GOSHEN — The attorney for a South Bend man standing trial for an August 2017 murder argued there are other suspects who could be sitting in his place.
Santori Dorsey, 20, is charged with murder and conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in serious injury for his role in the Aug. 27, 2017, death of Lenell Williams.
Williams, 18, died in an early morning shooting at a residence in the 300 block of State Street.
The charges against Dorsey were amended a second time as the trial started Wednesday, following the recent addition of the Level 2 felony for robbery. Prosecutors offered the change in wording to reflect their contention that while Dorsey may not have pulled the trigger, he’s still responsible for Williams’ death.
Authorities believe Dorsey, Williams and a third man planned to rob a drug dealer’s house, leading to a shootout that left Dorsey and the dealer injured and Williams fatally shot.
Dorsey’s lawyer, Peter Soldato, objected to leaving out that Dorsey “knowingly” killed Williams in the amended charge, which he said lowers the burden of proof for prosecutors. He also asked that the trial be delayed, since the jury that was chosen Monday was read the language of the original charge.
But Circuit Court Judge Michael Christofeno allowed the charge to be amended and the trial to proceed. He noted that Soldato’s defense will be the same either way and that he’ll have the chance to tell the jury what the state needs to prove so there’s no confusion.
Elkhart County Deputy Prosecutor Don Pitzer focused on the agreement the men allegedly made to commit robbery, the actions they took and the aftermath.
He told jurors they’ll hear testimony from the dealer living in the State Street home, Michael Raeder, who answered his door at 3 a.m. to see three unmasked men rush in and start shooting. Raeder was shot four times, including in his face, chest and leg, and Williams was also shot four times.
“The apartment was a war zone for about 30 or 40 seconds, here in Elkhart County, on Aug. 27, 2017,” Pitzer said.
He said Dorsey’s gun jammed and he left it behind as he fled. That gun, which had an extended magazine and a platypus sticker on the side, and two other guns used in the exchange will be shown as evidence.
Police later found Dorsey in Indianapolis. He claimed to have been there at the time of the shooting, watching a boxing match on TV downtown. He said he was responsible for the gunshot to his own leg, and that he had social media activity as an alibi.
The jury will also hear from two women who say they overheard the three men planning the robbery ahead of time, Pitzer said. The women saw two of the men return, and heard them exclaim that Williams was dead and one of them was shot.
“The state believes this case will be relatively straightforward,” Pitzer said.
‘Whole other story’
Soldato pointed out in his opening remarks that Raeder could just as easily have been charged, since he shot Williams while committing the crime of drug dealing. Instead, Soldato noted Raeder will be able to testify at trial with immunity for anything he says that’s self-incriminating.
He said a witness who lived nearby, an Army medic who rushed in when he heard gunfire, was told by Raeder to leave. Soldato said the man stood across the street and watched as someone else went into the apartment and closed the door, followed by the sound of a gunshot.
Two bullets recovered from Williams’ body came from two different guns, he said.
“That’s a whole other story, a whole other gunshot after Santori Dorsey is likely gone,” Soldato said. “No one bothered to talk to him about the case.”
He said the Elkhart County Homicide Unit was formed by the prosecutor’s office just weeks before the shooting, since murders in the county weren’t being solved quickly enough. He said it’s an enormous power given to prosecutors and encouraged the jury to hold them to the expectation that they interview every witness instead of cherry picking the ones who will support their case.
“We gave them taxpayer money, we gave them office space, and we gave them the power with the stroke of a pen to charge people with murder,” Soldato said. “The prosecutors want you to ruin another life because they say it will bring some kind of justice to this case, but it won’t.”