An Oakland man was sentenced today to two consecutive life prison terms plus 100 years for fatally shooting two teenage girls four years ago in what prosecutors said was a bid to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of police.
Gumaro Baez, 22, was convicted in November of two counts of first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of San Leandro High School students Dominique Hoover-Brown, 15, and Melissa Jackson, 17, in the 6500 block of Outlook Avenue in East Oakland at about 11:15 p.m. on Feb. 3, 2008. The teens were in a van with two men, one of whom prosecutors said was Baez’s intended target.
Prosecutors alleged that the girls were killed because they witnessed Baez shoot the two men, both of whom survived. The girls were cousins. William Battle, Hoover-Brown’s brother and Melissa Jackson’s cousin, said during today’s sentencing that the murders “shook the fabric of our family to its core and changed the lives” of all surviving family members.
Baez was also convicted of two counts of attempted murder for shooting the two men who were with Hoover-Brown and Jackson, and of personally using a gun in the incident. In addition, he was convicted of three special-circumstance clauses: two for murdering witnesses — the teenage girls — and one for committing multiple murders. However, jurors acquitted Baez of an additional murder count that alleged that he fatally shot 40-year-old Terrance Brown in the 3300 block of 64th Avenue Place in a separate incident at about 12:50 a.m. on Feb. 2, 2008, less than 48 hours before the girls were killed.
Prosecutor Stacie Pettigrew said she believes ballistics evidence ties Baez to Brown’s death but said there weren’t any eyewitnesses in that incident and that investigators were unable to determine the motive for it. She said all three murders were combined into one case because they occurred within a 48-hour period in the same area, and the same gun was used.
Pettigrew said Baez was upset that his brother, 21-year-old Addiel Meza, was killed by Oakland police in the 2400 block of 62nd Avenue, near Foothill Boulevard, at about 2:40 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2007 — exactly a year prior to the girls’ killings. The prosecutor said police responded to that neighborhood after residents reported that Meza was firing a handgun into the air.
Oakland police said officers fatally shot Meza after he threatened them with a gun. Pettigrew said Baez was upset at a man who was with Meza the night Meza was killed because the man didn’t give Meza a ride — something that Baez thought would have prevented Meza’s confrontation with police and his death. She said Baez was aiming at that man when he fired into the van in the Feb. 3, 2008, shooting.
Hoover-Brown and Jackson were passengers in the man’s van and simply “were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Pettigrew said. After Baez shot the two men in the van, he decided to kill Hoover-Brown and Jackson because they were witnesses, according to Pettigrew.
In sentencing Baez today, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Delucchi said Baez’s actions, as well as a letter he wrote while he was in custody, indicate “how incredibly callous he has been and how incredibly heartless and senseless these murders were.” Delucchi said Baez tried to intimidate witnesses and prevent them from testifying, but “fortunately those efforts failed and he was exposed during his trial as the cold-blooded killer he is.” Shanton Jackson, the mother of Melissa Jackson and the aunt of Hoover-Brown, called Baez “truly the scum of the earth” and urged Delucchi to send him to “the worst prison in the world.” Baez, who was dressed in a red jail uniform, smiled as he came into court today.
Battle said he was upset that Baez still “has a smile on his face” and hasn’t been remorseful for his actions. Baez’s lawyer, Al Wax, said during the trial that Baez is innocent and that another man, 22-year-old Devshawn Walker of Oakland, was the person who killed the two girls. Walker was also charged with three counts of murder for the two shooting incidents but he pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter last year and was sentenced to 11 years in state prison.
Pettigrew said prosecutors agreed to the plea deal because there was a lack of evidence against Walker. Before he was sentenced, Baez said, “I empathize and sympathize with the family but I can’t be remorseful for something I didn’t do.” He said, “Only God can judge me.”
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