A judge today ordered two young men to stand trial on murder charges for the beating death of a 59-year-old San Francisco man in downtown Oakland last year, rejecting a defense lawyer’s claim that the older man was partly to blame for the incident.
At the end of a preliminary hearing that spanned four days, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Joan Cartwright said, “I don’t see any self-defense,” on the part of Lavonte Drummer, 19, and Dominic Davis, 18, in inflicting the blows that killed Tian Sheng Yu.
Yu, a home health care worker, died five days after he was punched and knocked to the ground in the 1800 block of Telegraph Avenue, near the Fox Theater, at about 3 p.m. on April 16, 2010.
Yu and his son, 27-year-old Jin Cheng Yu, had driven to Oakland to go to a pawn shop, according to Oakland police.
Cartwright said the evidence at the hearing, including testimony by the son, indicated that Drummer punched the younger Yu with a closed fist after he had taken less than 10 steps after getting out of Yu’s car.
She said Drummer “set this whole tragedy into motion” because he “felt like hitting someone.”
Prosecutor Patrick Moriarty said Drummer and Davis both had a mindset that, “We’re going to mess someone up today.”
The judge said Tian Sheng Yu had been parking his car when his son was attacked, and when his son told him what had happened, he chased after Drummer and Davis to ask them why they had done so.
“That’s a normal reaction by a father and was not unusual,” Cartwright said.
But Drummer’s attorney, Adante Pointer, said that Yu “confronted” Drummer and Davis and waived and pointed his hands. The blows inflicted by the two young men “were not unprovoked,” he said.
“All parties bear some responsibility for what happened,” Pointer said.
Cartwright said Davis punched Yu first, and Drummer hit him seconds later, “like a one-two hit.”
She said that according to a video of the incident that was played in court, “They were not just little hits. They were pretty serious blows.”
Yu was knocked down to the ground, hit his head and fractured his skull, Cartwright said.
Pointer and fellow defense attorney John McDougall, who represents Davis, said Drummer and Davis didn’t think they would cause Yu’s death by punching him.
“A huge punch doesn’t cause a high probability that it will take human life,” McDougall said.
Pointer also said Drummer’s actions were mitigated by the fact that he was only 18 at the time and was allegedly intoxicated from drinking Bacardi rum.
Pointer said Drummer should only be ordered to stand trial on manslaughter at most, and McDougall said Davis should only be required to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter.
But Cartwright said Yu’s death was “a natural consequence” of being punched by Drummer and Davis, and that they must have known that their actions were dangerous.
“If they didn’t know that, they haven’t been living life in this world,” Cartwright said.
Drummer and Davis, who are being held without bail, are scheduled to return to court on March 1 to have a trial date set.
Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News