Michael Diggs, the homeless man charged with killing a 54-year-old Berkeley man with a hatchet in late February, told police he snapped after the victim walked naked into the bathroom where Diggs’ girlfriend was showering, then tried to force her to have sex with him.
Police arrested 29-year-old Diggs in early April in connection with the killing of Sylvan Fuselier in Berkeley more than a month before. Police also arrested 41-year-old Kneitawnye Sessoms, Diggs’ girlfriend, in the case. Authorities charged both with the Feb. 22 murder of Fuselier.
The couple has appeared in court this week before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon, who will determine whether there is enough evidence against them for the case to proceed to trial.
During a lengthy interview after his arrest by Berkeley Police, Diggs confessed to killing Fuselier after the older man began acting strange and became insistent about having sex with Sessoms, who repeatedly refused his advances, according to a transcript of Diggs’ confession.
An attorney for Diggs, Drew Steckler of the Alameda County public defender’s office, has asked the judge to throw out that confession on the grounds that Diggs was subject to an “unlawfully prolonged detention.” He said, too, that police coerced Diggs into speaking in exchange for leniency for Sessoms.
Reardon reviewed a video of that 3½-hour confession tape Wednesday in chambers after the conclusion of two morning-only sessions of the preliminary hearing, which began Tuesday.
Several hours before the killing, according to a transcript of Diggs’ discussion with police, Diggs met up with Fuselier in downtown Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue and agreed to sell him some crystal methamphetamine. The men and Sessoms then walked to Fuselier’s apartment in the 1100 block of Addison Street and went up to his second-story unit.
Diggs initially told police he was alone with Fuselier, and that the two had smoked crystal meth and talked for an hour or so before Diggs left to return to downtown Berkeley.
But, approximately an hour and a half into the interview, Diggs began to tell a different version of events, according to the transcript. He said all three of them had been hanging out in the apartment when Fuselier started talking about wanting to have sex with Sessoms, and making inappropriate comments. Sessoms told Fuselier repeatedly that she wasn’t interested.
Fuselier then gave Sessoms permission to shower in his bathroom, according to the transcript. At the time, Diggs and Sessoms were living on the street, and she had welcomed the chance to clean up.
Diggs said he tried numerous times to get Fuselier to “be cool” and drop the idea of sex with Sessoms, but was unsuccessful. The two men talked business — related to drug sales, according to Diggs — and Fuselier at one point flipped through a large book about sex.
Suddenly, Fuselier told Diggs he would “be right back.” According to his story, Fuselier left the living room, then reappeared “butt naked trying to run into the bathroom and hop on” Sessoms while she was in the shower.
Diggs told police he heard Sessoms let out a scream in response to what he described as Fuselier’s attempt at “borderline rape.”
Fuselier came out of the bathroom and Diggs said he picked up a hatchet, similar to a small machete, and struck Diggs with it several times in the head, killing him immediately.
“It was like I [expletive] just snapped,” Diggs told police, according to the transcript. “I know my heart was poundin’ in there man, I was … afraid that somethin’ was wrong with her.”
He later told police that, after Fuselier had died, he used a knife to cut him several times, and stabbed him in the throat, because he was so angry at what he said the man had tried to do. He even considered castrating him, but ultimately did not. (Police said Fuselier’s injuries included chop wounds in his head, cut or stab wounds in his neck, and multiple cuts on his right forearm and hand.)
Diggs told police that too many women in his life had been raped, and that he had intense anger toward “any person who rapes or molests women or children or even another man.” He said he considered Fuselier a “pervert” who needed to be stopped, though he also said he hadn’t thought through the attack in advance.
Diggs said he then covered Fuselier up with blankets and a pile of cushions, pillows, a box and other debris. According to the transcript, he said it was because he didn’t want Sessoms to go through the trauma of having to see Fuselier’s dead body.
Diggs said he found Sessoms naked in the bathroom, shaking and upset. He eventually convinced her to leave the apartment, and told police she had nothing to do with the attack.
After Sessoms left, Diggs said he spent hours going through Fuselier’s belongings, looking for court papers or any other clues “to gauge did I just kill somebody who maybe just was a little out of it or did I just kill somebody who’s actually a sick mother [expletive] — ’cause I’m now tryin’ to justify to myself what — what the [expletive] just happened? …. Was this actually a decent person that I just killed or was he really as bad as I perceived him to be?”
