Last year Kyle Williams stood before classmates at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology as a compelling success story, a young man who had overcome prison sentences for violent crimes to earn his HVAC certificate and deliver a commencement address at the South End school.
But on Wednesday, Williams, a 31-year-old man who also goes by Kyle Gathers, found himself in drastically different circumstances, standing out of public view in Dorchester Municipal Court during his arraignment on a murder charge in the Jan. 11 slaying of Shaquille Browder.
A not guilty plea was entered on Williams’s behalf, and he was ordered held without bail.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Catherine Ham told the court that Williams and at least three other co-conspirators stalked the 21-year-old Browder, following his car in two additional vehicles from Charles Street in Dorchester to a Burger King parking lot at the corner of Columbia Road and Washington Street.
Browder was shot several times in the lot, and a friend was shot in the shoulder in what Ham described on Wednesday as a “very well-thought-out, planned, deliberately pre-meditated and calculated” attack.
She said additional surveillance footage captured Williams dropping off one of the suspect vehicles, a black Tahoe SUV, at a Norwood rental agency about an hour after the killing, and that phone records and cell tower data also link him to the slaying.
Williams, Ham said, spent more than 20 minutes on the phone with the driver of the other suspect vehicle before the killing, as they were “following [Browder] to the parking lot of Burger King to execute him.”
James J. Coviello, a lawyer for Williams, countered during the hearing that no witnesses placed Browder in either suspect vehicle at the time of the killing, and the mere fact that he returned the Tahoe afterward “doesn’t mean he was driving it earlier.”
Coviello, citing his client’s recent educational strides and employment with a local contractor, said Williams had “certainly turned things around in the last couple of years.”
His remarkable turnaround had culminated with his commencement address last May to his classmates at the institute.
Williams told the Globe before the ceremony that “I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be dead. I’m supposed to be in prison.”
He said at the time that he wanted to spend the rest of his years making sure his 10-year-old son and other young men from his community don’t emulate his earlier choices, as his younger brother and other men from his neighborhood have done.
“I had that influence to [lead] kids to go into a negative path,” he said. “And today I have that influence to have these kids go into a positive path.”
His path had been littered with trouble. At 16, Williams shot and wounded two other teenagers. He spent the next five years incarcerated, he said. Later, he was convicted for possession of cocaine and spent three years in prison.
Then, at 24, he was convicted of extortion and spent another six years locked up, spending about two years in solitary confinement.
On Wednesday, several of Williams’s relatives attended his arraignment and his stepfather, Joe Lesley, said the family remains supportive of him.
“He’s innocent,” Lesley said.
Anthony Benoit, president of the institute, said in a statement he was “devastated” to learn of Williams’s arrest. Some staffers at the college told the Globe they considered him to be one of the most committed students in its HVAC program.
“All of us at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology are devastated to hear this news about Kyle,’’ Benoit said in the statement. “He was a model student during his time at our college. Our thoughts go out to all who are involved.”
Ham did not disclose a motive for Browder’s murder in court.
One of his relatives wept as the prosecutor detailed the allegations, and his family had no immediate comment after the hearing.
A GoFundMe page set up for Browder’s funeral expenses after the shooting had described him as “a son, brother, friend” who was “loved dearly by his family and friends.”
Prior to Wednesday’s arraignment, Williams had barricaded himself inside a Walpole apartment complex for several hours the night before after being tracked there by the Boston Police Fugitive Apprehension Unit. He was eventually apprehended by Boston police and a regional SWAT team early Wednesday. No one was hurt.
Walpole Police Chief John F. Carmichael Jr. said he was “extremely proud of the patience, restraint and professionalism exhibited by all of the officers and agencies involved” in the standoff, “as this was a very volatile situation that concluded in the best possible way.”
Boston police Commissioner William B. Evans echoed those sentiments and praised the work of the homicide investigators and prosecutors.
“This brazen daytime shooting was very troubling,” Evans said in a statement. “The efforts of my homicide investigators and prosecutors from the District Attorney’s Office led to the quick identification of the person responsible for Shaquille’s death. I commend the efforts, patience and professionalism of all those involved in the arrest this morning in Walpole.”
Williams is due back in court on March 14.John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.