Two men charged with murdering a Berkeley resident in February of last year pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter last week in the Alameda County Superior Court.
Maurice Thomas, 23, and Jevon Calland, 22, who are cousins, were originally charged with the murder of 34-year-old Zontee Jones on Feb. 4, 2013. Thomas now faces 21 years in prison, and Calland faces 16, according to the terms of the deal, which means the case will not be tried. Pleading no contest is not an admission of guilt.
Calland threatened Jones the day before the shooting took place and made plans with others to harm him, according to an affidavit for Calland’s warrantless arrest written by Berkeley Police Department Officer Jesse Grant. Both men had guns at the scene, according to court documents.
Investigators believe the shooting resulted from a dispute over a woman whom both Calland and Jones had dated, according to Berkeleyside.
Witness and forensic evidence differed on who actually shot Jones, with forensic evidence pointing to Thomas, according to a separate affidavit written by Grant and dated June 19, 2013.
The first affidavit Grant wrote for Thomas’s arrest, filed Feb. 6, 2013, refers to Thomas as an accessory to the shooting, although the June 19 affidavit states otherwise. The Alameda County District Attorney’s office charged both with murder, but only Thomas was charged with discharging a firearm.
The plea bargain was a “package deal,” according to Ernesto Castillo, Thomas’ attorney, which meant that both defendants had to consent to the agreement for it to be valid. Although the plea option had been on the table for a while, Castillo said, the question of whether his client’s co-defendant, Calland, would accept the deal remained uncertain until recently — in part because of the “conflicting nature of the case” and the unresolved identity of the shooter.
“It was really a matter of seeing if the co-defendant was going to take (the plea deal),” Castillo said.
Calland’s family seemed “visibly upset” about his decision not to go to trial, said Ted Johnson, Calland’s lawyer. Calland ultimately made the call after Johnson advised him on the the pros and cons of either option, Johnson said.
“The problem with going to trial is that you have to take a risk,” Johnson said. “It’s very difficult, and I explained that to him — you never know what the jury is going to do in a case like that.”
The prosecutor for the case couldn’t be reached for comment in time for publication.
Both men are scheduled to face sentencing Jan. 5 before Judge Stuart Hing. Although Hing could reject the pleas, Castillo said that is unlikely because he was the judge who oversaw the plea bargain.