A jury Thursday found an alleged San Francisco gang member guilty of first-degree murder for the fatal shooting of another man while trying to steal his jeweled pendant depicting the Flintstones character Bamm-Bamm.
The San Francisco Superior Court jury deliberated for about eight days before reaching the verdict, which found Charles “Cheese” Heard guilty of murder and attempted robbery in the killing of 29-year-old Richard Barrett outside a North Beach nightclub early on the morning of Nov. 25, 2008.
In a packed courtroom, emotional supporters of Barrett’s family yelled and cheered as the verdict was read, prompting the judge to threaten to clear the court.
Heard, 25, of San Francisco, now faces a life sentence in prison.
“I feel great,” said Barrett’s mother, Laura Barrett, after the hearing. “Justice has been served.” She said her eldest son left behind two daughters, now 8 and 9 years old.
According to police and prosecutors, Heard and another man were trying to steal Barrett’s necklace, and when Barrett resisted and ran, he was shot twice in the back. He collapsed and died inside the nearby Fuse bar. A friend collected the pendant and returned it to Barrett’s family.
Heard was arrested in July 2009.
Prosecutors had argued that Heard was the shooter, but the jury found allegations that Heard personally used a firearm to commit the murder and the attempted robbery not true, indicating they agreed Heard was
one of the two robbers but not necessarily the shooter.
Under the state’s felony-murder rule, a defendant can be convicted of murder if he participates in a violent crime, such as robbery, that leads to a death.
The jury hung on a gun possession charge. A separate trial on a charge that Heard is a gang member is scheduled to begin before the same jury Wednesday.
Laura Barrett said that her son had bought the necklace only a short time before he was killed. She said that upon seeing it, she was immediately worried he could be robbed.
“I said, ‘I like gaudy jewelry, but that’s a little too gaudy,'” she said. “I didn’t have a good feeling about it.”
Within hours of her son’s killing, friends and family members reported back to her that people at the scene of the crime were yelling that “Cheese” was responsible, Barrett said.
Prosecutor Michael Swart had argued to the jury that robbing people of expensive jewelry was Heard’s “business plan” as a senior member of the Western Addition street gang Central Divis Players. He offered evidence of a 2008 FBI wiretap in which Heard was recorded bragging about making sums up to $25,000 from the thefts.
An eyewitness to Barrett’s killing testified that she was “100 percent certain” Heard was the shooter and that she recognized him by a gold tooth. But her description of the shooter’s clothing did not match that of
the two men seen on surveillance video leaving the scene after the shooting.
Defense attorney Eric Safire seized on her account at a 2009 preliminary hearing in the case, asking several of Heard’s friends to stand up in court and flash their own gold teeth at her on the witness stand. Swart
accused him at the time of witness intimidation, but Safire said he was merely trying to show that there were others who matched her description.
At trial, Safire argued that neither of the two men on the surveillance video matched his client and warned jurors, “The government is encouraging you to make a mistake.”
Swart provided additional evidence that Heard’s cell phone records showed calls along the route of a car fleeing from police in the area of the murder that night.
(Copyright 2010, Bay City News, All rights reserved.)