General Crime

Donald Britton convicted of first-degree murder of Leo Dunson in Oakland

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A man was convicted of first-degree murder today for fatally shooting another man in Oakland who he claimed had been stalking his sister. The key witness in the trial of Donald Britton, 38, was his sister, Chantelle Britton, who testified that she had asked him to talk to 50-year-old Leo Dunson but didn’t ask him to harm Dunson. Dunson was fatally shot in the 2900 block of High Street at about 2:20 p.m. on June 4, 2011.

Prosecutor Stacie Pettigrew said today that Britton was confident he would be acquitted of the shooting death until authorities arrested his sister recently and forced her to testify against him. She had been missing when his preliminary hearing was held in January. Jurors deliberated for only one day before announcing their verdict shortly before noon today.

“The jury got it right,” Pettigrew said. “Britton premeditated this shooting and Dunson didn’t do anything to make him deserve to die.” Britton’s attorney, Kathleen Guneratne, told jurors in her closing argument last Thursday that he should be found not guilty, noting that he testified during his trial that he acted in self-defense after Dunson fought with him and choked him. Guneratne said Dunson “came after (Britton) and he felt his life was in danger.” Britton “didn’t go there to kill the guy,” Guneratne said.

The defense attorney said the case was “no mystery” because everyone agrees that Britton killed Dunson, but that jurors needed “to figure out what was in his head and if his conduct was justifiable.” However, Pettigrew argued that Britton planned the shooting and didn’t give Dunson a chance to explain or defend himself and instead simply started shooting at him. Chantelle Britton testified that she was afraid of Dunson because he had been following her, including on the night before the fatal shooting.

She said she wanted her brother to talk with Dunson but didn’t ask him to harm Dunson and didn’t know he had a gun. Donald Britton remained at large for more than a year until he was arrested last Aug. 1 at his job at a Walmart store in Carson City, Nev. Pettigrew said that if Donald Britton had truly acted in self-defense, he wouldn’t have fled the scene of the shooting and dramatically changed his appearance by cutting the long dreadlocks he had worn for a decade.

The prosecutor said today that the jury’s verdict shows they disregarded Britton’s testimony and believed his sister. Guneratne couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Britton faces 50 years to life in state prison when he is sentenced by Judge Vernon Nakahara on June 24.

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