Update, April 1, 4 p.m. Judge Vernon Nakahara scheduled a decision in the matter for April 9 at 4 p.m.
Original story, April 1: A hearing to determine whether the prosecution has made its case against four men alleged to have conspired to kill a man who posted disrespectful videos and pictures online is set to wrap up in Alameda County Superior Court this week.
Tuesday morning, closing arguments are scheduled to begin at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland in the case against 27-year-old Joseph Carroll Jr.; Emando Roos, 36; Travon Wilson, 28; and Joseph Connors, 28. All four men, along with two alleged victims identified in the investigation, grew up in Berkeley, according to testimony last week.
Alameda County deputy district attorney Luis Marin has argued that Carroll tried to coordinate two acts of violence against one of the intended victims in Oakland last September. Carroll was in Texas at the time of the alleged attack plans, but authorities had tapped his phone lines as part of a high-profile murder investigation involving an 8-year-old girl who was gunned down at a sleepover last July.
Defense attorneys have argued that the case against the men is weak. The evidence against them is based largely on surveillance and wiretap recordings of slang-filled conversations defense attorneys say shows tough talk more than any actual murder plot.
Authorities say the first murder attempt took place Sept. 10, 2013, when Carroll reportedly tried to send his associates to an East Oakland home where the intended victim was spotted. Police flooded the area and say they prevented the attack as a result, according to testimony in court over several weeks in March.
Police said several members of the crew associated with Carroll tried a second time to harm the alleged victim Sept. 20 at a party at an Oakland nightclub.
Police officers testified in March that the alleged victim was at that party. One officer said he watched as the intended victim left the club, and seemed to be agitated and afraid. The officer said on the stand that the man was followed by several people associated with Carroll, who seemed intent on doing the man harm.
But the party’s organizer, 49-year-old Garland Albert Sr., testified last week on behalf of the defendants, and said the intended victim was never at the party.
Albert, a longtime Berkeley resident, said he knew everyone who showed up to the celebration, as well as the men authorities said had been targeted in the alleged attack.
“It behooves you to know who’s walking in and who’s walking out,” Albert said on the stand, adding that he was aware of a dispute between the alleged victims and the defendants, and that he had been on the lookout for anything that could become a problem as he manned the door throughout the night.
“They wasn’t there, period. I don’t know much, but I know that,” he said of the alleged victims in the case.
Albert said all of the defendants grew up in Berkeley, and that the alleged victim — as well as a second man authorities said was targeted in the plot — grew up in Berkeley’s waterfront neighborhood.
Defense attorneys dispute meaning of recorded phone calls
Oakland Police officers testified that a wiretap investigation that began last September included numerous phone calls between Joseph Carroll and other defendants in which Carroll expressed anger about disrespectful videos and photos posted online by two men associated with an Oakland gang. The YouTube videos and Instagram photographs disrespected Carroll and his brother, Coleon, as well as their cousin Jermaine Davis, who was shot down in Berkeley last July, according to the recordings.
Gang enhancements have not been charged in this case, but Davis and the Carroll brothers have in the past been linked by authorities to Berkeley’s Waterfrong gang. Some members of the public have disputed the existence of a waterfront gang at all, and say “waterfront” is purely a description of a geographic area in West Berkeley that residents associate with.
Thirty-eight recorded phone calls were submitted into evidence by the prosecution, and police said thousands of conversations were recorded as part of the investigation.
Officers testified that the recordings include threats, plans for violence and numerous references to firearms.
“Ain’t nobody around there to bust that thing real quick?” Carroll asks Trayvon Wilson in one of the calls made Sept. 10, which was played in court last month. “I got some big meat out there, too.”
Oakland Police officer Eric Karsseboom said Carroll was asking Wilson to commit a drive-by shooting in East Oakland where one of the intended victims was visiting friends. “Big meat,” said Karsseboom, is a reference to a large firearm such as an assault rifle.
During cross-examination, attorneys for the defendants have questioned the prosecution’s allegations, and indicated that explicit evidence against their clients is scant.
In the recordings, which were played in court, defendants use street slang to discuss their frustrations. Oakland Police officers have said the defendants’ intentions to commit murder are clear from their understanding of criminal street slang, and that the conversations include multiple references to firearms, acts of violence and specific locations tied to intended victims.
Attorneys for the defendants have disputed those assertions, saying the language used in the conversations is open to misinterpretation.
Defense attorneys in the case — Ernie Castillo, Darryl Billups, Mark McGoldrick and Gary Sherrer — have questioned everything from the meaning of the slang words recorded in the wiretaps to who was actually making the calls to the technology authorities used to capture and record the conversations.
They have also argued that the wiretap recordings should be thrown out from the case, saying that the prosecution has failed to establish the proper legal context for their inclusion.
The preliminary hearing for the four men is expected to conclude this week, at which point Judge Vernon Nakahara will decide whether enough evidence has been presented since testimony began in early March for the case to move forward to trial. All four defendants are being held without bail.
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