A woman who was charged with murder for the shooting death of her attorney boyfriend at his home in Oakland two years ago was convicted today of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Rennie Pratt, 29, who would have faced 25 years to life in state prison if she had been convicted of first-degree murder, will now face a term of 3, 6, or 11 years when she’s sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson on June 24.
Pratt wept and dabbed her eyes with tissue after the verdict was announced following two days of deliberations. In her testimony in her trial last week, Pratt admitted that she fired the shot that killed 36-year-old Michael Porcella at his home at 3740 Laguna Ave. the night of April 10, 2009, but said it was an accident. Pratt said she was trying to unload a .45-caliber handgun that Porcella owned because she was afraid he might harm her, as they had a volatile relationship.
Pratt said she spotted the gun when she came to Porcella’s home to collect her belongings after attending an Oakland A’s baseball game that night. She said she didn’t know he was on the house’s porch at the time. Pratt said the gun “kept getting jammed” as she was trying to remove bullets from it and then “it went off.” She said, “It was the loudest pop I can remember in my life.
” Pratt said that after the gun went off she saw Porcella lying sideways on the porch. She said Porcella didn’t respond when she called his name and then she noticed that he was bleeding. “I was just really freaking out because he was bleeding,” Pratt said. “I was just saying ‘oh my God!'” Porcella was admitted to the State Bar on March 23, 2006, and worked for the Robert Beles law firm in Oakland, which specializes in criminal defense. Beles’ daughter, Anne Beles, another attorney in the firm, said shortly after Porcella was killed that he had been laid off in the summer of 2008 for economic reasons but continued to work part-time for the firm and made appearances in court cases.
She said Porcella graduated from Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland and St. Mary’s College in Moraga, and earned his law degree from Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. After Porcella was killed, Oakland police said they had been called to his home several times to respond to domestic disputes involving Porcella and Pratt but no arrests had been made. Pratt said that after the A’s baseball game, she got a ride to Porcella’s home from a woman she met at the game and they immediately hit it off and they talked about her relationship with Porcella.
Pratt said she told the woman that Porcella “was being abusive again” and she was leaving him. She said she went to his house that night to collect her belongings. In cross-examining Pratt, prosecutor Jill Nerone expressed skepticism about Pratt’s testimony that the reason Pratt had Porcella’s .45-caliber gun was that she felt in danger. Nerone pointed out that Porcella had two rifles and another handgun at his home but Pratt hadn’t unloaded those weapons.
Pratt said she only focused on the .45-caliber gun because she happened to see it while she was looking for her car keys. Nerone and Pratt’s attorney, Brian Bloom, weren’t available for comment after the verdict. A large group of Porcella’s family members attended the trial regularly, as did Pratt’s mother.
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