Her shirt, mysteriously missing from her body, was found in the truck with Williams’ DNA on it, indicating he had tried to keep her in the Nissan when she drove off, Moore said.
As for the other DNA in the truck, Moore said the two main contributors were Williams and Harmon and the DNA from the unidentified third person was much weaker – not as strong as it would have been if they had driven that night.
“This defendant has decided they’re not breaking up, he’s going to physically hold her in this truck,” Moore said. “He couldn’t keep her inside, she took the shirt off and ran. And we watch her run on video across the street, we watch her run through the parking lot. …At that time, she was his and he wasn’t going anywhere and leaving her alone. If she was going to be with someone else, there was no choice but death for that relationship (to end) that night at that time.
Williams is still being held in Concord County Jail. Sentencing was set for August 30.