Sep 02, 2015
ALAMEDA (SF Gate) - A state appeals court overturned the convictions of one of two brothers Wednesday in the murders of their brother's widow and her mother and brother in a North Oakland apartment on Thanksgiving 2006.
The First District Court of Appeal upheld the convictions of the gunman, Asmerom Gebreselassie, but granted a new trial to Tewodros Gebreselassie, who was accused of aiding his older brother by leading him to the apartment and signaling that his intended victims were there. Both men were sentenced to life in prison without parole. Tewodros Gebreselassie was represented by Berkeley attorney Cliff Gardner.
The court said Alameda County Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakamura had wrongly allowed a police investigator to testify that he didn't believe Tewodros Gebreselassie's statement to police about the murders. Witnesses are supposed to testify only about facts and should not state their opinions about another person's credibility, the court said, and the case against Tewodros Gebreselassie depended almost entirely on whether the jury believed him.
The victims were Winta Mehari, 28, her brother, Yonas Mehari, 17, and their mother, Regbe Bahrenegasi, 50.
Winta Mehari's husband, Abraham Tewolde, had died suddenly in March 2006, and Asmerom Gebreselassie, his brother, accused Tewolde's wife and her family members of killing him. Tewodros Gebreselassie was visiting the Meharis when Asmerom entered and opened fire, killing three people and wounding a fourth. Tewodros Gebreselassie grabbed his 2-year-old nephew and escaped.
Asmerom Gebreselassie claimed he acted in self-defense after two of the Mehari brothers pulled guns on him. Police said no one else in the apartment was armed.
In upholding his convictions, the court said Nakamura had properly refused to let him act as his own attorney, after he repeatedly disrupted the proceedings by accusing family members of murder.
But the judge should not have allowed the investigator to question Tewodros Gebreselassie's credibility or to give a secondhand report that the defendant had not registered a gun, Justice Peter Siggins said in the 3-0 ruling.