Two reputed gang members showed little emotion Monday when jurors found them guilty of first-degree murder and other charges for a gang-related shooting in East Oakland three years ago that claimed the life of a 3-year-old boy who was an innocent bystander.
Lawrence Denard, 29, looked straight ahead and Willie Torrence, 25, bowed his head and looked straight down as the Alameda County Superior Court jury’s verdict was read in the pair’s trial for the shooting that killed 3-year-old Carlos Nava and injured two other people.
Prosecutor Ben Beltramo said Denard was the shooter and Torrence was the driver in the incident outside a grocery store in a strip mall in the 6400 block of International Boulevard at about 1:10 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2011.
Jurors in the six-week-long trial reached their verdict on Friday after deliberating for only one day. However, the verdict wasn’t announced until this morning, when 11 bailiffs were present to guard the courtroom of Judge Jeffrey Horner.
Beltramo told jurors that Denard and Torrence carried out the shooting in order to promote their gang, the 69th Village gang, and were targeting two members of the rival 65th Village gang, Robert Hudson and Jerome Williams.
The gangs originally were part of one large gang in that area but they broke into separate gangs in the 1990s and since then have engaged in many retaliatory killings, Beltramo said.
During the trial, Beltramo played for jurors two cellphone videos that Denard recorded less than an hour before the shooting in which he brandished two guns, said:
“I’m a gangster, man.”
Beltramo also asserted in the video that rival gang members were “soft.” Hudson and Williams were wounded in the shooting but survived and testified during the trial. However, one of the stray bullets struck and killed 3-year-old Carlos, who was going to a neighborhood grocery story with his mother and older brother.
Carlos, whose death sparked widespread community outrage, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, Beltramo said. The boy’s mother and other family members attended parts of the trial but weren’t present when the verdict was announced this morning on short notice.
A large group of family members and friends of Denard and Torrence also attended much of the trial but only a few of them were present today.
In addition to first-degree murder, Denard and Torrence were convicted of two counts of premeditated and deliberate attempted murder, two counts of discharging a gun from a vehicle, being ex-felons in possession of a gun and multiple clauses of acting to benefit a criminal street gang.
Denard and Torrence both face life in prison when they are sentenced by Horner on July 22. Denard’s lawyer, Annie Beles, said in her closing argument last week that Denard should be found not guilty of murder because she doesn’t think the prosecution proved that he was the person who fired the shots in the incident or even that he was present at the scene.
Hudson and another man told Oakland police that Denard was the shooter in the incident, but Beles said their statements are unreliable because she believes they had “a motive to lie” about Denard since they were seeking and ultimately received favorable treatment from police and prosecutors.
Beles said today she is “deeply disturbed” by the jury’s verdict but declined to comment further. Torrence’s lawyer, David Byron, declined to comment on the case. Beltramo said:
“I’m grateful that justice was done. I want to give my thoughts and condolences to the victims.”
— Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News