Four men with Berkeley ties have been held to answer by an Alameda County Superior Court judge on charges that they conspired to murder two rivals last fall.
The alleged victims in the investigation grew up in West Berkeley, according to court testimony. At least one of them attended Berkeley High, according to his Facebook profile.
The preliminary hearing against 27-year-old Joseph Carroll Jr., 36-year-old Emando Roos, 28-year-old Travon Wilson and 28-year-old Joseph Connors wrapped up Wednesday after more than a month of intermittent testimony and legal arguments.
According to authorities, who recorded phone calls among the men as part of an Oakland Police wiretap investigation last fall, the intended targets of the alleged murder plot had disrespected Carroll and two of his relatives in YouTube videos and photographs on Instagram.
Oakland Police officers testified over the past month that their wiretap investigation found numerous phone calls among Carroll and the other defendants in which Carroll expressed anger about the online posts by two men associated with a North Oakland gang.
Gang enhancements have not been charged in this case, but Davis and the Carroll brothers have in the past been closely linked by authorities to a West Berkeley gang. Police have described the brothers as “ringleaders” in the Waterfront gang, so named because many of its members live near the water and have been linked to numerous violent crimes. In July 2009, the brothers were arrested along with a third man as part of a sweep of five Bay Area cities in a coordinated crackdown on gang violence in the East Bay. At the time, police said the men were “at the center of a long-running feud between groups in Berkeley and North Oakland,” according to media reports.
(Some members of the public have disputed the existence of a Waterfront gang at all, and say “waterfront” is simply a description of a geographic area in West Berkeley that residents associate with.)
Carroll was in Texas during the Oakland Police investigation, but authorities said he tried to arrange shootings in Oakland targeting one or both men connected with the online posts on two occasions last year in September. Alameda County deputy district attorney Luis Marin submitted recordings and transcripts of 38 phone calls he says are evidence of a murder plot.
Defense attorneys have argued that the case against the men is weak. The evidence against them is based largely on surveillance and wiretap recordings of slang-filled conversations defense attorneys say shows tough talk more than any actual murder plot.
Judge Vernon Nakahara ruled late Wednesday afternoon that the prosecution had presented enough evidence of a conspiracy among the men to commit murder, and “overt acts” indicating violent intentions, for the case to move forward to trial.
Authorities list five overt acts in the charging document against the men they say is evidence of the conspiracy. According to prosecutor Marin, Carroll texted Wilson an address on Sept. 20, 2013, where at least one of the intended victims was reported to be. Wilson then went to that address, but aborted an attack due to a police presence in the area, Marin said.
Sept. 20, according to authorities, Roos, Wilson and Carroll all went to a club where an officer said he also saw one of the intended victims. Police said another man, who has not been charged in this case, approached the intended victim and planned to harm him after arriving earlier in the evening with Wilson and, according to one officer, stashing a firearm in his car. Carroll was also armed that night, and ran from an officer who tried to stop him a short time later, according to authorities.
Defense attorneys have said all three men attended the party at the club for purely social reasons, and presented witness testimony disputing that the intended victim even attended the event that night. They have questioned the legality of the wiretaps, and said there was no plan to commit violence in either incident.
After the judge entered his decision, about two dozen supporters of the defendants filed out of the courtroom. Several women, including some of the mothers of the men facing charges, wept loudly as they came to terms with the news that their sons would not be released. There were also shouts of frustration from other members of the group.
Defense attorney Darryl Billups, who is representing defendant Roos, said he was disappointed in the judge’s ruling.
“We think it should have gone the other way,” he said Wednesday, adding that the so-called evidence simply does not seem to add up.
Ernie Castillo, the defense attorney representing defendant Joseph Carroll, said he plans to work to suppress the wiretap recordings that make up the bulk of the evidence against the men, and believes that officers reported “misleading” information when they sought permission to pursue those recordings.
“This has been a battle from the beginning. We’ve fought every aspect of the evidence,” said Castillo, adding that he plans to challenge the court’s ruling and move to have the charges against his client set aside. “This fight’s not over. I’m going to keep fighting for Joe.”
The men are set to return to court April 23, at 9 a.m., in Department 11 at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland for arraignment.
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