A Michigan man charged with assaulting four people aboard an Amtrak train last December will go on trial in mid-November.
Michael Darnell Williams, 44, of Saginaw, Michigan, appeared in court on Tuesday for a preliminary hearing on 12 felony charges related to the Dec. 5 incident on the train as it stopped at the Niles, Michigan, station.
Williams pleaded not guilty to the 12 charges he faces and demanded a trial by jury. His next court dates are Sept. 16 for a case conference, Nov. 10 for a status conference and a jury trial starting Nov. 17 or 18.
Although Williams waived the preliminary hearing, the court heard testimony from the train’s conductor, who was stabbed during the incident.
Dontrel Bankhead, 40, was the conductor of the Chicago to Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water, and the first person to be attacked.
Bankhead said he spoke with Williams after he came back to the cafe car, the last car on the train.
“The person caught my attention,” Bankhead said. “He asked how many people were on the train and how much money was on the train. I was under the impression he was going to rob the train. He also spoke about how much money a conductor made.”
Assistant Prosecutor Amy Byrd wanted Bankhead’s testimony to be put on the record because he had traveled from out of town to testify.
Bankhead said Williams also talked about knowing that people had been killed the week before.
When Bankhead asked Williams to return to his seat, he refused, instead spending five minutes between the café car and a coach.
“He stood between the two cars and then came into the car I was in but again refused to sit down,” Bankhead said. “He had his hands in his pockets since coming out of the cafe car.
“We decided to ask him to be escorted off the train at the next stop. We were 15 minutes past the New Buffalo stop and coming into Niles.”
When the train arrived in Niles, Bankhead said he continued to talk with Williams who at one point said he wanted to say a prayer.
Williams heard a radio transmission about him and saw police officers on the platform at the Niles station.
“I took one step forward and he did not move,” Bankhead said. “Then I saw his hands come out of his pockets and he was holding a knife. He struck me in the neck, in the back of my shoulder, in the rib cage, in my face and in my ear.”
Bankhead said his wounds required surgery and he was hospitalized for three weeks, including one week in South Bend, Indiana, and two weeks in Chicago.
He told the court that he is still recovering and being treated for physical and psychological injuries.
Williams faces five counts of assault with intent to murder, five counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, one count of carrying a concealed weapon and one count of resisting and obstructing police.
The assault with intent to murder charges carry maximum penalties of life in prison, while the assault with a dangerous weapon charges carry maximum penalties and four years in prison.
The carrying a concealed weapon charge has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and the resisting police charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
Williams was found competent to stand trial earlier this month after receiving medications and treatment for his psychological problems, including paranoia and schizophrenia.
The court has yet to rule whether he can be held criminally responsible for his actions. He remains in jail on $1 million cash or surety bond.