Roommate killer on trial after second slaying


A man who had previously killed a man in Oakland in 1995 killed a second man in unincorporated Hayward in February 2012 but did so only because the victim had mental problems and had been driving him crazy, his attorney told jurors Monday.

In her opening statement in the trial of 57-year-old Michael Wyatt on a charge that he murdered James Nobles, 59, who was his roommate, defense lawyer Bonnie Narby said Wyatt fatally stabbed Nobles because he was “beyond his ability to cope” with Nobles.

Narby said the two men had been living together at a cramped apartment in the 700 block of Hampton Road in unincorporated Hayward for about 18 months but Wyatt snapped because Nobles, who suffered from schizophrenia and psychosis, had been engaging in “strange” behavior, such as hissing and talking in “a nonsensical way” for weeks, especially late at night.

She said Nobles “wasn’t violent but when he was psychotic he was aggressive and would strike out and hit” people. Narby said the fatal stabbing “happened in a split second” and Wyatt didn’t intend to kill Nobles and is “remorseful” for his actions.

But prosecutor Warren Ko told jurors that at the end of the case he will ask them to convict Wyatt of murder because he believes Wyatt, who worked as a handyman, intended to kill Nobles. Ko said Wyatt “had many choices to deal with an annoying, nagging roommate” but instead chose to tie up and stab Nobles.

To try to prove his contention that Wyatt intended to kill Nobles, Ko said he will present evidence of an incident on July 15, 1995, in which he fatally shot another roommate, 29-year-old Titus Crowder, at an apartment they shared in the 600 block of Wesley Street in Oakland.

Ko said Wyatt, who was convicted of manslaughter and served 10 years in state prison, fired nine shots at Crowder after what he said was “a silly argument over who was bothering whom.”

The prosecutor said the two incidents are similar in that Crowder and Nobles were both killed in the living room of the apartments they shared with Wyatt and Wyatt claimed that the reason he killed Crowder is that Crowder had been “acting weird.” Ko said he believes Wyatt killed Nobles on Feb. 8, 2010.

Nobles’ bloodied body was found next to a cyclone fence under elevated BART tracks, near Hampton Road and Western Boulevard in unincorporated Hayward, about two blocks away from the apartment he shared with Wyatt, at about 7:30 a.m. the next day. He didn’t have any identification on him but was identified by his fingerprints.

Narby said she thinks the deaths of Crowder and Wyatt “aren’t similar at all” and doesn’t believe Ko’s attempt to link them proves his contention that Wyatt intended to kill Nobles.

Narby said Wyatt and Crowder got into an argument because Crowder had borrowed money from Wyatt and said Wyatt fired shots only after Crowder pulled out a gun and Wyatt was able to pull it away from him. The defense attorney told jurors, “This is not a pretty case” and they will learn a lot about schizophrenia and psychosis during Wyatt’s trial.

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