A 19-year-old Oakland man was convicted today of two counts of first-degree murder for fatally shooting two teenagers in West Oakland nearly two years ago. Prosecutor Charles Wilson told jurors in his closing argument on Monday that Nicholas Harris killed 18-year-old Nario Jackson and 17-year-old Edward Hampton in front of the Acorn public housing project in the 1000 block of Eighth Street at about 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 6, 2010, because he wanted to prove himself to his gang.
Jurors deliberated for less than a full day before announcing their verdict in the packed courtroom of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson, which was guarded by six sheriff’s deputies and four district attorney investigators who Jacobson asked to sit in the front row to provide extra security. Family members of Harris, Jackson and Hampton brawled outside the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse during the lunch break in the trial on Monday so deputies escorted the families from the courtroom separately today to try to avoid more fights. As the families left the courtroom today, Jacobson told them, “Go in peace. Let this trouble end here.”
Harris, who faces a state prison term of 100 years to life when he’s sentenced by Jacobson on Sept. 21, looked straight ahead and showed no emotion when the verdict was announced. But his family members as well as the family members of Jackson and Hampton started sobbing and breathing heavily. Wilson said Harris belonged to the Gas Town Gang and wanted to prove himself to his gang colleagues because they thought he had let them down by allowing another member to be killed in a previous incident. He said Harris killed Jackson and Hampton because he thought it would put him back in the good graces of his gang.
Wilson said Jackson was affiliated with the Gas Town Gang but Harris targeted him because Jackson also was affiliated with other groups, including the rival Ghost Town Gang. Jackson was “a turf hopper” and that wasn’t acceptable to other gang members, Wilson said. The prosecutor alleged that Harris targeted Hampton because Hampton belonged to the DNI Squeeze Team gang in East Oakland. Wilson said Harris fired multiple shots at Jackson and Hampton as they sat in a blue Jaguar in front of the Acorn housing project, which he said is in the Gas Town Gang’s territory. Jackson had borrowed the Jaguar from someone else, he said.
Harris admitted committing the killings in text messages and phone conversations with his ex-girlfriend that were presented to the jury and two eyewitnesses testified that they saw him shoot Jackson and Hampton. Jurors also heard recordings of phone calls in which Harris’ mother, Ranine Howell, said she would identify and intimidate witnesses in the case. In the phone conversations, Howell asked Harris about what evidence police had against him and whether he wore gloves during the shooting so that his fingerprints wouldn’t be found on the murder weapon. Wilson said one of the witnesses who was threatened was Harris’ ex-girlfriend, who he said was shot at after her testimony in Harris’ preliminary hearing last year and is now in protective custody.
Harris’ lawyer, Darryl Stallworth, said in his closing argument that the witnesses who identified Harris as the shooter weren’t credible. Stallworth said Harris’ ex-girlfriend testified against him because she was angry at Harris for cheating on her and another witness was a fellow gang member who implicated Harris because he was a suspect in the double homicide as well as other crimes. The testimony by the fellow gang member can’t be trusted because “he would have done or said anything so he wouldn’t be arrested,” Stallworth said. He told jurors, “There are so many instances of reasonable doubt in this case that you will be overwhelmed and come back with a verdict of not guilty.”
Jackson’s death was the first of two homicides that his family suffered in the span of eight months. Last July 30, Jackson’s younger brother, 16-year-old Najon Jackson, was fatally shot in the 9300 block of Sunnyside Street in Oakland shortly before midnight. Oakland police said no one has been arrested in that case so far.
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