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A federal appeals court in San Francisco today upheld the murder conviction and sentence of life without parole of a Vallejo man in the fatal shooting of an East Palo Alto diner owner in 2003. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a claim by Brian Lee Parker, 36, that San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach gave a coercive instruction to a deadlocked jury in his 2005 trial.
Parker was convicted after a six-week trial of charges including murder, robbery and assault with a firearm in the fatal shooting of Kenneth “Keke” Hamel and the wounding of his neighbor, Katie Williams, on April 10, 2003. He was sentenced by Mallach in 2006 to life in prison without possibility of parole for the murder, plus an additional 37 years for other charges and enhancements. Hamel, 30, who owned Keke’s Diner in East Palo Alto, was shot with four bullets in his West Bayshore Road apartment.
Williams, then 71, lived in an adjacent apartment and was injured when a fifth bullet pierced the apartment wall and hit her in the stomach as she sat on her couch. Kevin Clarke, 47, also of Vallejo, was convicted of similar charges in a separate trial in 2005 and was also sentenced by Mallach to life in prison without possibility of parole. Prosecutors said at the time of the trials that the two men hoped to steal as much as $90,000 from Hamel but ended up with $27.
Police investigators found marijuana, cocaine and several thousand dollars in cash in Hamel’s apartment, according to an earlier court ruling in the case. Parker appealed through a habeas corpus petition in the federal court system after losing his state court appeals. He contended in his federal petition that Mallach gave an unfairly coercive instruction when she urged the jury to continue working after being informed on the fourth day of deliberations that there was a holdout juror who declined to convict.
Jurors were told in the instruction to undertake a “full and complete consideration of all of the evidence with your fellow jurors.” The jury reached its guilty verdict the next morning. In today’s ruling, a three-judge panel of the appeals court said the instruction met U.S. Supreme Court standards allowing trial judges to give deadlocked juries supplemental instructions that encourage, but do not coerce, a verdict.
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