Man takes plea in 2014 murder, carjacking

Nancy McClellan died after a violent attack and carjacking attempt in Berkeley in 2014. Photo: David Gallagher

Update, March 3, 12:20 p.m. The sentencing date for Kamau Berlin was postponed until May 12, according to online records from the Alameda County sheriff’s office. It is slated to take place at 8:30 a.m. in Department 11 in the René C. Davidson Courthouse, 1225 Fallon St., in downtown Oakland.

Original story, March 1, 11 a.m. The 21-year-old Richmond man charged in the fatal stabbing and attempted carjacking of a 72-year-old woman in 2014 has taken a plea deal and is scheduled to be sentenced this week.

Kamau Berlin entered no contest pleas in December in connection with second-degree murder and carjacking, according to court papers. Berlin has been in custody since his arrest Sept. 19, 2014.

Nancy McClellan of Emeryville was stabbed repeatedly in the neck after attending a wedding that day at the Berkeley Zen Center, where she was a gardener. She died after nearly three weeks in medical care, though she never regained consciousness.


Berlin — then 18 — was a student at Berkeley Technology Academy, Berkeley Unified’s lone continuation high school, at the time of his arrest.

Berlin is set to return to court Thursday for a sentencing hearing at 8:30 a.m. before Judge Paul Delucchi at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland, according to online records from the Alameda County sheriff’s office.

Nearly a year ago, in May, an Alameda County Superior Court judge said Berlin must stand trial for felony murder, with two special circumstances related to robbery and carjacking. Special circumstances can lead to a more severe sentence than murder alone: up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

He also was held to answer on a use of a deadly weapon clause and a clause related to the great bodily injury of an elderly victim, as well as charges of attempted second-degree robbery, attempted carjacking with a deadly weapon, and elder or dependent adult abuse resulting in death.

But all of those charges, other than murder and carjacking, were dismissed when Berlin took the plea deal Dec. 14.


Authorities said, back in 2014, Berlin tried to steal McClellan’s Honda, then stabbed her twice in the throat when the car wouldn’t start. The assault took place at approximately 4:30 p.m. at Otis and Russell streets not far from the Ashby BART station.

Berlin told his mother he just needed a ride home the day he was arrested near the car where McClellan was found bleeding from the neck. 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, 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 his arrest.

At the time of his arrest, he told police a red substance on him that looked like blood was actually “fake blood for Halloween.”

Left alone in the back of a police car, authorities say he confessed to killing “the old lady” and told God he did not want to go to jail for life.


In prior court testimony, Berkeley homicide Sgt. Peter Hong said Berlin was “thinking out loud,” talking to himself, when he “admitted to killing ‘the old lady.’”

“‘Work with me, God, I know I did this, I stabbed the lady,’” Hong said he heard on a recording of the monologue. Berlin made comments about how bad the situation would look in court, according to Hong: the way the woman’s pants had been pulled down, and how Berlin ran from police.

Hong said Berlin also mentioned the words “trying” and “carjacking,” adding: “I killed her. She didn’t deserve it.”