Two reputed gang members were ordered today to stand trial on murder and premeditated attempted murder charges for a drive-by shooting in East Oakland two years ago that left 3-year-old Carlos Nava dead and two men wounded.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon issued his ruling in the three-day preliminary hearing for suspected shooter Lawrence Denard, 28, and suspected driver Willie Torrence, 24, after Oakland police Lt. Tony Jones said he believes the shooting was gang-related.
The defendants are accused of opening fire 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.
Testifying as an expert witness on gangs, Jones said he believes Denard and Torrence are members of the 69th Village gang and the two men who were wounded, 39-year-old Robert Hudson and Jerome Williams, are members of the rival 65th Village gang.
The two gangs operate out of housing complexes that are located between 65th and 69th avenues near the scene of the shooting, he said.
After Carlos was fatally shot, an incident that outraged many community members, Oakland police said they believed he was not an intended target because he and his family, who were shopping at the time, had no connection to the two men who were struck.
Jones said the manner in which the shooting occurred had all the hallmarks of a drive-by gang-related shooting because it was carried out in broad daylight and shots were fired “indiscriminately into a crowd.”
Jones, who said he grew up in the area and has investigated gangs throughout his 19-year career with the Oakland Police Department, said he believes Denard and Torrence were trying to send a message that members of the 65th Village gang “are not safe anywhere” because the shooting occurred in 65th Village turf in the middle of the day.
He said he believes Denard and Torrence were trying to boost their standing in the 69th Village gang by carrying out the shooting because “the respect it will command is real.”
The area between 65th and 69th avenues near International Boulevard used to be considered “one neighborhood” at one time but the 65th Village and 69th Village factions have been feuding since at least 1995 and there have been many retaliatory shootings in the 6400 block of International Boulevard since 2000, according to Jones.
About 10 supporters of Denard and Torrence attended their hearing today but on Wednesday about 30 supporters packed the courtroom in an apparent attempt to intimidate Williams when he testified.
Prosecutor Ben Beltramo noted the large crowd and asked Williams if he knew the audience members. Williams said he only knew a few family members who were in the courtroom but didn’t know the others.
Court officials escorted Williams and his family members from the courthouse after he completed his testimony.
Williams and Hudson were both reluctant witnesses, as Williams had to be subpoenaed to appear in court and Hudson had to be arrested.
When Hudson took the witness stand on Tuesday, Beltramo played a recording on his interview with police on Sept. 14, 2011, about a month after the shooting, that Denard was the shooter.
But Hudson tried to distance himself from his recorded statement, saying that he never identified Denard as the culprit and alleging that police had doctored the recording.
Denard’s attorney, Annie Beles, said today that Denard shouldn’t be ordered to stand trial, arguing that there’s not any reliable evidence that he was the shooter.
Beles also said she doesn’t believe there’s sufficient proof that Denard is a gang member and that he shouldn’t stand trial for the two counts of premeditated attempted murder for the shooting of Williams and Hudson because there isn’t proof that the shooting was intended to kill the two men.
Beles said the shooting “seems to be a scare tactic that went abysmally wrong.”
But Beltramo said he believes there clearly was an intent to kill because there’s evidence that the suspects drove by the scene twice, got close to their intended targets and then fired about 30 shots.
In addition to being ordered to stand trial on one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder, Denard and Torrence were ordered to stand trial on being ex-felons in possession of a firearm, discharging a gun from a vehicle and for acting to benefit a criminal street gang.
Denard has prior convictions for grand theft and possession of a firearm by a felon and Torrence has a conviction on an illegal gun charge.
Carlos’s family didn’t attend the hearing, which was guarded by four bailiffs.
Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News