A teenager who is a reputed gang member was sentenced today to 25 years to life in state prison for his first-degree murder conviction for a shooting that killed a 23-month-old boy in West Oakland in 2011.
Authorities allege that Frederick Coleman, 18, was one of three men who opened fire on a group of people who were filming a music video at Seventh and Willow streets at about 6 p.m. on Nov. 28, 2011.
Seven people were injured in the shooting, including Hiram Lawrence Jr., a 23-month-old boy who was struck in the head and died 11 days later after he was taken off life support.
Coleman could have faced life in prison if he’d been convicted of all of the charges against him, but in January prosecutors agreed to dismiss multiple lesser charges against him in exchange for his guilty plea to first-degree murder for Hiram’s death.
Those charges were six counts of attempted murder and gang enhancement clauses that alleged that he fired shots to benefit a criminal street gang.
Coleman, who was only 16 at the time of the shooting, will be eligible for parole after he serves 25 years, but his attorney, Richard Foxall, said there is no guarantee he will ever be released.
The other two suspected shooters, Dionte Huff, 33, also known as “Birdman,” and Houston Nathaniel III, 24, also known as “No No,” are being prosecuted separately in federal court and their cases are still pending.
A member of the Acorn gang, which is based in the Acorn housing project in West Oakland, testified at Coleman’s preliminary hearing last year that Coleman, Huff and Nathaniel all belong to the Acorn gang and that they were shooting at members of the rival Lower Bottoms gang.
The Acorn member, who asked prosecutors not to disclose his name to the news media, said the two rival gangs had been feuding for about five years.
Referring to the long-running gang feud, Foxall said Coleman “was caught up in something that’s been going on for a lot longer than he’s been around.”
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Delucchi, who sentenced Coleman, said the motive for the shooting was trivial, saying, “The nonsense that underlies this led to the death of an innocent boy.”
Foxall said Huff and Nathaniel had more powerful guns than Coleman did and fired more shots than the teen did, so it’s “probable” that Coleman didn’t fire the shot that killed Hiram.
He said, “Legally that doesn’t matter, but it matters a lot to community sentiment and to Mr. Coleman.”
Foxall said Coleman was “a reluctant shooter” and acted “under duress.”
But prosecutor Ben Beltramo said Coleman should be held fully responsible for Hiram’s death because he joined Huff and Nathaniel in “firing shots into a crowd of unprotected individuals that included children” such as Hiram.
Before he was sentenced, Coleman addressed Hiram’s family members and said, “I extend my apology to the family for their loss.”
Hiram’s parents, Hiram Lawrence Sr. and Brittany Houston, didn’t attend the hearing today.
Annette Jointer, Hiram’s great aunt, said the parents decided not to come to Coleman’s sentencing because the case had already been settled when he entered his guilty plea.
Jointer said Hiram’s death has been “horrible” for his family and the matter is still “dragging on” because Huff and Nathaniel aren’t expected to stand trial any time soon.
“The mother and father can’t move on with their lives,” Jointer said.
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