An Oakland man was sentenced today to 50 years to life in state prison for his first-degree murder conviction for fatally shooting a man outside an East Oakland liquor store nearly three years ago. Brian Brown, 26, was convicted on March 6 for the death of 32-year-old James Lee Wilkins outside the store in the 4800 block of Melrose Avenue on July 23, 2010. Jurors, who deliberated for less than 90 minutes, also convicted Brown of using a gun to kill Wilkins. Prosecutor Mas Morimoto said Brown and Wilkins had an ongoing feud that dated back to January 2010, when a mutual friend saw Brown with a gun near the store and when the friend asked Brown what he was doing Brown said he had come to the area to kill Wilkins.
However, Morimoto said the nature of the feud between Brown and Wilkins wasn’t made clear. Morimoto said no one saw Brown shoot Wilkins as he sat in his car in front of the liquor store that day, but the same mutual friend saw Brown talk to Wilkins then go back to his own car, pull out a gun and walk back toward Wilkins. In addition, a passing motorist heard shots and saw Brown and an unidentified man backing away from Wilkins’ car and saw Wilkins open his car door and collapse to the ground, Morimoto said. Morimoto said that when police officers came to the scene and asked Wilkins who shot him he said, “Pow,” which the prosecutor said was Brown’s nickname in the neighborhood. Morimoto said Wilkins was shot in his stomach, chest and upper left buttocks and was pronounced dead at a local hospital shortly after the shooting. Brown fled to a cousin’s apartment in Sacramento after the shooting but Oakland police eventually were able to locate him there by tracking his cellphone, according to Morimoto. Brown refused to surrender to police when they surrounded him at his cousin’s apartment, Morimoto said, so they had to call a SWAT team and fire tear gas into the apartment complex to finally force him out.
Brown indicated that he was conscious that he was guilty by trying to bribe the officers who drove him back to Oakland by offering them $80,000 if they would set him free, Morimoto said. The officers didn’t accept the bribe but instead recorded the conversation and it was played for jurors during Brown’s trial, he said. Brown’s lawyer, Joann Kingston, couldn’t be reached for comment today. Morimoto said Kingston told jurors during the trial that there were doubts about Brown’s guilt because no one saw the shooting and she believed Wilkins could have been shot by the unidentified man who was with Brown, who was never arrested. But Morimoto said he believes Brown was the shooter because he previously had threatened to kill Wilkins and was seen with a gun shortly before Wilkins was killed. Morimoto said he also thinks Brown wouldn’t have tried to avoid arrest and then attempt to bribe officers if he wasn’t guilty. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner sentenced Brown today only after he held a lengthy hearing spanning several days on a bid by Brown to fire Kingston and hire a new lawyer. Horner ultimately denied Brown’s motion.
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