A small memorial was set up in West Berkeley near the site of Zontee Jones' death earlier this year. Photo: Emilie Raguso
A small memorial was set up in West Berkeley near the site of Zontee Jones’ death earlier this year. Photo: Emilie Raguso
A small memorial was set up in West Berkeley near the site of Zontee Jones’ death earlier this year. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Update, Jan. 5, 2015, 12:30 p.m. Cousins Maurice Thomas Jr. and Jevon Calland were sentenced Monday, Jan. 5, in connection with the killing of 34-year-old Zontee Jones in February 2013. As had been previously agreed to, Thomas received 21 years and Calland received 16, said Thomas’ defense attorney Ernesto Castillo.

Original story, Sept. 24, 2:54 p.m. The case against two cousins charged with shooting to death a man in Berkeley last year resolved Wednesday with a manslaughter plea, the same week the case was set to begin trial.

Maurice Thomas Jr. and Jevon Calland, both 22, had been charged with killing 34-year-old Zontee Jones in Berkeley in February 2013 during a confrontation on Delaware Street not far from San Pablo Avenue.

The men pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stuart Hing, and are scheduled to return to court for sentencing Jan. 5.

Thomas — whom authorities say fired the fatal shots — faces 21 years in prison. Calland faces 16 years. Conflicting evidence has, however, been presented in previous court hearings that casts some doubt on exactly what happened.

Thomas’s defense attorney, H. Ernesto Castillo, said there had been “tremendous tension between the families” due to differences in how they wanted to approach the case.

“There was a lot of conflicting evidence about who the shooter might be,” Castillo said Wednesday afternoon. “That put them in a position to point the finger at each other. But you just get a feeling that these kids, regardless of what happened, or who did what, were not going to do that.”

Castillo said the tension was “pretty visible” Wednesday morning, and that it appeared to be a very emotional situation for both defendants and their families. Calland’s family did not appear to want him to take the plea. When he entered it, Calland told the court he hoped his relatives would be able to stop arguing and move past what happened, Castillo said.

What led to the shooting?

Authorities said previously that Calland and Jones had been involved in an on-going dispute about Calland’s girlfriend, who had dated Jones five years earlier.

According to testimony from Jevon Calland’s preliminary hearing in July 2013, Calland believed Jones had been spreading rumors about having given the woman, who now has a child with Calland, a sexually transmitted disease. He confronted Jones and told him to stop the chatter. One witness for the prosecution said Calland threatened Jones with violence the day before the killing took place.

On Feb. 4, 2013, Thomas and Calland — along with his sister Jewaya and another woman — drove to Berkeley and confronted Jones shortly after 11 a.m. Jewaya Calland said the plan was only to talk with Jones, but prosecutors said the group arrived with a plan for violence.

Jewaya Calland testified during Thomas’ preliminary hearing, in January, that Jevon Calland and Jones spent 5-8 minutes talking, trying to agree to resolve their dispute and move forward. She said they shook hands, on two occasions, and agreed the problem was over, but that when Jones began to walk away, his facial expression, which she described as “sarcastic,” seemed to indicate that there was still an issue.

“My brother followed him,” she said, recalling that he asked Jones, “If it’s good, why you making that smirk? Why you looking like that?”

Thomas, who was nearby, chimed in: “Yeah, he do got a smirk on his face though,” she testified.

At that point, she said, as members of her group moved toward Jones, Jones reached into his car and pulled out some kind of metal bar, identified in court documents as a wrench. She said Jones tried to swing it, first at her brother and then at her. During the fracas, she said, Thomas shot Jones.

Another witness at one point told police it was Calland who fired the fatal shot.

Defense attorney Castillo said Wednesday that, had the cases been tried separately, it’s possible both defendants could have walked if enough questions could be raised for jurors about the identity of the shooter. The Alameda County district attorney’s office joined them together, however.

Read more about the case in past Berkeleyside coverage.

Dispute over woman led to Berkeley man’s murder (01.23.14)
‘Ceasefire Walk Against Violence’ comes to West Berkeley (10.01.13)
Berkeley homicide suspect arrested in San Diego (07.26.13)
2 men named in Berkeley murder case; details emerge (06.19.13)
Berkeley police make arrest in Zontee Jones murder (06.08.13)
Workshop urges action on gun violence around Berkeley (05.29.13)
West Berkeley neighbors ask for answers after homicide (02.20.13)
Police name Zontee Jones as year’s first Berkeley homicide (02.06.13)
Man shot dead in Berkeley, first homicide of 2013 (02.04.13)

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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...