Two cousins are slated to face murder charges in the shooting death in West Berkeley last year of Zontee Jones after an Alameda County Superior Court judge’s ruling this week.
After a short hearing, which included testimony from two witnesses Wednesday morning, Judge Trina Thompson said the district attorney’s office had presented enough evidence for the murder case against 22-year-old Maurice Thomas Jr. to move forward to trial.
Authorities allege that Thomas shot Jones, 34, on Feb. 4, 2013, at Delaware Street west of San Pablo Avenue after an argument between Jones and Jevon Calland, a mutual acquaintance and the first cousin of Thomas. Calland, 21, has also been charged with murder, and was ordered last July to face those charges. He entered a “not guilty” plea a short time later. He had been arrested in Antioch several weeks prior.
Thomas was arrested by police in San Diego in connection with two drug-related violations July 4, and has been in custody since then. He had been picked up near the crime scene and held by police for several days immediately after the Jones murder, but ultimately was released, according to court records. Both men are being held without bail in different areas at Santa Rita Jail, according to the Alameda County sheriff’s department.
According to testimony this week by Calland’s sister, Jewaya Calland, who is also Thomas’ first cousin, Calland and Jones had been involved in an on-going dispute about Calland’s girlfriend. That woman had dated Jones approximately five years prior, according to court testimony last year.
According to testimony from Jevon Calland’s preliminary hearing last July, Calland believed Jones had been spreading rumors about having given the woman, who now has a child with Calland, a sexually transmitted disease.
The day before Jones’ murder, Calland testified that he confronted Jones at his Berkeley home on Delaware Street and told him to stop talking about the woman. According to one witness who took the stand for the prosecution last July, Calland threatened during that interaction to “come back and light up this whole motherfucker.” (Calland denied having said that.) Later that day, Jones allegedly stopped by the woman’s West Berkeley home on Ninth Street, where Calland had been staying temporarily, to speak with him, but the two failed to connect.
Witness says chance meeting led to shooting
Wednesday, Jewaya Calland testified that she and her brother had spoken on the phone Monday morning, Feb. 4, 2013, and that he was still upset about what Jones had been saying about his girlfriend, as well as the fact that Jones had stopped by the woman’s home the prior day. Calland said she told her brother to calm down, and offered to meet up with him to smoke marijuana and talk about the problem to help him relax.
(Jewaya Calland was arrested in Georgia last summer in connection with some kind of fraud, according to court testimony. She testified she had gone to Georgia because there had been “too much drama” in California. Berkeley Police detectives ultimately flew there to question her in connection with the case.)
Authorities have alleged that Jevon Calland had first made violent threats Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, then arranged with several people to harm Jones in some way on Feb. 4.
But Jewaya Calland testified that their only plan had been to get together and smoke pot. She had been at Thomas’ home in Richmond when she arranged to meet up with her brother, and Thomas came along. According to previous witness testimony, he had brought with him marijuana for the group to smoke. His girlfriend, Trayana Shipman, also came along for the ride. Shipman was detained briefly last February but does not appear to have been charged in the case.
Jewaya Calland said there had been no plans to see Zontee Jones that day when the group met up on San Pablo Avenue at Delaware Street, half a block from where Jones ultimately was shot and killed.
The group had been walking west on Delaware when Jones drove up in his car shortly before 11 a.m. Calland said Jones motioned to her brother to approach, then parked in a driveway on the south side of Delaware.
She said the two men spent 5-8 minutes talking, trying to agree to resolve their dispute and move forward. She testified that they ultimately shook hands, on two occasions, and agreed the problem was over, but that when Jones began to walk away, his facial expression, which she described as “sarcastic,” seemed to indicate that there was still an issue.
“My brother followed him,” she said, recalling that he asked Jones, “If it’s good, why you making that smirk? Why you looking like that?”
Thomas, who was nearby, chimed in: “Yeah, he do got a smirk on his face though,” she testified.
At that point, she said, as members of her group moved toward Jones, Jones reached into his car and pulled out some kind of metal bar, identified in court documents as a wrench. She said Jones tried to swing it, first at her brother and then at her.
During the fracas, she said, Thomas shot Jones.
“It happened ‘one, two,’ before I could even turn around,” she said, of the two gunshots she heard. She testified that she never actually saw the gun, however. According to police testimony Wednesday, Jewaya Calland told police in Georgia that she saw Thomas actually fire the second shot, but she denied that in court this week. Jones then staggered east on Delaware, toward San Pablo, and the group ran west and scattered.
