Who's Next?

Annette Green didn't have to die. Her death was a tragedy waiting to happen in St. Louis County's reckless war against two-bit drug dealers and addicts.

Feb. 6 started out as just another day in the life of Annette Green.

The 37-year-old Wellston woman was doing what she could to make her home habitable. Three weeks earlier, the city had condemned the two-story house at 1534 Valle Ave. that Green rented from her mother. There was trash outside, and the plumbing and sewage systems leaked. Green's friend Kelvin Brown came over around 9:30 a.m. to repair water leaks and patch holes in the walls. Green paid him with cocaine, the currency she knew best. By early evening, he'd smoked three rocks and was hard at work beneath the upstairs bathroom sink.

Just two of Green's six children, all boys, were home. But there was plenty of company. The seven people inside Green's home when most of St. Louis was sitting down for dinner knew each other by such monikers as "Hunk" and "Chong" -- Brown was called "Old Man." Everyone was pretty much doing what they always did at Green's house: smoking weed, watching cartoons, playing video games, taking naps, stereo on upstairs. Just kicking it. No big deal.

Bertha Williams says she is still shocked by her daughter's death: "I didn't think she would leave the world that way."
Bertha Williams says she is still shocked by her daughter's death: "I didn't think she would leave the world that way."
Bertha Williams says she is still shocked by her daughter's death: "I didn't think she would leave the world that way."
Jennifer Silverberg
Bertha Williams says she is still shocked by her daughter's death: "I didn't think she would leave the world that way."

Green, a longtime crack addict, was at the end of her last binge. Shortly after 5 p.m., she called her sister Betty Williams. "She wanted to borrow $30 from me," Williams recalls. "I was mopping my room, because I have a handicapped son and the dog had urinated on the floor by his wheelchair. So I told her, 'Call me back.' Then I said, 'As soon as I get through mopping, I'll call you back.'" It was the last time the sisters spoke to each other.

While Williams cleaned her floor, more than a dozen St. Louis County police officers gathered at the police academy in Clayton to plan an assault on her sister's house. A week earlier, police obtained a search warrant on the basis of the word of an informant, who told the cops that Montray Williams, one of Green's nephews, was selling crack from the house. In a sworn affidavit used to get the warrant, Officer Gerald Shepard, using standard cop lingo that appears on hundreds of warrant applications filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, told Judge Mary Schroeder the informant "has provided information to this affiant on previous occasions that all proved to be accurate and reliable." Thanks to this unnamed source, Officer Shepard swore, police in past cases had executed several search warrants that netted drugs and weapons and resulted in numerous arrests. Now, Shepard said, the snitch had seen as much as 4 ounces of crack packaged for sale in Green's house, with another quarter-pound due for delivery within a week. At a conservative $150 per eightball, each ounce would have been worth $1,200. The informant also told the police to watch out for a .45-caliber pistol and a .38-caliber revolver.

The word of an anonymous snitch and Shepard's claim that he'd watched the house and seen a lot of foot traffic was good enough for the judge who signed the warrant. But there were plenty of hints that this raid would be, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, a tragedy.

In his sworn affidavit, Shepard told the judge that a search at the same house a year earlier had resulted in the recovery of a handgun and cocaine, as well as the arrest of three people for outstanding warrants. But much of Shepard's information, provided under penalty of perjury, wasn't true.

The single pebble of suspected crack recovered from a dining-room table didn't test positive for cocaine (nonetheless, the police, who routinely carry field-testing equipment still hauled Green to jail). "The substance we found, we don't know what it was, but it was not controlled," admits county prosecutor Robert McCulloch. He speculates that it was something used to dilute drugs or that Green was ripping off her customers. "One or the other," he says. Then again, it could also have been a chunk of soap, rock salt or a dried-out piece of potato, all of which can resemble crack.

Shepard also swore that Montray Williams was on probation for a drug violation, but that wasn't accurate. Green's nephew had completed his probation in 1998 and wasn't in any trouble with the law, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections and county court records. As for those three people arrested the previous year for outstanding warrants, police reports show just one person at the house was arrested for a warrant, stemming from an unspecified misdemeanor offense out of Bel-Ridge Municipal Court. Green was arrested and released after booking -- police accused her of unlawful use of a weapon and selling drugs despite no hard evidence she'd broken any laws. Prosecutors also wouldn't press charges against another woman whom police booked on suspicion of possessing drug paraphernalia.

Shepard didn't tell the judge that officers didn't have to look hard for the rusty but loaded Colt .38-caliber handgun. Green, a woman who'd never been charged with a violent crime, told them to look under the chair where she had been sitting when the cops rushed in. She never threatened anyone. "Of course, in your own house, you can have a concealed weapon, so there's no crime committed there," McCulloch says. "She didn't flourish the weapon or anything along those lines."

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