Tag Archives: Homicide in Berkeley

Crime

Berkeley killings get spotlight in death penalty case

Anthony Medearis' aunt wore a lanyard and memorial photograph of her nephew to court this week. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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One month into the trial of a Berkeley man charged with two murders, who could face the death penalty, his defense attorneys are slated to begin to present evidence to the jury Monday.

Darnell Williams Jr., 25, is accused of killing 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine, who happened to be a guest at a sleepover at an apartment targeted by a man the prosecution has said was bent on revenge for the killing in Berkeley earlier that day — July 17, 2013 — of a close friend.

Less than two months later, Sept. 8, authorities say Williams opened fire on 22-year-old Anthony “Tone” Medearis III as Medearis ran from him, pleading for his life. The two were fixtures in the same West Berkeley neighborhood and hung out with the same group of friends. Authorities have said Williams planned to rob Medearis and considered him a snitch who deserved to die for talking to the police.

Alaysha’s killing — described by the prosecution as the intentional gunning down of children — horrified the broader Bay Area community. Medearis’ shooting, though heinous and senseless, did not strike the same chord. His family, a near-daily presence in the courtroom, has been the first to acknowledge it. But they’ve said they’ve come to see Medearis’ death as a path to justice for Alaysha.

“My baby was an angel,” said Medearis’ mother, Dolanda Medearis, during a recent break from court. “Had he [Williams] not killed him, he could have gotten away with killing that 8-year-old girl.” … Continue reading »

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Crime

Newly found photo could bolster prosecution’s case in Berkeley-Oakland death penalty trial

Darnell Williams Jr. mugshot. Photo: ACSO
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A Berkeley man facing multiple murder charges may have inadvertently tipped off the prosecution to a notable piece of evidence by insisting he get access to material on his old cellphone.

Police had confiscated the phone of Darnell Williams Jr. at the time of his arrest in Berkeley in 2013. He has been charged with the murders of an 8-year-old girl in Oakland and a 22-year-old father with ties to the same West Berkeley neighborhood where Williams lived. The trial began two weeks ago. If convicted, Williams could face the death penalty.

Thursday, after excusing the jury until Tuesday morning, attorneys and Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner stayed on in the courtroom to update the written record following two conversations they’d had earlier in chambers.

The defendant’s cellphone was the topic of those conversations. The defense team had, for some time, been pushing prosecutor John Brouhard to turn over all material from the phone at their client’s urging. Police had tried in the past to download texts and other information from it, but been stymied by technical difficulties.

Defense attorneys “thought it was a really stupid and bad idea”

This week, the Fremont Police Department was able to download the entirety of the phone contents. Brouhard said a review of those records led to the discovery of a photograph that shows a pistol that could have been used to kill 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine in July 2013. She had been playing at a friend’s house during a sleepover and was not the intended target. Three other people, two children and their grandmother, were injured. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Authorities: Man admitted to killing, tried to bargain with God, in secret recording by Berkeley police

A tree outside the Berkeley Zen Center has become a memorial to Nancy McClellan. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Left alone in the back of a police car, authorities say an 18-year-old man arrested after the stabbing of a 72-year-old woman in South Berkeley in 2014 confessed to killing “the old lady” and told God he did not want to go to jail for life.

Unbeknownst to him, his statements were recorded by Berkeley Police investigators. Those statements, as well as a secretly recorded jailhouse conversation between him and his mother that led police to the alleged murder weapon, were presented Wednesday by the prosecution during the second day of the preliminary hearing for Kamau Berlin.

Berlin, now 20, is facing a murder charge as well as other serious felonies for the September 2014 killing and attempted carjacking of Nancy McClellan. This week, an Alameda County Superior Court judge heard testimony and evidence in the case against Berlin. Judge Rhonda Burgess said she will not decide until May 4 whether to send the case forward to trial though both sides have rested.

Read complete coverage of the case.

Berkeley Police Sgt. Peter Hong testified Wednesday about a significant break in the investigation that took place shortly after Berlin’s arrest. Concerned McClellan may have been sexually assaulted, police took Berlin for an exam Sept. 19 to test him for any signs of that possibility. (The results of that exam were not presented during this week’s two-day hearing, which began Tuesday.)

Officers had to wait for the medical examiner to arrive, and left Berlin alone and handcuffed in a police car, Hong said. A detective secretly left a recorder on the front seat. Hong testified Wednesday about the evidence he said the recording contained when he listened to it. The recording was not played in court.

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 the recording. 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 he had run from police. He observed that police had not found “the brass knuckles,” and said someone behind him had seen what happened.