He said he also tried to do what he could to cleanse the apartment, sprinkling bath salts around the area. He told police he had been out of it, not in “normal mode,” but that sprinkling the salts had been reminiscent of something he learned — growing up for a time in Louisiana — to clear bad spirits away.
Diggs told police he also pulled out all the cleaning products he could find in the apartment, from bleach and Tide to Febreze, oven cleaner and other disinfectants, and “just started takin’ it out and sprayin’ or dumpin’ — or porin’ — or shakin’ [them] out.”
He then put his backpack into a rolling red bag belonging to Fuselier, and took the man’s two cellphones and his keys, and left the apartment.
Fingerprints on bleach bottle ties Diggs to crime scene
Fuselier’s girlfriend and landlord initially alerted police to his absence when his girlfriend was unable to reach him for a week. The two had parted ways Feb. 21 in downtown Berkeley after spending time together at a pool hall. In the days that followed, she became worried when she couldn’t reach him, and left notes on his door asking him to contact her, according to testimony this week. The landlord asked police to check on Fuselier on Feb. 28. When they entered his home, they found his body buried under a pile of debris. The apartment appeared to have been ransacked.
From the time of the initial investigation until when charges were filed in the case a month later, authorities released few details about the case, other than that a homicide was believed to have taken place. It took approximately a week for the community to learn the name of the man who died, and a month to learn how.
Police focused first on surveillance footage of a man and woman who entered the building with Fuselier the night he is believed to have been killed. The woman is seen exiting the building around 8 a.m. the following day, and the man left around 10:30 a.m.
In testimony Wednesday morning, Berkeley Police Sgt. Peter Hong said Diggs initially had come to his attention when a crime lab found what were identified as two of Diggs’ fingerprints on a bleach bottle from Fuselier’s apartment, found next to his body, that had been sent for forensic testing.
The fingerprints led police to Diggs, Hong said, and further investigation led police to Sessoms, as they had been contacted together in the past by Berkeley police. Police ultimately arrested Sessoms on March 31 on suspicion of murder. The couple appeared to be the people shown in the video with Fuselier, Hong said, and statements from their interviews with police ultimately corroborated their presence with him the night he died.
Upon learning of the fingerprints, Hong quickly found out that Diggs already was in custody for parole violation. He had been arrested March 12 by Berkeley officers, after having been found with “burglary tools,” and had been sent to Santa Rita Jail as authorities determined how that crime, and his past violation of his parole terms, would affect his parole status.
A parole agent who testified Tuesday said Diggs had been arrested by Berkeley police Dec. 1 and Dec. 29, and had been released most recently on Jan. 26. He was on parole, dating back to 2011, according to an estimate from the parole officer, but had never made contact with his parole agent. On March 10, the parole agent issued a warrant for Diggs’ arrest for failing to comply with the terms of his release.
Hong said, upon learning Diggs was in custody, he got a warrant to search his property, which had been confiscated when he was incarcerated, and found a key to Fuselier’s apartment amid other items in a small bike pouch.
Police interviewed Diggs on April 1, and arrested him after that interview in connection with Fuselier’s killing.
Defense attorney Steckler has argued in a motion before the judge that police held Diggs too long — between his parole violation arrest March 12 and subsequent arrest in the Fuselier killing April 3 — without due cause. Steckler said the detention was unlawfully prolonged and, as a result, the confession was “tainted by the illegality and must be suppressed.”
The prosecution has presented testimony it hopes will show that proper procedure was followed, but Reardon has yet to rule on Steckler’s motion.
Testimony is expected to resume Thursday morning and to conclude later in the day, or during the following week.
Read more about homicide in Berkeley.
Breaking: 1 held, 1 freed in Berkeley hatchet homicide (10.23.14)
‘Not guilty’ pleas entered in Berkeley hatchet killing (06.03.14)
Breaking: Charges filed against 2 in Berkeley homicide (04.02.14)
Police release ID of city’s first homicide victim of year (03.06.14)
Berkeley neighbors express concerns after homicide (03.05.14)
Berkeley police investigating homicide on Addison Street (03.01.14)