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A 19-year-old Oakland man who smiled and belched in court was sentenced at a tightly-guarded hearing today to 100 years to life in state prison for fatally shooting two other teenagers in West Oakland two years ago. Nicholas Harris was convicted on June 19 of two counts of first-degree murder for killing 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. Prosecutor Charles Wilson told jurors during Harris’ trial that Harris carried out the shootings in order to impress his gang. 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 thought that killing Jackson and Hampton 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 emitted a loud belch while Jackson’s mother, Janel Hale, was addressing the court at today’s hearing, which was packed with his friends and relatives as well as those of the two victims and was guarded by more than 10 bailiffs and other court officials.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson noted Harris’ belch for the record and told him he found it “deeply disrespectful.” Hale said to Harris, “You have to repent one day.” Teanna Martin, Jackson’s girlfriend and the mother of a boy they had together, asked Harris, “I just want to know why you had to do it.” Fighting back tears, Martin said of her son, “I’ll have to raise him without his father and it’s not the same because his dad is not here.” The Rev. Cynthia Joseph, Hampton’s grandmother, said she is “deeply disturbed” because she believes Harris and his family “showed no remorse or sympathy toward us.” Joseph said Harris should never be paroled “because he is a menace to society.” She asked, “How could a person take two lives so he could be down with his colleagues?”
Harris, who smiled and held his head high during the hearing, chose not to say anything at his sentencing. Harris admitted committing the killings in text messages and phone conversations with his ex-girlfriend that were presented as evidence in his trial 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. 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. Jackson’s death was the first of two homicides that his family suffered in the span of eight months. On July 30, 2011, 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.
Joseph said that in addition to losing Edward Hampton, she also lost her only son in a shooting incident that remains unsolved. The bad feelings between the family members and friends of Harris and of the two victims boiled over into a brawl outside the courthouse during a lunch break in the trial one day in June. But bailiffs escorted the two sides from the courtroom separately today to avoid any more fights.
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