After hearing sometimes chilling testimony from three witnesses at a preliminary hearing Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, Judge Trina Thompson ordered Anthony Durant to stand trial in the October 2015 killing of Christian Sheppard, Berkeley’s only recorded homicide last year.
Sheppard, 24, the father of two young daughters, was fatally shot on the night of Oct. 6 behind the apartment complex at 1611 Russell St. in South Berkeley. He had been playing dice with Durant, then 24, who was charged with murder and unlawful firearm activity after emptying 16 rounds from a semiautomatic handgun into Sheppard’s body. Durant then fled the crime scene and dumped the gun in a nearby yard, according to police. He was arrested Oct. 7 and remains in custody on a no-bail hold.
Both Sheppard and Durant attended Berkeley schools, had known each other since childhood and grew up in the same South Berkeley neighborhood.
At Tuesday’s hearing, witness Sierra Maria Magdalena, a neighbor whose apartment offered a view of the Oct. 6 crime scene, described looking out the window immediately after hearing several loud “bangs.” She saw a man with “braids or dreadlocks to his shoulders” standing with his back to her. Behind him, a man lay on the ground, “rocking a little bit,” she said.
While Magdalena said she could not identify the standing man as Durant — represented Tuesday by defense counsel George Arroyo — she said she knew the defendant from seeing him around the area, adding: “I thought I did recognize him that day.”
Another witness, Beatriz Perez, who used to live in an apartment overlooking the back of 1611 Russell, said she had seen Durant and Sheppard, both of whom she knew by sight, shooting dice that October afternoon as she worked to clean out her car and bedroom. She heard what sounded like an argument, followed by gunshots, shortly after which she saw Durant run past her window in the direction of Russell, apparently holding on to the waistband of his pants.
Perez, Magdalena and a third witness, Antuan Mason, described how nobody rushed to help Sheppard as he lay dying on the pavement.
“What could I do?” Mason said, “I was watching him bleeding.”
He said people came out of nearby apartments and many were screaming the victim’s name. Magdalena said she saw a neighbor she knew approach Sheppard and “kick” him. “People were shouting to kick the man to see if was alive,” she said.
Friends of Sheppard and members of his family, including his mother, attended the hearing in the Oakland courtroom Tuesday. Many wore clothes bearing images of the young man.
In his closing arguments, defense counsel Arroyo asked that the case be dismissed due to “tentative evidence at best” and “gaps in the timeline” of testimony. Deputy District Attorney Nick Homer, the prosecutor, said circumstantial evidence made it “clear what happened.”
Durant had a criminal record before his October 2015 arrest. According to court papers, he was prohibited from firearm possession after a robbery in 2006, when he was still a minor. He was pulled over in Berkeley in December 2013 and found with a loaded, concealed firearm later determined to have been stolen. He told police he had just picked up the gun at the corner store and planned to turn it in to authorities. He was also arrested in Berkeley in June 2014 after a shooting in the 1600 block of Russell that injured two people, though charges ultimately were not filed in that case due to a lack of victim cooperation. Durant was on probation at the time of his arrest.
He is set to return to court Jan. 20.
Details emerge about fatal Berkeley shooting (10.09.15)
Obituary: Remembering Christian Sheppard (10.08.15)
Police make arrest in fatal shooting of 24-year-old (10.07.15)
Shooting on Russell in Berkeley sends 1 to hospital (10.06.15)
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