An Oakland man was sentenced today to seven years in state prison for fatally stabbing his sister’s boyfriend during an argument over loud music last year. Prosecutor Scott Ford sought a murder conviction for Van Surrell, 23, for the death of 22-year-old Blair Robertson at an apartment in the 700 block of East 11th Street in East Oakland on Feb. 16, 2013, but jurors on June 24 convicted him of the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter.
Ford asked Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stuart Hing at a tense hearing today during which eight bailiffs guarded the courtroom to sentence Surrell to 12 years in state prison, the maximum term possible for manslaughter plus the enhancement of using a knife. But Surrell’s lawyer, Darryl Stallworth, said his client should only get the minimum of 4 years because the jury’s verdict indicates that the jury believes the killing of Robertson wasn’t intentional or malicious. Stallworth also said 40 people submitted letters to the court asserting that Surrell has a good character and is non-violent.
Hing chose the middle term of 7 years in state prison but didn’t explain his reasoning. Stallworth said the stabbing occurred after Robertson and Surrell got into an argument because Robertson was playing music too loud and refused Surrell’s request that he turn it down. Stallworth said the two men then challenged each other to fight and Surrell grabbed a knife to protect himself because Robertson had beaten and choked him and brandished a gun in previous confrontations.
However, the defense attorney said Robertson then turned into the knife that Surrell was holding and suffered wounds that took his life. The atmosphere in the courtroom became tense after one of Robertson’s family members said she didn’t think Surrell was remorseful about killing Robertson. However, Surrell said, “I’m sorry for what I did and I ask his family to forgive me.” Surrell said, “I don’t know why it happened or why I did it.” Referring to the tensions in the courtroom, Surrell said, “I hope nobody fights like they have at previous court dates.”
After the hearing ended, bailiffs escorted the family members and friends of Surrell and Robertson from the courtroom separately so they wouldn’t intermingle. Surrell would have faced 16 years to life if he’d been convicted of second-degree murder and 26 years to life if he’d been convicted of first-degree murder.
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