A San Francisco Superior Court jury will begin deliberating next week in the case of a man charged under the state’s felony murder rule for allegedly taking part in a 2008 robbery outside a pot club that led to a fatal shooting.
Ijeoma Ogbuagu, 21, of San Francisco, is charged with both murder and robbery for the Sept. 14 killing of 23-year-old Royshawn Holden outside the Mr. Nice Guy marijuana dispensary in the city’s Mission District.
Holden and a friend had gone to the club to buy marijuana that night, and as they got into their car to leave, police say two men robbed them at gunpoint, taking the pot, cell phones and $2 in cash.
Holden was then fatally shot. His friend was able to escape on foot, and later returned to speak with police.
Ogbuagu was arrested in Burlingame on Sept. 23, after the friend picked his photo out of a San Francisco middle school yearbook shown to him by a member of Holden’s family.
The friend, a man prosecutors have requested not be identified out of concern for his safety, testified during the trial that he had “not a doubt at all” that Ogbuagu was one of the men who robbed him.
He also said he was certain Julius Hughes, 25, of Brentwood, was the shooter, having identified him from a photo on MySpace.
Though Hughes was arrested Dec. 5, he was released from custody in late February after a criminal grand jury failed to indict him for murder because the friend’s identification was not strong enough.
According to the felony murder rule, prosecutors can charge participants in certain violent felonies–such as robbery, kidnapping and rape–that result in a murder, as if they had committed the murder themselves.
“He had a hand in the robbery,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart told jurors today during the closing arguments in Ogbuagu’s trial.
“It’s like he had his hands on the gun, and pulled the trigger,” Swart explained.
Ogbuagu’s attorney, Franz Fuetsch, questioned the friend’s identification of his client, alluding to poor lighting conditions that night.
Fuetsch said the eyewitness’ testimony was “problematic,” in that he had previously alluded to Ogbuagu’s yearbook photo being shown to him by a family member in a prior hearing, but asserted during the trial that he had seen the photo first and recognized him “right away.”
The man explained during the trial that he had been very nervous during the earlier hearing and didn’t describe that event correctly at that time.
“I don’t want to come here and call people liars,” Fuetsch told the jury. “I would suggest that, as time goes by, people’s…memories fade.”
Fuetsch suggested that the Holden family and police may have been leading Holden’s friend toward an identification of his client.
“There is a susceptibility of suggestion,” he said.
“In a case like this, you’ve gotta act with caution,” Fuetsch told the jury.
Swart contended that there had been no “rush to judgment” in identifying a suspect.
Both Holden’s friend and Holden’s family “want (to convict) the right people,” he said.
Swart said Holden’s friend had been nearly face to face with Ogbuagu when Ogbuagu leaned into the car to rifle through the glove box.
“He was right up on him,” Swart said.
The jury is scheduled to begin deliberations in the case on Monday.