Two men pleaded no contest today to 19 felony counts each for a series of 19 home invasion robberies in Oakland over an eight-month period last year in which police said the men targeted Asian and Hispanic immigrants. Oakland police said they believe Romier Simmons, 25, of Stockton, and Christopher Malbrough, 24, of Hayward, picked victims, whose ages ranged from 2 to 69, who did not speak English well because they would be less likely to report the crimes to authorities.
Simmons and Malbrough each pleaded no contest to one count of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm as well as to 18 counts of second-degree burglary. The plea agreement, in which the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office dismissed dozens of other robbery charges against them, calls for Simmons and Malbrough to receive 26-year state prison terms when they are sentenced by Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson on Sept. 9.
Jacobson told Simmons and Malbrough today that although 26 years is a long time, they received a relatively good deal because they could have been sentenced to more than 200 years if they had gone to trial and been convicted of all the charges against them. The judge told them they will be eligible for parole around the age of 45 and “you will have a full opportunity for a life after you serve your terms.
“A third defendant, 22-year-old Kyla Bayless, of Milpitas, pleaded no contest to one count of attempted second-degree robbery and one count of assault with a deadly weapon. Bayless, who was only involved in one of the home invasion robberies, will get a two-year prison term when Jacobson sentences her on Jan. 6. Prosecutor Laura Passaglia said there were many factors involved in her office’s decision to accept the plea agreement, including sparing the victims from having to testify again, as they had already testified during a lengthy preliminary hearing earlier this year.
Passaglia said, “I’m sorry for what the victims had to go through during these horrific events.” Simmons and Malbrough were armed with guns for many but not all of the robberies, she said. Passaglia said she hopes the plea agreement “will provide some closure for the victims.”Oakland police said the home invasion robbery spree began in March 2010 and continued through November 2010.
A break in the case led to Simmons being arrested on Nov. 23. Malbrough was arrested in December, and Bayless was arrested in January. Sgt. Randy Wingate, who led the investigation, said it appears that Simmons and Malbrough were driving through Oakland and spotted victims of opportunity. He said that although they lived outside Oakland, they were born and raised in the city and knew it well. The suspects’ pattern was to spot people in front of their homes and then follow them inside, where they held the victims hostage and stole their cash, jewelry, and electronics, Wingate said.
The robberies occurred from the Lake Merritt area to High Street, he said. The plea bargain almost fell through because Simmons told Jacobson at about 12:30 p.m., after the hearing had been under way for about 20 minutes, that he needed more time to think it over, even though the attorneys in the case have been discussing it for at least several weeks. Simmons said it was “a very hard decision.” After a lunch break of an hour and 42 minutes, Simmons returned to court and joined Malbrough and Bayless in pleading no contest.
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