Hong later added that Berlin mentioned the words “trying” and “carjacking,” and said: “I killed her. She didn’t deserve it.” He told God he did not want to be sent to jail for life, Hong said. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Witnesses to fatal Berkeley attack did not see killer’s face

Nancy McClellan. Photo: David Gallagher
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An Alameda County Superior Court judge is expected to decide this week whether the case against a former Berkeley Technology Academy student charged with murder and other serious crimes will continue on to trial.

Kamau Berlin, then 18, was arrested Sept. 19, 2014, after a brief police chase about a block from where 72-year-old Nancy McClellan had been left bleeding from life-threatening neck wounds in the back of her green Honda Civic. It was 4:30 p.m. on a Friday. McClellan had been attending a wedding at the nearby Berkeley Zen Center, where she was a member and also a gardener.

Witnesses in the area, both civilians and police officers, testified Tuesday as the preliminary hearing in the case began before Judge Rhonda Burgess. Two neighbors saw a young man matching Berlin’s description in the immediate vicinity of the Honda, at Otis and Russell streets, but neither saw the man’s face or felt they had seen it clearly enough to identify Berlin with certainty. Another witness saw a man matching his description running from the scene but, again, did not see his face.

A Berkeley Police officer who arrived on Otis, just south of Russell, testified Tuesday he made eye contact with Berlin minutes after the initial call came into dispatch. The officer, Christopher Schulz, said Berlin was walking casually down the street. The two made eye contact after Schulz pulled up in his police cruiser. Then Berlin took off running, said Schulz, hopping a 6-foot wrought-iron security gate to access a back yard on Otis before jumping a wooden fence onto a detached garage and disappearing westbound toward Martin Luther King Jr. Way. He was arrested a short time later.

Read complete coverage of the case.

The prosecution is expected to present evidence Wednesday to explain how a conversation between Berlin and his mother led police to the murder weapon, which was recovered near the area where police took him into custody. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Ex-girlfriend of accused killer: ‘I feel scared to this day’

Darnell Williams Jr. mugshot. Photo: ACSO
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Testimony continued Monday in the case against a man with ties to a Berkeley gang who is accused of gunning down a little girl at a slumber party and fatally shooting a Berkeley father in the back as he ran for his life and pleaded for mercy.

Defense attorneys for Darnell Williams Jr., 25, have said hard evidence is lacking. They have questioned the credibility of two of the prosecution’s central witnesses and asked the jury not to be swayed by the heartbreaking killing of the little girl, for which they say their client is not responsible. That shooting sent shockwaves through the community and is still difficult for seasoned first-responders to discuss.

Williams could face the death penalty if convicted. He has been charged with the murder, during a sleepover in Oakland’s Dimond District, of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine, with a firearm, while “lying in wait,” which is a special circumstance that carries extra weight; the attempted murders of three other people at the sleepover, two children and their grandmother; and shooting at an inhabited dwelling.

See the Berkeleyside crime section.

Williams has also been charged with killing 22-year-old Anthony “Tone” Medearis III in Berkeley less than two months later during a robbery, in part because of rumors Medearis had “snitched” to police in 2011. During that shooting, Williams’ nephew was also struck near the eye with a bullet fragment from Williams’ gun, according to the prosecution. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Judge orders Williams trial to continue after defendant threatens suicide, violence

Darnell Williams Jr. mugshot. Photo: ACSO
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After an unexpected series of events, an Alameda County Superior Court judge offered to lend his own clean underwear, trousers and socks to a defendant standing trial for multiple murders.

Testimony was slated to resume at 9:30 Monday morning in the Darnell Williams Jr. case, but was postponed for what initially were unknown reasons. The jurors all were in attendance on a separate floor but never came down to the courtroom.

At 11:15 a.m., Judge Jeffrey Horner went on the record with prosecutor John Brouhard and defense attorneys  and . Defendant Williams was not present.

Read complete coverage of the case.

Horner then summarized what had taken place earlier in the day. He said deputies had reported several issues that had come up with Williams since the weekend.

First, deputies had tried to move Williams from Santa Rita Jail in Dublin to the North County jail in Oakland, but he told them he did not want that. Billups said his client reported that the move would cause him “nothing but trouble,” either with inmates or deputies, but did not elaborate.

Williams then told the deputies over the weekend that he was suicidal. Under sheriff’s office protocol, he was taken to a separate facility and given a different set of clothing.

Monday morning, Williams refused to come to court, the judge said, because he had not had a chance to shower and did not have clean underwear or socks. He told the deputies, Horner reported, that he “would fight” if they forced him to come to court. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Years on, Alaysha Carradine killing is still haunting

Alaysha Carradine, courtesy of family
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As testimony began Tuesday in the Darnell Williams Jr. murder trial, veteran first responders were overcome by emotion on the stand as they recalled the 8-year-old girl fatally shot during a sleepover in 2013, and the courtroom was captivated by the sweetness of the little girl who survived the violence.