Jones collapsed on Delaware, where he ultimately was pronounced dead. Jewaya Calland said she ran to University Avenue where she caught a bus and left the vicinity.
Conflicting witness testimony given during 2013 hearing
Last July, during Jevon Calland’s preliminary hearing to determine whether his case would move forward toward trial, a passenger in Jones’ car on the morning of Feb. 4, 2013, offered a different version of events. Michelle French, who had known Jones since childhood, said Jones had been giving her a ride back from the DMV when he pulled into a driveway on Delaware after seeing the group, according to a transcript from that hearing. According to testimony, Jones was living about a block from there at the time of his death.
She said Jevon Calland approached, looking serious, and hooked his arm around Jones’ shoulder, saying, “I need to talk to you now.” She said Jones tried repeatedly to escape from Calland’s grip, and tried to convince her to move into the driver’s seat and leave, sensing a problem. At that point, she said, members of Calland’s group had surrounded Jones.
She eventually got in the driver’s seat and said she heard Calland telling Jones things like, “You don’t know who I am, I’m from Berkeley.”
“He seemed like he was getting mad,” French added. “He kept talking and then Zontee was — didn’t want to be held like that anymore. So he kind of said, ‘Man, let me go.’”
As Jones tried to get free, she said she started the car and indicated for him to get in so they could get away.
“Zontee was getting frustrated and looking kind of worried, scared,” French testified.
French said Jewaya Calland then remarked, “we going to handle the business we came here to handle?” In other testimony during that hearing, Jevon Calland said his sister thought he and Jones were going to fight to resolve their dispute. Calland threw his jacket down on the ground in preparation.
As the Callands approached him, French said Jones pulled out from his car what she called a “tire iron” — later identified as a wrench — and tried to swing it at them. French said Jewaya grabbed his forearms as Jones tried, unsuccessfully, to swing it. Jewaya Calland denied, during her testimony, grabbing Jones.
French said Jones and Jewaya Calland soon separated, but that she then saw a scared look come over Jones’ face, and he started to run east on Delaware. She turned to look at what had frightened him, and she said she saw Jevon Calland — contrary to all other testimony, and two initial statements to police — pointing a “little black gun” at Jones.
(In July, Calland’s defense attorney at that time, William H. Du Bois, said during cross-examination that French initially had told police she had not seen a gun, and implied she had changed her testimony after speaking with Jones’ family.)
As Jones crossed into her blind spot, French said she heard two shots. She put the car in reverse and began driving east, hoping Jones hadn’t been hit.
“But then the next time I seen Zontee he was staggering. So I just screamed, put the car in park, and I went to try to help,” she testified, according to court records. “He was bleeding from his mouth.”
She said she ultimately left the crime scene when it became clear she couldn’t save him. Police picked her up for questioning that week.
Defendant Calland testifies in his own defense; changes story on the stand
In a rare move, Jevon Calland took the stand in his own defense during his preliminary hearing last July. He testified that, after the shooting, which he said had been done by Maurice Thomas, they both ran to Calland’s girlfriend’s home. He said Thomas dumped the gun in a trashcan there, then left. Thomas was detained by police outside that home, in the 1700 block of Ninth Street — about two blocks from where Jones had been killed — within about half an hour of the shooting, but later was released.
Calland said he himself hid out on the roof of a detached unit behind that home, sleeping for about five hours. Eventually, his mother picked him up. She had Jewaya Calland in the car. He ultimately admitted, after first denying it, that his girlfriend’s mother had given him the gun and forced him to take it with him when he left that day. He said he later threw it away in a garbage can in Antioch, where he was living.
Calland said he’d had no idea that Thomas had a gun, and that there had been no plans to kill Jones that day. According to his testimony, Calland graduated from Berkeley High in 2010, then began a six-month University of California fellowship related to a law program that involved an internship at City Hall. Ultimately, he said, he was kicked out of that Cal program when his uncle tried to steal a pack of cigarettes, which resulted in accusations that Calland had “touched a guy” during the incident.
Calland said police had pressured a witness to make up the accusation in that case, and denied the allegations. He admitted that he had, however, been arrested by police in connection with several other incidents, including burglary and the possession of stolen property in 2010; giving a false name to police officers in 2011; possession of “six twists of base cocaine” that same year; and breaking a store window at a bridal shop in Hayward less than a year later.
