‘Not guilty’ pleas entered in Berkeley hatchet killing

The man police believe was Berkeley's first homicide victim of 2014 lived in this building on Addison Street. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Berkeley’s first homicide victim of 2014 lived in this building on Addison Street. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The Berkeley couple accused of stabbing a West Berkeley man to death with a hatchet earlier this year entered not guilty pleas in court Monday.

Kneitawnye Trishawn Sessoms, 41, and Michael Diggs, 28, were charged with killing 54-year-old Sylvan Fuselier in February in his home in the 1100 block of Addison Street.

According to court papers, police found Fuselier deceased at noon on Feb. 28 after being called to do a welfare check. He appeared to have been stabbed with several sharp instruments.

A longtime neighborhood resident told Berkeleyside that Fuselier’s girlfriend had come to the building that day to ask the landlord if he had seen him, having been unable to reach Fuselier for a week. The resident said it was the landlord who then called police to investigate.


Read full Berkeleyside coverage of the case.

Police used surveillance footage to track down Fuselier’s alleged killers. The footage showed Fuselier enter his home, followed by a man and woman, the night of Feb. 21. The next morning, police wrote that a woman is seen exiting the building, “wiping off the door handles when leaving.”

Several hours later, a man is seen in the footage “leaving out of the back of the apartment,” which was on the second floor.

Police focused in on those two — later identified as Sessoms and Diggs — as their primary suspects.

Neighbors said that, previously, they had been troubled by frequent disturbances in Fuselier’s apartment, from extended bouts of “screaming and fighting” to early morning outbursts and “really loud,” rapid talking from at least one of the man’s associates.


Some of his neighbors — who asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns — said Fuselier had lived in his second-floor apartment in a four-unit building on Addison for at least five years.

Police arrested Diggs on March 12 on suspicion of possession of burglary tools and parole violation. Authorities said physical evidence inside Fuselier’s apartment placed Diggs at the scene. Police also said in court papers that Diggs was found, via a search warrant, to be in possession of an item belonging to Fuselier.

Police interviewed Diggs on April 1 and, according to authorities, he admitted he and Sessoms had been inside Fuselier’s home. Also according to police: “Diggs confessed to killing the victim with two different sharp instruments. Diggs admitted he and Sessome fled the scene” on the morning of Feb. 22.

Police identified Sessoms as Diggs’ girlfriend. Police arrested her March 31 after spotting her in downtown Berkeley. According to police, she admitted she was the woman captured on video who was seen leaving Fuselier’s home Feb. 22.

The couple has been charged with murder, as well as two special circumstances that indicate the killing took place during the commission of a burglary and a robbery. The Alameda County district attorney’s office identified the weapon used during the killing as a hatchet.


If convicted, both would be eligible to serve out their sentences in state prison.

According to the district attorney’s office, Diggs has a prior conviction for carjacking, which was counted as a strike against him and resulted in a prison term. A conviction in the Fuselier homicide would count as a second strike.

The couple is scheduled to return to court for a pretrial hearing in July, and is being held at Santa Rita Jail without bail.

The San Francisco Chronicle identified victim Fuselier in March as a suspect in a string of 14 robberies of businesses in Berkeley and Oakland that took place in the 90s. The robberies began in 1994, and stood out because the suspect in those cases would deliver polite notes to store clerks asking them to turn over whatever cash was in the register.

Related:
Breaking: 1 held, 1 freed in Berkeley hatchet homicide (10.23.14)
Breaking: Charges filed against 2 in Berkeley homicide (04.02.14)
Police release ID of city’s first homicide victim of year (03.06.14)
Berkeley neighbors express concerns after homicide (03.05.14)
Berkeley police investigating homicide on Addison Street (03.01.14)

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