Most of the adults who testified Tuesday at times teared up as they thought back to July 17, 2013, and described how they knew or came into contact that day with Alaysha Carradine. Carradine was simply a visitor at an Oakland apartment targeted by a man bent on revenge for a fatal shooting earlier that day in Berkeley, authorities say. The estranged girlfriend of the man later charged in the Berkeley case lived at the apartment with their two children, but the couple had no contact.

Read complete coverage of the case.

Defense attorneys say Williams is not the shooter, and that there just isn’t enough evidence to link him to the crime. Williams, 25, has also been charged with the murder of Anthony Medearis III in Berkeley in September 2013 and could face the death penalty if convicted of both murders at the conclusion of the trial, which could last into June. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Defense says lack of evidence will cast doubt in double murder trial

Alaysha Carradine, courtesy of family
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Unreliable statements and a lack of evidence will show the jury Darnell Williams Jr. did not commit the two killings, in Berkeley and Oakland, for which he is standing trial this week, his defense attorney said Tuesday morning.

In her brief opening statements, before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner, defense attorney Deborah Levy urged the jury not to be swayed by the “horrific, horrible, horrendous, heartbreaking homicide of a young 8-year-old girl.”

Levy said the jury should “listen to what is not there” in the prosecution’s case: no DNA, no fingerprints, no murder weapons and no eyewitnesses who identified Williams as the person responsible for the shooting in Oakland of three children and a grandmother, which left Alaysha Carradine dead July 17, 2013.

Read about the prosecution’s opening statements.

Levy said the prosecution’s two main witnesses in the case are prostitutes who may have had their own reasons to lie. Prosecutor John Brouhard told the jury Monday that Williams told both women he committed the Oakland shooting.

“Those two statements are not sufficient … to prove Mr. Williams is responsible,” Levy told the jury. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Prosecutor: Berkeley killing sparked ‘rampage of violence’ that left little girl dead

Darnell Williams Jr. mugshot. Photo: ACSO
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The shooter rang the doorbell, then straightened out his arms as he held the pistol in front of him with both hands. He waited for the doorknob to move and heard a little girl ask, “Who is it?”

As the knob began to turn, he opened fire, pointing slightly downward. Thirteen bullets pierced the metal security door, scattering casings on the ground outside. Eight of those bullets penetrated the wooden front door. The next five entered the apartment through the gap left after the door opened.

When the gunfire stopped, three children had been shot, one fatally. Clara Fields — grandmother of two of those children — who had been on a couch at the end of the hall watching TV also was hit.

The chilling scene that led to the death of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine in Oakland during a sleepover at a friend’s home in 2013 was recounted in graphic detail Monday as prosecutor John Brouhard outlined his case for an Alameda County jury against 25-year-old Darnell Williams Jr. He could face the death penalty or life without parole if convicted.

Brouhard said Williams was on a “rampage of violence” when he set out to kill the young children and former girlfriend of the man he believed gunned down his close friend Jermaine Davis hours earlier in Berkeley.

“This defendant believes in street justice,” Brouhard told the jury Monday morning. “And for this defendant that means retaliation… the killing of innocent and defenseless people including women and children.”

Williams has also been charged with killing 22-year-old Anthony “Tone” Medearis III in Berkeley less than two months later during a robbery, in part because of rumors Medearis had “snitched” to police in 2011. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Wallace found guilty in 2010 Berkeley murder

Yellow tags marked the location of evidence at the 2010 shooting scene. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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After less than two full days of deliberation, an Alameda County Superior Court jury found Brandon Wallace guilty Monday morning of first-degree murder, attempted murder and unlawful possession of a firearm in a 2010 Berkeley double shooting that has been slow to work its way through the system.

The guilty verdict means Wallace, 26, could face more than 50 years in prison.

Wallace of Pittsburg was accused of opening fire at point-blank range — with a second shooter who has never been arrested or charged — on lifelong friends Gary Ferguson Jr. and Larry Belle as they stood talking and joking on a Sacramento Street sidewalk on Oct. 26, 2010, near the shop where Belle worked cutting hair.

Read Berkeleyside’s in-depth look at the trial.

“I just hope it brings some closure to the Ferguson family,” said prosecutor Matt Wendt after the verdict was read shortly before 11 a.m. Monday.

The jury began its deliberations Wednesday afternoon. The group continued through the day Thursday but did not meet Friday. Monday morning, jurors asked to review some video associated with the case, and to hear some testimony read back, according to Judge Jon Rolefson, who said he wanted to make sure those requests were part of the official record. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Jury deliberations begin in 2010 Berkeley murder case

Gary Ferguson Jr. Photo: Ferguson family
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Jury deliberations began Wednesday afternoon in the trial of 26-year-old Brandon Wallace, who has been charged in the murder and attempted murder of two men in 2010 on a sunny morning outside a South Berkeley barbershop.

