An Oakland man was sentenced today to 21 years in state prison for fatally shooting a neighbor during a dispute over a parking space seven years ago. The sentencing for 30-year-old Jamie Thomas ends a lengthy legal saga that began when he killed 33-year-old Samuel Navarro at an apartment complex on Pearl Street near Lake Merritt in Oakland at about 7:40 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2007. Thomas was convicted of second-degree murder in 2010 and sentenced to 40 years to life in state prison but last August a state appellate court reversed his conviction, ruling that the jury in his case should have been more completely instructed on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
The appellate court said Thomas was denied his due process rights because it’s possible that the omission in jury instructions might have influenced the jury’s verdict. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office agreed in January to allow Thomas to plead no contest to voluntary manslaughter instead of seeking to prosecute him on a murder charge a second time. Thomas’ attorney, Alameda County Assistant Public Defender James Cramer, said that although Navarro’s death was “a tragedy” he believes it was “appropriate” for Thomas to be convicted and sentenced for manslaughter instead of murder because he thinks Thomas acted in the heat of passion when he killed Navarro.
Cramer said a friend of Navarro, Ignacio Ortiz, admitted during Thomas’ trial that he had beaten up Thomas when Navarro and Thomas argued over the parking spot. According to the appellate court’s account of the trial, Thomas testified that he did not make a conscious decision to pull the trigger and he didn’t intend to shoot but “he was afraid of being injured or killed and felt he had no choice but to shoot.” Thomas said he wasn’t thinking clearly about his options when he shot because he was “afraid” and “nervous,” according to the court. Thomas has been in custody since June 2007 and won’t be released for another 11 years, Cramer said.
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