Calland said he eventually transferred to Heald College, in January 2011, where he had been studying criminal justice because he wanted to become a police officer. In June, he gave up on that goal and said he stopped attending the program. He began working at Subway and, in 2012, left that position and took up a roofing job, which is what he was employed in at the time of Jones’ murder.
Calland testified that, after talking to Jones on Delaware Street on Feb. 4, he felt that Jones wasn’t letting go of the problem they had been having.
“I wanted to fight then because he was still upset… so I was like let’s get it over with, let’s fight,” according to court transcripts. Calland said, after Jones tried to hit him with a wrench, his cousin Thomas, who was standing nearby, ultimately shot Jones to protect him. He testified that he hid from police because he was scared, and didn’t report the shooting because he didn’t want to “snitch” on his cousin, though he ultimately believed the shooting was defensible under the circumstances.
“It took me a while because I was still traumatized,” he said. “It took me awhile to come to my senses and think about the whole thing.”
Defendant’s explanations falter when confronted with notes found in jail search
During questioning by deputy district attorney Matthew Wendt last July, Calland changed his testimony about several aspects of the day. Initially, he testified he had never had a gun or had contact with the weapon used in the shooting.
But during his second day on the stand, he admitted he had received the gun from his girlfriend’s mother. Wendt indicated, in his questions, that he believed Calland had changed his testimony due to a police search of his cell the prior day that uncovered two handwritten pages of what Wendt described as a “script” used by Calland to prepare for his testimony. Calland said he had simply written down his memories so as not to forget them.
The notes included questions to himself, such as “Why you throw away the gun?” and “What did you think throwing away the gun was going to do?”, as well as answers to those questions.
Wendt said Calland had also written, “Make sure Jewaya knows what to say,” followed by an explanation about why they had met up Feb. 4.
Asked by Wendt why he had written that, Calland testified: “I was just being stupid and I was just writing some stuff so I wouldn’t be a part of anything.”
Further down one of the handwritten pages, Wendt read on: “Our stories need to match up so they won’t try to make it seem like it was premeditated.” And, below on the same page, “The more smoother it goes, the more quicker it ends, and if we win my case, my probation hold might clear and we’ll both be out before we know it.”
Calland testified that he “didn’t mean anything” by the notes and didn’t know what “premeditated” meant. He said he hadn’t been referring to anyone other than himself when he wrote “both,” adding, “I was just being stupid and writing crazy things.”
Jevon Calland did not appear in court this week. A typo-ridden note on his Facebook page, dated Aug. 17, 2013, reads: “Pleses god hear my prayers please watch over me please dont let me down. Too all my loved ones pray for ya boy,” and describes himself as “feeling trapped.”
Thomas’ defense attorney questions witness statements, lays blame on defendant Calland
Calland and Thomas are scheduled to return to court Feb. 5 for a procedural hearing, which would begin the process of moving forward to trial. It’s unknown whether the Alameda County district attorney’s office will decide to try their cases together, said Thomas’ defense attorney, H. Ernesto Castillo, who maintained in brief closing statements that Calland was the actual shooter.
During his lengthy cross-examination of Jewaya Calland on Wednesday morning, Castillo indicated that, rather than serve as a “peacemaker” during the confrontation, she had acted as a “shot caller,” urging the men to fight and physically restraining Jones when he tried to defend himself. He asked her if she was making up a story to protect her brother, and lying to put the blame on her cousin, Thomas.
“I love him to death and that’s my blood,” she said of Thomas, after breaking down in tears several times on the stand. “But I didn’t want my brother to go to jail for a whole long time over something he didn’t do.… If my brother did this, then I would be testifying against my brother.”
A relative of Thomas’ said, after the judge’s decision, that the case had been hard for the family to handle.
“We all family, first cousins,” she said. “So it’s very difficult.”
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Berkeley homicide suspect arrested in San Diego (07.26.13)
2 men named in Berkeley murder case; details emerge (06.19.13)
Berkeley police make arrest in Zontee Jones murder (06.08.13)
Workshop urges action on gun violence around Berkeley (05.29.13)
West Berkeley neighbors ask for answers after homicide (02.20.13)
Police name Zontee Jones as year’s first Berkeley homicide (02.06.13)
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