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A reputed gang member was sentenced at an emotional hearing today to 50 years to life in state prison for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Ditiyan Franklin Jr. in Oakland last May shortly before Franklin was scheduled to graduate from high school. Jurors deliberated for only two hours on Nov. 29 before convicting 23-year-old Michael Heartsman of first-degree murder and discharging a gun for the death of Franklin, a senior at Castlemont Leadership Preparatory School, in the 2400 block of Ritchie Street at about 2:25 p.m. on May 25. Jurors also convicted Heartsman of attempted murder for shooting at, but missing, 20-year-old Lionel Harris, who was with Franklin when he was shot. In addition, Heartsman, who has prior convictions for grand theft and receiving stolen property, was convicted of being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm.
But Heartsman said in court today that, “I’m an innocent man” and told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon, “You’re sending an innocent man to jail for the rest of his life.” Heartsman said, “I am human, I have a heart and I am no monster.” He also said, “My heart goes out to the family” of Franklin. Heartsman’s mother, Melody Anthony, and grandmother, Patricia Brown, joined him in proclaiming his innocence. Anthony said, “I really don’t think he did the act” and Brown said, “This whole trial was a monkey trial.” Reardon said he doesn’t mind that Heartsman and his family disagree with the jury’s verdict but he thinks the evidence in the case support’s the jury’s findings.
Prosecutor Eric Swalwell said in his closing argument that the fatal shooting stemmed from a gang rivalry, as Franklin belonged to a gang called the Taliban Mafia and Heartsman belongs to the rival Case Boys gang, which is a successor group to the Nut Case gang that engaged in a crime rampage in Oakland about nine years ago. He said the rivalry escalated after 16-year-old Deaddrian Chapman, a suspected member of the Case Boys gang, was fatally shot in the 2600 block of Ritchie Street on Oct. 30, 2010, and the rumor on the street was that a Taliban Mafia member was the culprit, Swalwell said. The prosecutor said Hearstman “coldly executed” Franklin on May 25 as Franklin rode his bicycle near the corner of Olive and Ritchie streets, near Arroyo Viejo Park.
Swalwell said Heartsman, whose nicknames are “Fat Mike” and “Nut Case Mike,” first shot Franklin in the arm and then “finished him off” by shooting several more times in the side in a driveway about 20 yards away as Franklin fled. He told jurors that they should believe the testimony of Harris, whom he said is a fellow member of the Taliban Mafia who was riding on the handlebars of Franklin’s bike when Franklin was shot and identified Heartsman as the shooter. Swalwell said that although Harris “is not an angel,” his testimony was corroborated by other evidence in the case, such as Franklin’s autopsy and cellphone records that place Heartsman in the area where the shooting occurred.
But Heartsman’s attorney, Gregory Martin, told jurors that Harris wasn’t a credible witness and alleged that Harris wasn’t even at the scene of the shooting and tried to insert himself into the case afterward. Martin also denied that Heartsman is a gang member. However, Swalwell said Harris was a reluctant witness who testified only after authorities arrested him and dragged him into court and Reardon said he believes Harris was credible and provided accurate information. Martin said today that jurors should have found that Heartsman couldn’t have killed Franklin because five defense witnesses testified that at the time of the shooting Heartsman was at the Youth Uprising community center, which is about 10 blocks away from the shooting location.
But Reardon said, “The jury didn’t believe the alibi witnesses and neither did I.” After the verdict, Swalwell said Franklin’s death was “tragic” because he was trying to get out of the gang life and had written an essay on ending gang violence shortly before he was killed. Franklin’s grandmother, Mary Caldwell, said in court today that Franklin was a straight-A student and wasn’t in a gang. “My family is hurting and we have a hole in our hearts that will never be filled,” Caldwell said. But she said the sentencing of Heartsman will give her family some closure.
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