A Berkeley murder trial launched Monday morning with the attorney for defendant Brandon Wallace arguing that investigators were too quick to zero in on him when he showed up at a local hospital with a gunshot wound after a fatal shooting on Sacramento Street in 2010. During the incident, one of two assailants appears to get shot from behind accidentally by the other while they unleashed a barrage of bullets on two men chatting on the sidewalk.
Deputy Public Defender Bonnie Narby and Deputy District Attorney Matt Wendt gave their opening statements Monday before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland.
Read background on the case.
Authorities say Wallace, 26, and another individual who has not been arrested or publicly identified, walked up to Gary Ferguson Jr., 35, and his friend Larry Belle, and opened fire on them outside Johnson’s House of Style, where Belle worked as a barber, on the morning of Oct. 26, 2010. Authorities found more than 20 bullet casings from two different guns at the scene.
In surveillance video from outside the barber shop, which Wendt played in court Monday for the jury, Wendt said Wallace can be seen getting shot, then limping away as he runs down Sacramento Street after the shooting. He said the suspect in the video wore jeans and tennis shoes that looked similar to the ones detectives found with Wallace in the hospital as he sought treatment for a gunshot wound. Wallace told doctors he was hurt when someone tried to rob him in Richmond.
Narby told the jury that many of the assumptions investigators initially made that led to Wallace’s arrest later turned out to be untrue or unconfirmed. She said Wallace had actually gone to Richmond that morning to meet up with a woman he had recently met. As he left BART, near 16th Street and MacDonald Avenue, a man came up and asked him for change for a $20.
She said Wallace took off running when he realized the man intended to rob him. It was only after he stopped, when he thought he was safe, that he realized he had been shot. She said he was able to flag down a couple guys in a van to take him to the hospital. He did give a fake name to hospital staff, she said, but only because he knew he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
Narby said investigators never took the robbery story seriously and didn’t make adequate efforts to verify it once they decided, too soon, it was bunk.
She also noted that Wallace voluntarily submitted to a test for gunshot residue when Berkeley detectives spoke with him in the hospital, and said the test did not find any evidence of lead or particles on him.
Police said a bloody shoe print left at the Berkeley homicide scene looked like a match for shoes found with Wallace. Narby said officers later determined those “couldn’t have been the shoes that left the bloody footprint.”
“Most of the assumptions detectives made were proved wrong,” Narby told the jury.
She said she believed jurors would find, after viewing all the evidence, that detectives “rushed to judgment” to arrest Wallace because they were looking for a gunshot victim, and because he fit the “general description” of one of the suspects.
She said there were three bloody slugs from the shooting found at the scene, but that none had blood from Wallace on them.
“Brandon’s DNA was not found anywhere at the homicide scene,” she said, adding that no blood from either of the shooting victims was found on his shoes.
Narby also noted that detectives found no surveillance evidence showing Wallace being dropped off at the hospital in the silver PT Cruiser they said was involved in the shooting.
Wendt, the prosecutor, said blood found in the PT Cruiser was determined to be a match for Wallace,which GPS data put near the shooting and also near the hospital where Wallace sought treatment.
Narby asked the jury to pay particular attention to testimony about that DNA, and asked jurors to “keep an open mind.” She said Wallace “could not be excluded” as a DNA contributor, but said testimony would make it clearer “what DNA can show and what it can’t show.”
She also called into question the identification a witness made of Wallace, saying the woman told police he looked a lot like one of the suspects when she circled his picture during a photo line-up.
“She did not say he was the man,” Narby told the jury. “She was not able to talk about the basic features of the suspects.”
Authorities have not said what they believe to be the motive in the case.
In February, another defendant in the case, Coleon Carroll, took a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter. Authorities said he drove the silver PT Cruiser tied to the shooting. He is expected to receive a sentence of 13 years in prison, which he will serve at 85% time, said Teresa Drenick, Alameda County district attorney’s office spokeswoman. That translates into total time to be served of about 11 years since his original arrest in 2010. He has been in custody since then.
Carroll is set to return to court March 21 for sentencing.
Wallace remains in custody at Santa Rita Jail with a bail of $5.5 million.
Berkeleyside hopes to continue to follow the case. Stay tuned for updates, and don’t miss past coverage for additional details.
Berkeley man takes plea deal in 2010 murder case (02.26.16)
Case dismissed in Jermaine Davis homicide (09.17.14)
4 with Berkeley ties held to answer in alleged murder plot (04.10.14)
1 held to answer in Berkeley murder of ‘Lil Tone’ (01.13.14)
Berkeley police make second arrest in murder (11.01.10)
Berkeley police arrest man suspected of murder (10.28.10)
Memorial set up for Berkeley slaying victim (10.28.10)
Another murder in Berkeley (10.26.10)
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