Two men pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter today for the fatal shooting of a 34-year-old man in broad daylight in Berkeley in February 2013. Maurice Thomas, 23, and Jevon Calland, 22, who are cousins, were scheduled to stand trial this week on murder charges for the fatal shooting of Zontee Jones in the 1000 block of Delaware Street between 10th Street and San Pablo Avenue shortly after 11 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2013. However, they entered their pleas to the lesser charge of manslaughter before the trial began. Prosecutor Glenn Kim said police believe Thomas fired the shots that killed Jones so he faces 21 years in state prison, while Calland faces a lesser term of 16 years.
Both men are scheduled to be formally sentenced on Jan. 5. Several of Calland’s family members didn’t want him to accept the plea bargain and were emotional when he entered his no contest plea today. Berkeley police Officer Jesse Grant wrote in a probable cause statement that Calland had a motive to harm Jones and had threatened him in front of witnesses the day before Jones was shot to death. Grant didn’t say what Calland’s motive was but said Calland “made a plan with several other people to do harm” to Jones, who he said was unarmed. Grant alleged that Thomas was the person who actually shot and killed Jones. Referring to the alleged plan to harm Jones, Grant said, “Calland summoned one of the other persons to the scene of the murder with a firearm.”
He said, “Calland engaged the victim (Jones) in a physical confrontation and the other persons assisted him.” Calland’s lawyer Ted Johnson said that although Calland’s family didn’t want him to accept the plea deal, “It was his (Calland’s) case and he had to make the decision for himself.” Johnson said he thinks there are “holes” in the prosecution’s case against Calland and Thomas but he still thinks the agreement was an acceptable outcome. “This case was a tragedy all around,” Johnson said, referring to Jones’ death and the long prison sentences that Calland and Thomas face.
Thomas’ lawyer Ernie Castillo said he believes the plea bargain was “a reasonable resolution given the nature of the case.” Castillo said even though Thomas and Calland are cousins, there were tensions between their families because the two defendants had different defense strategies. After Calland entered his plea, he said, “To my family, I want to say that we should stick together.” Johnson told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stuart Hing, who accepted the pleas, that Calland’s message is “to stop the fighting and the antagonizing of each other and keep the family unity going.” It is Thomas’ 23rd birthday today.
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