Trial begins in stabbing death of Berkeley woman

Jamaal Prince, via Facebook
Jamaal Prince, via Facebook

The trial of a Berkeley man accused of stabbing to death a 26-year-old woman in late 2012 began Wednesday morning in Oakland Superior Court.

Wednesday afternoon, a key witness for the prosecution failed to appear, and Judge Jon Rolefson issued a warrant for his arrest. If Julius Johnson cannot be found, the prosecution plans to read his testimony from an earlier hearing into the record for consideration by jurors.

In brief opening statements, attorneys for both sides said they believe Jamaal Prince, 36, killed Jennifer “Jessica” Kingeter of Berkeley in the bathroom of an Oakland apartment in December 2012.

But, while Alameda County deputy district attorney Danielle Hilton told the jury Prince brutally attacked Kingeter after she refused to have sex with him, defense attorney Al Thews said Prince was high on cocaine and alcohol, and believed he was defending himself after Kingeter stabbed him in the leg.


Read previous Berkeleyside coverage of the case.

Thews urged the jury to listen to the evidence and, ultimately, come back with a verdict of manslaughter against his client.

“There was a terrible bloody fight in that bathroom and Mr. Prince was under the impression he had to save his life,” Thews said.

He said, also, that Johnson had told Prince he could have sex with Kingeter if Prince provided the drugs.

Jennifer "Jessica" Kingeter would have been 28 on Jan. 15, 2014. Photo: Rebecca Tolman
Jennifer “Jessica” Kingeter would have been 28 on Jan. 15, 2014. Photo: Rebecca Tolman

Prosecutor Hilton, on the other hand, said Prince had “cornered” Kingeter in the bathroom. She told jurors Kingeter was alive when “the defendant tortured her,” by slashing and stabbing her “hundreds” of times, “as she fought for her life.”


When police found her body, she was wearing pants, but her shirt had been pulled down to her waist.

Hilton told jurors Kingeter had come out that night with plans to hang out with Johnson, a friend she had known since childhood. They met up in downtown Berkeley with Prince — whom Kingeter did not know — then headed to an apartment in Oakland where they “partied,” before going out to buy some cocaine.

The group returned to the apartment, Hilton said, with everybody getting along.

“Then it changed,” she said. As Kingeter and Johnson hung out on the couch, ignoring Prince, Hilton continued, he went into the kitchen, got a serrated knife from a drawer and came back into the living room.

Hilton said Wednesday that Prince told police two stories about what took place a short time later: he first tried to pin the stabbing on Johnson then, when “detectives confronted him with facts,” said he himself had gone into the bathroom to have sex with Kingeter, and she had stuck him with a knife she was holding.


“The problem for Mr. Prince is the physical evidence,” Hilton said, as she projected photographs on a screen of Kingeter’s dead, bloodied body, which was covered in stab and slash wounds. “The evidence is gory, but it paints a clear picture.”

Johnson testified at Prince’s preliminary hearing in January that, in the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 2012, Prince had started acting “psycho,” pulling a knife on Johnson, threatening him and trying to stab him. Johnson fled, just before 12:20 a.m., leaving Kingeter alone with the man who would later be charged with her murder.

Wednesday, Hilton called four witnesses to the stand: a woman who has a 5-year-old son with Prince, in whose apartment the killing took place; the apartment manager of the 18-unit complex where that apartment is located; a friend of Prince who saw him Dec. 27, 2012, the night of the incident; and an Oakland Police officer who responded to the scene and found Kingeter’s dead body.

Police were called to the 5800 block of Walnut Street, at Seminary Avenue, after Prince came out of the apartment, naked and bloody, and asked a neighbor to call for help. Oakland Police Sgt. David Faeth was among the first to arrive, shortly after 2:30 a.m. He said he found Prince sitting at the top of a stairway, wrapped in a blanket and bleeding from the hands.

Faeth also noticed the blade of a serrated knife, later determined to be the one used in the stabbing, on the ground right beside Prince.

“I asked Mr. Prince if anybody else was hurt, and he said he didn’t know,” said Faeth. He asked Prince where he had been injured, and Prince pointed behind him to an apartment down the hall. Faeth made his way into that unit, and found Kingeter facedown in the bathroom. “I called to her, ‘Are you all right? Are you all right?’ There was no response.”

Paramedics ultimately pronounced Kingeter dead at the scene. Prince was taken to the hospital for medical treatment. He later was arrested.

Exactly how Prince gained access to the apartment on Walnut Street where the killing took place remains an open question.

The woman who was living in the Oakland apartment in December 2012 — Natasha Richardson, who has a son with Prince — testified Wednesday that she never gave Prince permission to be there and never gave him keys to the unit.

Richardson said Prince had spent the day with her and their son — though they were not on the best of terms — and ended up eating dinner at BurgerMeister in downtown Berkeley at 5 p.m. They parted ways shortly before 6:30 p.m., and Richardson said she then went to her aunt’s home in Berkeley, where she was spending most of her time due some problems that had been occurring at what was then her Oakland apartment on Walnut.

Early on Dec. 28, she said, she began to receive frantic phone calls from relatives, as well as from Prince’s mother.

“Everybody called me,” she testified about messages that came in while she was sleeping. “Everybody asked me, was I dead?”

After the stabbing, Richardson said she only went back to the Oakland apartment once, when police forced her to do so.

She found the place, which she said she had kept “immaculate,” in disarray. Her son’s toys were “messed up,” as was her mail. Cigarettes and marijuana were there, as was a purse she didn’t recognize.

“Blood was everywhere in the bathroom,” she said. She told police: “That’s my apartment but that’s not my stuff.”

Wednesday, a friend of Prince’s testified for the prosecution that she had met up with Prince and Johnson in downtown Berkeley on Dec. 27 around 9 p.m., in front of the Walgreens on Shattuck Avenue at Allston Way.

At the time of the killing, said that friend, Amanda Stevens, Johnson and Prince had been close friends, calling each other “cousin” and spending time together often.

Prince “had a knock to go serve at San Pablo Park,” Stevens testified. “Someone wanted to buy some weed and he had it.”

She drove the men to San Pablo Park, then they headed back to downtown Berkeley, where she said she and Johnson rolled a joint and smoked it. Stevens said she was tired, and planned to go home, so Johnson called Kingeter to arrange a ride, for himself and Prince, to Oakland.

Stevens said she and Prince had planned to get together again later that night. She went home and went to sleep. Shortly before 1 a.m., she said she received a message from Prince’s mother, with an urgent request: “Whatever you do, don’t bring Jamaal here,” the woman told Stevens in a voicemail message. “Don’t bring him here.”

After the jury had been excused for the day, at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, prosecutor Hilton told the judge she had also planned to call Julius Johnson to the stand, but that her office had been unable to locate him.

Hilton said Johnson had promised to arrive in court by noon. But, by mid-afternoon, he had not appeared, and Judge Rolefson issued a warrant for Johnson’s arrest.

The case is set to resume Thursday at 9:30 a.m., in Department 10 at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland. Attorneys say they believe the trial will last into next week.

[Note: The name of the prosecutor in this case is Danielle Hilton. She was incorrectly identified by mistake twice in this story; the error was fixed.]

Editors’ note 7/5: The comment section in this story has been closed.

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