General Crime

Trial Starts in Murder of Raveesh Kumra in Monte Sereno

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A prosecutor in Santa Clara County Superior Court today said he will use DNA evidence, phone records and the testimony of a witness in the trial of an Oakland gang member charged in the 2012 killing of a wealthy Monte Serno man. Deputy District Attorney Kevin Smith said in his opening statement this morning that DNA evidence ties defendant Marcellous Drummer to the scene of the slaying of Raveesh Kumra, 66, the former owner of a Saratoga winery.

Kumra was asphyxiated while gagged by duct tape in an early morning robbery of collectable coins, jewelry and cash from his home on Nov. 30, 2012. The prosecutor this morning introduced as evidence color photos of the inside of Kumra’s three-level luxury home in Monte Sereno, where he said police found duct tape and piles of latex gloves used by the robbers, a pair of bloody pants, sheets with spots of blood and rooms that had been ransacked. Smith, who estimated the trial will take three weeks, said he plans to use phone company records and evidence from cellphone towers of calls allegedly made from Drummer’s number to others involved in the invasion of Kumra’s house, where Kumra’s ex-wife Harinder was assaulted, gagged and bound along with her former husband.

Harinder Kumra will testify about what she witnessed during Kumra’s murder and the prosecution will also rely on testimony from Katrina Fritz, an alleged former prostitute and co-defendant in the murder case who received a plea deal from prosecutors to serve no more than 17 years in prison in exchange for her testimony, Smith said. Raveesh Kumra had used Fritz, based in Pittsburg, for sexual services at his home and in hotels for years but their relationship had cooled for some months prior to the robbery, prosecutors said. Two others charged in Kumra’s murder are DeAngelo Austin, who is Fritz’s brother and an alleged member of the Oakland-based Money Team street gang, and Javier Garcia, who allegedly is part of the Oakland gang Ghost Town.

The pair both opted to work together in robbing Kumra, Smith said. Prosecutors claim that Drummer, whom Fritz nicknamed “Blade,” was a member of yet another Oakland street gang named the Ed Nario Team. Smith admitted to the jury that Fritz had prior knowledge of her brother’s plans to rob her former client Kumra and played a role in it for Austin, Garcia and Drummer by providing her brother with directions to Kumra’s home, a diagram of the home and how to enter it through a side door. Fritz pleaded guilty on Sept. 15 to charges of robbery with gang enhancements and false imprisonment, avoiding murder charges, to get a sentence of at most 17 years.

The prison term could be adjusted downwards by a judge after her testimony against Drummer, Austin and Garcia, who are being tried separately, Smith said. Drummer’s lawyer James Blackman asked the jury to keep an open mind and said he will discredit the prosecution’s DNA data, phone record evidence and Fritz herself as a witness with a plea deal. The lawyer described the prosecution’s case as a stool with three legs that would collapse due to the weakness of just one leg. Blackman said there was no evidence directly tying Drummer to being at the murder scene and that the crime lab for the district attorney’s office had tied another person to the crime scene, Lukis Anderson, by DNA, but the case against Anderson was dismissed “because of errors in the DNA and of DNA transfer.”

“The evidence will show that the DNA leg on this stool is weak,” he said. He said that prosecutors have no evidence that the phone number with a 415 area code that Fritz said was Drummer’s actually was the defendant’s. Blackman said that he would impeach Fritz as a witness because “her credibility is extremely important and the (prosecution’s) case depends on her and her credibility.” Fritz had lied repeatedly to police, investigators and prosecutors prior to asking for the plea deal in return for testifying for the prosecution, Blackman said. He said she only did so to escape a possible sentence of death or life in prison with the possibility of parole and after seeing how strong the case was against her.

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