Wallace’s trial began Monday, March 7, not long after a codefendant in the case — 26-year-old Coleon Carroll — pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Authorities say Wallace and another man who has not been publicly identified opened fire at point-blank range on lifelong friends Gary Ferguson Jr. and Larry Belle as they stood talking and joking on a Sacramento Street sidewalk on Oct. 26, 2010, near the shop where Belle worked cutting hair. Ferguson, 35, died within the hour, and Belle spent more than a month in the hospital after the two assailants unleashed a hail of bullets on the pair. Authorities found more than 20 casings from two different guns at the scene.

“They pumped those bullets into those bodies even as they lay on top of each other,” Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Matt Wendt told the jury during closing arguments Wednesday morning. He described the killing as both “coldblooded and calculated” while playing the jury surveillance footage he said clearly showed Wallace opening fire then fleeing the crime scene, limping because he had been shot accidentally by his “little partner” during the brazen attack.

Deputy Public Defender Bonnie Narby urged the jury to find her client innocent of the charges against him, and painted a picture of investigators who got caught up in an “obsession to win at all costs.” She said police did not do enough to track down evidence — in the form of BART surveillance footage or witness statements — that might have proven her client to have been elsewhere during the shooting. They suffered from “tunnel vision,” she argued, when they learned that someone had come into a hospital seeking medical care for an injury consistent with one they believed they saw on surveillance footage of the crime.

“It was good police work that allowed Brandon to be developed as a suspect,” she said. He fit the general description of one of the shooters, had a similar gunshot wound and similar purple shoes, and was a black male with long dreadlocks. “But all that neutrality, all that organized fact finding, once Brandon was developed as a suspect there was a rush to judgment.” … Continue reading »

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Defense attorney: Berkeley detectives ‘rushed to judgment’ in murder case arrest

Yellow tags marked the location of evidence at the 2010 shooting scene. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Berkeley murder trial launched Monday morning with the attorney for defendant Brandon Wallace arguing that investigators were too quick to zero in on him when he showed up at a local hospital with a gunshot wound after a fatal shooting on Sacramento Street in 2010. During the incident, one of two assailants appears to get shot from behind accidentally by the other while they unleashed a barrage of bullets on two men chatting on the sidewalk.

Deputy Public Defender Bonnie Narby and Deputy District Attorney Matt Wendt gave their opening statements Monday before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland.

Read background on the case.

Authorities say Wallace, 26, and another individual who has not been arrested or publicly identified, walked up to Gary Ferguson Jr., 35, and his friend Larry Belle, and opened fire on them outside Johnson’s House of Style, where Belle worked as a barber, on the morning of Oct. 26, 2010. Authorities found more than 20 bullet casings from two different guns at the scene.

In surveillance video from outside the barber shop, which Wendt played in court Monday for the jury, Wendt said Wallace can be seen getting shot, then limping away as he runs down Sacramento Street after the shooting. He said the suspect in the video wore jeans and tennis shoes that looked similar to the ones detectives found with Wallace in the hospital as he sought treatment for a gunshot wound. Wallace told doctors he was hurt when someone tried to rob him in Richmond. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Berkeley man takes plea deal in 2010 murder case

Yellow tags marked the location of evidence at the 2010 shooting scene. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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One of two men charged in a fatal shooting in 2010 outside a Berkeley barbershop, which left a second man critically injured, entered a no contest plea this week in connection with a lesser charge just before the case was slated to head to trial.

Coleon Lee Carroll took the voluntary manslaughter plea as he and co-defendant Brandon Wallace, both 26, ramped up for trial, which had been long delayed due to numerous attorney changes and postponements previously in the court process. Trial preparations for Wallace are underway, and opening arguments are expected in his case in the first half of March.

Authorities identified Carroll and Wallace, during court proceedings in 2012, as “part of a gang in Berkeley called the Waterfront gang.”

Both men had been charged with murder for the Oct. 26, 2010, shooting of 35-year-old Gary Ferguson Jr. outside Johnson’s House of Style on Sacramento Street. A second man, a longtime barber at the shop, was also struck by a hail of bullets when two men walked up to them before 9 a.m. and opened fire. Authorities ultimately identified Carroll as the getaway driver, and Wallace and an unnamed third man as the shooters.

Carroll and Wallace were charged with attempted murder, in connection with the shooting of the barber, and Carroll faced a felony count of possession of a firearm by a felon. (He had been found responsible for committing a robbery in 2007 when he was still a juvenile.)

The plea deal, for voluntary manslaughter and an arming clause, resulted in a sentence of 13 years in state prison, which Carroll will serve at 85% time, said Teresa Drenick, Alameda County district attorney’s office spokeswoman. That translates into total time to be served of about 11 years since his original arrest in 2010. He has been in custody since then. … Continue reading »

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