A 70-year-old decorated Korean War veteran pleaded not guilty today to a charge that he murdered a 67-year-old friend after a drunken argument three weeks ago. Before Davis Bennett entered his plea on the charge that he murdered Leonardis Holmes on July 6, his attorney, Jeremy Lipkin, asked Alameda County Superior Court Judge Carrie Panetta that he be released on his own recognizance or a low bail of around $50,000. Lipkin said Bennett “has an exceedingly minor” criminal record that mainly includes drunk driving offenses and has no history of violence.
He said Bennett earned three bronze stars and three purple hearts during the Korean War, where he attained the rank of master sergeant. The defense attorney said Bennett got involved in an altercation with Holmes at Bennett’s home in the 1000 block of 102nd Avenue in East Oakland after Holmes got drunk, behaved inappropriately and refused to leave. Lipkin said Bennett hit Holmes with a shovel and Holmes then came after him. He said Bennett picked up a gun and the gun went off after Holmes struck Bennett in his hand. “This was either an accidental discharge of a gun or at worst a manslaughter,” Lipkin said.
He said the fact that Bennett called police to report that he had shot his friend indicates that it was an accidental shooting. But prosecutor Adam Maldonado said he believes Bennett pointed his gun at Holmes and intentionally pulled the trigger after first hitting Holmes in the side of his head with a steel shovel. Maldonado said Bennett was intoxicated and admitted to police that his argument with Holmes involved “a meaningless dispute over $5.” Maldonado said Bennett has a right to bail but it should be a high amount because “he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in jail” and might flee.
Panetta said Bennett, who previously had been held without bail, is entitled to bail but she set the amount at $2.5 million, which she said is the standard amount for murder cases. Panetta said she agrees with Lipkin that Bennett only has a minor criminal history but she said, “I’m not sure that his version of what happened in the incident is accurate.” Lipkin is scheduled to return to court on Aug. 20 for a pretrial hearing.