Jennifer "Jessica" Kingeter would have been 28 on Jan. 15, 2014. Photo: Rebecca Tolman
Jennifer “Jessica” Kingeter would have been 28 on Jan. 15, 2014. Photo: Rebecca Tolman
Jennifer “Jessica” Kingeter would have been 28 on Jan. 15, 2014. Photo: Rebecca Tolman

Update, July 10, 12:06 p.m.: Just before noon, the jury returned a first-degree murder verdict, according to the Alameda County district attorney’s office. A sentencing date has not been set.

Original story, July 9: The man accused of brutally stabbing and slashing to death a young Berkeley woman just after Christmas in 2012 called his mother around the time of the fatal struggle, she said Wednesday.

“He said, ‘Mama, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’” said Jacqueline M. Stewart outside an Oakland courtroom Wednesday afternoon, as the jury began its deliberations about the murder charge her 36-year-old son, Jamaal Prince, is facing. The trial began July 2.

Stewart said her son — who was born and raised in Berkeley, and had worked as a security chief at a Berkeley cannabis club on San Pablo Avenue before his arrest — then hung up. She began calling his friends to try to find him: “I knew something was wrong.”

Authorities said, in the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 2012, Prince stabbed to death 26-year-old Jennifer “Jessica” Kingeter, a hairstylist and Laney College student, who grew up performing as a ballet dancer at the Julia Morgan Theatre in Berkeley.

The defense attorney and prosecutor, who made their closing arguments Wednesday before lunch, have both asked the jury to come back with a guilty verdict.

Defense attorney Al Thews argued for a voluntary manslaughter conviction, and said Prince believed he was defending himself from Kingeter during the “terrible fight in that bathroom between the two of them.” He said Prince had followed Kingeter into a bathroom, expecting to have sex — to which Kingeter had not agreed — and that she had then stabbed him with a knife.

Thews told the jury Wednesday that Prince “had an honest belief” that his life was in danger. He then got caught up “in the heat of passion” — due in part to the “booze” and cocaine in his system — which led to Kingeter’s extensive injuries and, ultimately, her death.

Shortly after the killing, Prince told police that Kingeter, whom he had met several hours earlier through a mutual friend, “was scared because I wanted to fuck.” After initially trying to pin the killing on the mutual friend, Prince ultimately changed his story and told detectives Kingeter came at him with a knife when he followed her into the bathroom.

“It happened so fast,” he told Oakland Police detectives, according to a video of Prince’s interview by police that was played in court last week. “I know I stabbed her…. She was gonna kill me, or I was gonna kill her.”

During that struggle, two of Prince’s fingers were nearly severed due to knife-related injuries, said his mother, adding that he continues to this day to have trouble writing.

Prince also received a 6-inch stab wound to his leg during the fight. Thews argued that Kingeter first stabbed Prince, who then believed he had to defend himself, while prosecutor Danielle Hilton of the Alameda County district attorney’s office said Wednesday it was more likely that Prince stabbed himself as he “savagely” attacked Kingter, at one point straddling her half-naked body on the bathroom floor while he carved elaborate injuries into her back.

Hilton said, too, that there was no evidence Kingeter even had the knife. She said Prince had come up with a self-defense theory after police “spoon fed” him a story to help coax a confession out of him.

Hilton — who asked the jury to come back with a first-degree murder conviction — argued that Prince is a “monster” who tried to rape Kingeter, became enraged when she fought back against him, and ultimately stabbed and slashed her hundreds of times until she died.

Hilton presented the testimony of an expert witness Monday who said Kingeter was alive, if not fully conscious, for the majority of the wounds inflicted upon her by someone wielding a 7- to 8-inch serrated knife. Among Kingeter’s injuries were several stab wounds, slash marks too numerous to count on her back, face, arms and chest, and massive “sawing” injuries to her neck, which ultimately killed her when her windpipe and a major artery were severed.

Prince then sat in the bathroom where the killing took place for two hours, Hilton said — before leaving the room naked and asking a neighbor to call for help — as he tried to hatch a story that would keep him out of jail.

Kingeter’s mother, Shantee, described her daughter as a “warrior,” who “did not allow herself to be raped.”

In a letter to supporters before the trial began, she wrote: “She fought off her assailant, a brief acquaintance, and sent him to the Emergency Room. He was apprehended that day, and has been in jail on $0 bail since.”

Kingeter’s mother, who attended the trial along with earlier court appearances by Prince, said this week she still cries daily about her daughter’s death, and continues to wonder about all the hypotheticals, including what she might have done at any point in her life to prevent her daughter’s killing. Half a dozen of her supporters attended closing arguments with her Wednesday morning.

“Not a monster”

Jamaal Prince, via Facebook
Jamaal Prince, via Facebook

Prince’s mother, who has been present during his trial and earlier court appearances, along with several supporters of her own, said Wednesday afternoon that she believes her son has not had a fair trial. She said the family has been trying unsuccessfully to fire Prince’s defense attorney for nine months, and has questioned his approach to the case.

“He wasn’t doing a damn thing,” she said, of Thews, adding that he should have presented more evidence or asked more questions, among other criticisms.

Stewart said, early on, right after the killing when she found out Kingeter was white, she became quite concerned that Prince would face more severe consequences than he otherwise would have due to political pressure related to race.

She said, also, that she does not believe the jury has gotten all the relevant facts. For example, she and another woman said this week that Prince often stayed in the East Oakland apartment at 5800 Walnut St. where the killing took place, and that he had permission from the woman who was on the lease — who has a child with Prince — to use it. Authorities, as well as that woman, testified that Prince had stolen a key to that apartment to gain access to it, which Stewart said was not true.

“It’s a very sad situation,” said Stewart, adding, “He was protecting himself.”

But whatever the circumstances, she said she had deep sympathy for Kingeter’s family. After an earlier hearing, Stewart said she had apologized to Kingeter’s mother, and that the two had a brief conversation about how and why their paths had crossed.

Wednesday, Stewart described 2013 as “the worst year in my 62 years, the pain that I went through. I can only imagine what her mother went through,” she said, of Kingeter. “It tore me up. It ain’t never gonna go away. I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy, and that’s real.”

Stewart described her son, who has four children — three boys and a girl — as a family man who “loves his kids.” She said she did not appreciate how Prince had been described in court, and felt he had been misjudged. She said, too, that he is “not a rapist.”

“They can believe what they want to believe, but they don’t know my son,” she said. “He ain’t no monster. He ain’t no poster child either.”

Stewart continued: “He’s a caring person. He got a good heart. He just gets caught up in things.”

Trial begins in stabbing death of Berkeley woman (07.02.14)
On murdered Berkeley woman’s birthday, alleged killer ordered to face charges (01.15.14)
Relatives remember slain Berkeley woman (01.07.13)
New details emerge in stabbing of Berkeley woman (01.04.13)
5-time felon charged with murder of Berkeley woman (01.03.13)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...