A man was sentenced today to 91 years to life in state prison for fatally shooting another man in Oakland who he claimed had been stalking his sister. Donald Britton, 39, was convicted of first-degree murder on April 16 for killing 50-year-old Leo Dunson in the 2900 block of High Street at about 2:20 p.m. on June 4, 2011. Britton also was convicted of being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm, as he has prior convictions for assault with a firearm and domestic violence. The key witness in Britton’s trial was his sister, Chantelle Britton, who testified that she had asked him to talk to Dunson but didn’t ask him to harm him. Prosecutor Stacie Pettigrew said after Britton was convicted that she believes Britton was confident he would be acquitted of the shooting death until authorities arrested his sister this spring 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 in the case.
Britton’s attorney, Kathleen Guneratne, told jurors in her closing argument in April that her client 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 would not have fled the scene of th shooting and dramatically changed his appearance by cutting the long dreadlocks he had worn for a decade. Britton faced 25 years to life in state prison for his first-degree murder conviction but Alameda County Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakahara doubled that to 50 years to life because Britton’s assault conviction is a prior strike offense. Britton also received an additional 25 years for using a gun to kill Dunson, plus another 11 years for being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. After Britton was sentenced, Pettigrew said, “The jury’s verdict and the sentence reflects that the community cannot tolerate this type of violence and disregard for human life.”
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