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story.lead_photo.caption Clarence Willis

TEXARKANA, Texas — An appellate court Wednesday in Texarkana affirmed the murder conviction and 99-year sentence a Bowie County jury gave to one of three men charged in a December 2017 shooting.

Clarence Willis, 48, was convicted and sentenced last year. He was the second of three defendants to be tried in the Dec. 3, 2017, death of 51-year-old Tony Sanders.

Sanders routinely hosted get-togethers on Sundays at a private club in Texarkana, Texas, where guests would eat, drink, watch football and play cards and dominoes, witnesses testified.

Takyme James, 42, was intoxicated and was asked to leave the party by Sanders because of his obnoxious behavior. James pushed Sanders and a scuffle ensued, during which Sanders got the best of James, who left the gathering with a bloody face and swollen black eye.

Witnesses testified that James told his cousins, brothers Clarence Willis and Laprense Willis, that he had been "jumped." Laprense Willis lived on a street just a short distance from Sanders' home on Jones Street in Texarkana, Texas.

Sanders' wife, Dorsanna Butler, testified that she and Sanders were leaving their home to pick up their daughter when the men rounded the corner in Laprense Willis' distinctive Chrysler.

Butler said Sanders was rattled at the sight of a gun in James' hand and said that all three men got out of the car and advanced toward the house, yelling as they did. Butler hid in a bedroom and called 911.

The front door of the home was knocked off its hinges, and James fired a single shot, which struck Sanders in his upper leg and caused him to quickly bleed to death.

Witnesses at his trial testified that Clarence Willis is the person who kicked in Sanders' front door. At the trial, First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp and Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards told the jury that Clarence Willis is as guilty as the trigger man because of the "law of parties."

The law of parties means a person who aids, encourages or assists in any way is as equally guilty as the person who commits a crime.

"The jury heard overwhelming evidence that Clarence Willis acted as party to the murder of Tony Sanders. The murder was carried out with cold, remorseless brutality. The result — his conviction for murder and sentence to 99 years in prison — was well-justified," Crisp said. "The Bowie County District Attorney's Office appreciates the work of the Texarkana Texas Police Department in investigating and assisting in his prosecution and the work of the Court of Appeals in rightly affirming the jury's decision."

In an opinion issued Wednesday, the 6th District Court of Appeals in Texarkana affirmed Clarence Willis' conviction and sentence, rejecting arguments that his trial lawyer was ineffective. James was sentenced to life in prison for murder in December 2018 and his conviction has been affirmed by the higher court as well.

Laprense Willis is scheduled for trial in July 2021. He is free on a $50,000 bond.

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