A prosecutor said today that he hopes first-degree murder verdicts against two East Bay men for the deaths of a drug dealer in Antioch and a churchgoing woman in Oakland four years ago will bring some solace to the victims’ family members. Alameda County Deputy District Attorney John Brouhard said he’s “extremely pleased” with the verdicts against 28-year-old Stephon Johnson of Hayward and 26-year-old Hezekiah Edwards of Antioch because the two men “were particularly vicious.”Johnson and Edwards were convicted for the death of 23-year-old Willie Lavall in Antioch on March 24, 2006, and the death of 41-year-old April Bradley of Berkeley in Oakland four days later.After deliberating for three days, jurors also ruled that four special circumstance allegations against Johnson and Edwards were true: murdering a witness, murder by lying in wait, murdering during an attempted kidnapping and committing multiple murders.The jury’s verdicts means that Johnson and Edwards face life in prison without the possibility of parole when they are sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Joseph Hurley on June 4. According to Brouhard, Johnson and Edwards first attempted to kidnap Lavall drug dealer, at Lavall’s apartment complex at 3001 Kodiak St. in Antioch on March 24, 2006.Lavall, 23, was shot and then was run over and dragged for about two blocks under the van, which caused his death. Brouhard said Johnson and Edwards then launched a plan to kill Bradley because she rented the van that was used in the Antioch incident. He said an employee at Fox Rent-A-Car in Oakland who was dating a friend of Johnson and Edwards tipped them off that Antioch police had linked the van to the murder in their city.The prosecutor said Bradley was an innocent victim who rented the van for Edwards as a favor for Edwards’ mother, who was her friend, but had no idea that the van would be used to commit a crime.Bradley was shot and killed inside her own car in the 2800 block of Brookdale Avenue in Oakland on March 28, 2006.Brouhard said Bradley was shot six times at close range,including four times in the head.The same gun was used for both shooting incidents, Brouhard said.Brouhard said Edwards was the driver in the Antioch incident and there were two armed gunmen, one of which was Johnson. However, he said it’s not known if Lavall was shot by Johnson or by a third suspect, who is still unidentified.The prosecutor said the person who shot and killed Bradley also hasn’t been identified.However, Brouhard said Johnson and Edwards “orchestrated the murder” and “set her up.”Defense lawyers for Johnson and Edwards told jurors in their closing arguments last week that there is little direct evidence tying them to the crimes and some of the prosecution’s key witnesses lacked credibility.Defense lawyers especially attacked the believability of Manika Dunn of Antioch,who was Edwards’ girlfriend at the time of the murders.Dunn initially was charged with murder in connection with Bradley’s death for helping lure Bradley to Oakland to be shot but prosecutors allowed her to plead guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Dunn initially faced a potential term of life in prison but her plea agreement calls for her to only face three to six years in exchange for her testimony against Johnson and Edwards. Brouhard said the case was “unique and challenging” and he believes Dunn’s testimony was corroborated by other evidence in the case, such as “records of lots and lots of cell phone calls by Johnson and Edwards” at the time of the crimes as well as tape recordings of their phone calls from jail.He said jurors “were very thorough” and “listened and re-listened” to the jail phone calls to understand their implications.
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