A 20-year-old man accused of murder with special circumstances was ordered Wednesday morning by an Alameda County Superior Court judge to face nearly all of the charges filed against him as the case moves ahead to trial.
Judge Rhonda Burgess dismissed one count and one special circumstance related to rape allegations, and said the prosecution had not presented sufficient evidence to support those charges.
Kamau Berlin, who was a student at Berkeley Technology Academy at the time of his arrest, was ordered to return to court May 18 for arraignment as the case proceeds. He will continue to be held without bail, Burgess said.
Berlin told his mother he had just needed a ride home the day he was arrested near the car where 72-year-old Nancy McClellan was found bleeding from the neck due to a stab wound. Police testified that, when his mother insisted during a jailhouse interview that he tell her the truth of what had happened, he said he had seen a woman in a car, started hitting her to get her out of the car, and then threw her into the backseat.
He also mentioned to his mother having used brass knuckles during the attack, which ultimately helped police track down the murder weapon in the days after Berlin’s arrest.
At the time of his arrest, in September 2014, he told police a red substance on him that looked like blood was actually “fake blood for Halloween.”
Berlin now faces a felony murder charge, which includes two special circumstances for felony murder in the course of a robbery and felony murder in the course of carjacking. Special circumstances can lead to a more severe sentence than regular murder: up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
There’s also a use of a deadly weapon clause and another clause related to the great bodily injury of an elderly victim.
The judge also held Berlin to answer on attempted second-degree robbery, attempted carjacking with a deadly weapon, and elder or dependent adult abuse resulting in death.
Before the judge made her ruling, defense attorney Kathleen Ryals tried to argue for the dismissal of the murder charge, saying the prosecution had failed to prove McClellan’s actual cause of death.
Prosecutor Briggitte Lowe said the cause of death was “unambiguous”: “She died from stab wounds to the neck.”
The judge ultimately rejected Ryals’ argument and denied the request to strike related testimony from the record.
Since the earlier sessions of the preliminary hearing in mid-April, Judge Burgess said she had reviewed notes about the prior testimony and was prepared to hold Berlin to answer on four of the five felony counts initially filed against him. Wednesday’s hearing lasted about 15 minutes.
The prosecution presented no medical or DNA evidence during the preliminary hearing. The defense team — Ryals and Daniel Duvernay — presented no evidence at all, which is not uncommon during this part of the process. Berlin has two attorneys due to the severity of the charges against him.
A handful of McClellan supporters attended Wednesday’s hearing, along with about the same number of relatives of Berlin. All of the attendees in the courtroom remained quiet when the judge read her ruling.
Outside in the hallway, attorney Sherman Kassof — who previously worked with McClellan and is following the case for that reason — said the ruling came as no surprise. But he said the case is, most likely, a long way from resolution.
“A major prosecution is a major endeavor and it’s going to take a long time,” Kassof said.
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Op-ed: After fatal stabbing, be the change in South Berkeley (10.08.14)
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Teen charged in stabbing of 72-year-old woman (09.24.14)
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Berkeley police arrest suspect in homicide attempt of woman in 70s (09.19.14)
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