A prosecutor told jurors today that two Oakland men should be convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and other charges for killing their brother’s wife and two of her family members on Thanksgiving Day 2006 in a misguided act of revenge. In her closing argument in the trial of Asmerom Gebreselassie, 47, and Tewodros Gebreselassie, 43, prosecutor Joni Leventis alleged that they conspired to kill their in-laws at their in-laws’ apartment at the Keller Plaza complex at 5301 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland on Nov. 23, 2006. She said the brothers, who are Eritrean, killed the family members because mistakenly believed that their in-laws were responsible for the sudden death of their brother, 42-year-old Abraham Tewolde, earlier that year. Tewolde was married to Winta Mehari and died at the couple’s home at 2238 Russell St. in Berkeley on March 1, 2006. Leventis said two doctors who examined Tewolde’s body looked for signs of suffocation and strangulation but ruled that he died “a sudden, natural death.” However, she said the Gebreselassie brothers were still convinced that Tewolde had been killed by Mehari, with the possible assistance of her family members, and “became the judge and jury” by deciding that Mehari and her family members should die. Leventis said the Mehari family never would have let Asmerom Gebreselassie into their apartment because he’d angrily confronted them several times about Tewolde’s death, but that they allowed Tewodros Gebreselassie inside on Thanksgiving because “he had remained quiet and maintained a good relationship with them.” The prosecutor alleged that Tewodros Gebreselassie “fooled them” about his true feelings and intentions and said “he was sneaky about it, like a snake in the grass.” Leventis said that after Tewodros Gebreselassie ate food and drank a traditional Eritrean coffee drink at the Meharis’ apartment, he called his brother Asmerom on his cellphone and let Asmerom into the apartment. She said Asmerom proceeded to shoot and kill Winta Mehari, 28, her brother, Yonas Mehari, 17, and the Mehari’s mother, 50-year-old Regbe Bahrengasi, “in cold blood.” “This case is about premeditated murder, nothing less,” Leventis said. Asmerom Gebreselassi admitted during the lengthy trial, which began on Feb. 8, that he killed the three victims but said he did so in self-defense. Gebreselassie said one reason he thinks his in-laws killed Tewolde is that they wanted to collect on a $500,000 life insurance policy he had taken out six months before his death. Gebreselassie also alleged that Winta Mehari wanted to kill Tewolde because he was going to disclose that her brother was gay and was molesting the couple’s young son. He said homosexuality is “unacceptable” in the Eritrean community and the Mehari family would have been disgraced and ostracized if Tewolde’s allegations had been disclosed. But Leventis said today that, “This case is not about homosexuality, it’s about revenge.” Defense attorneys for the Gebreselassie brothers will present their closing arguments later today.
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