Murder suspect was looking for fictional girlfriend

KTVU broadcast this image of Daniel Jordan Dewitt

The mentally ill 23-year old man who is accused of killing Peter Cukor Saturday night entered into the 57-year old’s home in search of a fictional girlfriend.

Daniel Jordon DeWitt walked through a gate toward Cukor’s front door and said “he was a psychic and was told to go through the front gate to find Zoey,” according to court documents.

Zoey is DeWitt’s fictional girlfriend and does not exist, according to a family friend who asked not to be named.

DeWitt, who lives in Oakland, will return to Alameda County Court today to enter a plea. The District Attorney’s office alleges that Dewitt killed Cukor with a ceramic planter around 9 pm on February 18.

Cukor and his wife arrived at their home at 2 Park Gate in the Berkeley Hills around 8:45 pm on Saturday night and saw DeWitt nearby. Cukor called police using a nonemergency line at 8:45 pm, according to court documents. He told police there was a suspicious person in his garage. Police did not respond immediately because they were focusing efforts on an Occupy Oakland march that was expected to arrive shortly in Berkeley.

DeWitt left the grounds but later returned, according to court documents. Cukor and his wife Andrea saw him walk through their front gate toward their front door.

Cukor, a business management consultant, once again told DeWitt to leave and he did. Cukor then walked across the street to the fire station, presumably to ask for help. No firefighters were there and when Cukor returned to his home he was confronted by DeWitt who “viciously assaulted” him with a ceramic planter, according to court documents. Andrea Cukor witnessed part of the assault and called 911 at 9:02 pm. Police have said they arrived at the house within five minutes of that call.

Police and paramedics assisted Cukor but he was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital a short time later.

Dewitt was arrested by police near the Cukors’ house at 9:22 pm. Blood covered his hands, pants, sweatshirt and shoes, according to court documents. In addition, DeWitt’s knuckles on his right hand were swollen. Andrea Cukor also identified DeWitt as the assailant, according to court documents.

Family members say Dewitt is a paranoid schizophrenic who has been in and out of mental hospitals since he was 18. A former football player at Alameda High School, DeWitt is the grandson of the late Al DeWitt, the first African-American city council member in Alameda. DeWitt’s family still lives in Alameda.

DeWitt’s parents have tried numerous times to get their son admitted to a long-term psychiatric institution but have been stymied by state laws that do not allow people to be institutionalized against their will, according to family friends. DeWitt had last been released from the John George Psychiatric Pavilion in January, his father, Al DeWitt Jr., told the San Francisco Chronicle. A judge released him over his family’s objections.

“We advocated for him to be held there,” DeWitt’s father told the Chronicle. “If he would have been in custody, we wouldn’t be here talking. We always had a fear of him hurting himself or going to jail or hurting someone else.”

DeWitt served 19 days in jail in 2010 for a misdemeanor charge of sending harrassing text messages to a former high school classmate, according to court documents. He was also facing charges for assaulting a nurse at the psychiatric pavilion.

Councilmember: unanswered questions over murder [02.23.12]
Alleged killer had been in and out of mental institutions [02.21.12]
Berkeley hills neighbors react with shock to brutal murder [02.20.12]
Intruder assaults, kills homeowner on Grizzly Peak [02.19.12]

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  • Berkeleyres

    I wonder where all of those folks making assumptions about race, class, mental illness, and parents’ control over an adult mentally ill man are now.

  • John Holland

    3rdGenBerkeleyan wrote:

    we have no proof he was mentally ill just someone trying to save her son claiming he is!


    the mother claims he was mentally ill, but somehow she did nothing about it and he managed to play high school football at Alameda high school, and now claiming he’s the victim probably setting up for a defense to save him from the death penalty!

    How embarrassing! On behalf of Berkeleyside, I’d like to apologize to the DeWitt family for jumping to conclusions like this.

  • John Holland

    Waiting for the next tragedy to exploit.

  • Calif Commentator

    Can we get an update on the earlier murder at the barbershop on Shattuck?  Are there any suspects in that case?

  • KMG000

    This story just keeps getting sadder and sadder on so many different levels. Just try to put yourself in the shoes of anyone at all involved in this incident–makes your stomach churn.

  • Toni Mester

    This is a complicated horrific tragedy. Intruders should be considered dangerous. They are common in our West Berkeley neighborhood. If they don’t go away, the resident should stay inside and call the Berkeley Police Department emergency number 981-5911. If it’s not in your phone, please enter it now. My sincere condolences to the Cukor family.

  • Haselstein

    Does anyone know the name of the judge who didn’t commit him? 

  • Meliflaw

    And note that it’s particularly important to use that number when making an emergency call from a cell phone (although 911 is still fine from landlines):  

    “The City of Berkeley Police Department strongly
    recommends cell phone users to program our police dispatch number into
    their cell phone to speed up the emergency process and save the loss of
    time involved in the transferring of the call. Cell phone users in
    Berkeley can program 510-981-5911(local – no toll charge) into their phones for a direct connection to the BPD Communications Center. If you must make a 9-1-1 call from your cell phone,
    it is important to stay on the line and provide the dispatcher with as
    much information about the exact location of the emergency to ensure the
    help can be dispatched to the correct location.”

  • The Sharkey

     Indeed. It’s much better to just immediately believe whatever you’re told rather than questioning and asking for evidence.
    A curious mind is a one-way ticket to Hell.

  • Kdy

    There is not “claim” but instead many many mental health records and much sadness. Obviously, you are not educated at all about mental illness and completely unaware that such an illness typically comes out at ages 18 – 24 when the brain finishes maturing.  Most young people have this happend while they are on away in college.  Do some reading before offering your illiterate opinion.

  • guest

    Just as it was a mistake for people to commence wild speculation about DeWitt’s mental illness when it was first reported, it would be a mistake now to commence speculation about “the judge” and the circumstances of Dewitt’s supposed non-commitment.  There are a variety of decision-makers (and many stages) involved in the process of treating a mentally ill person against his/her will.  The parents may or may not have been personally present, and may be repeating something that was explained to them by another person.  Sometimes the decision maker is an actual judge, and sometimes it’s a hearing officer.  None of us know for certain who recommended what.  Could we PLEASE hold off until more actual facts are known?  This has such a feeling of a brewing witch-hunt to me…

  • John Holland

    A question would be phrased thusly: “The mother claims he was mentally ill. I wonder if that is really the case.?”

    I wasn’t apologizing for polite questions, I was apologizing for rude accusations.