A judge in Santa Clara County Superior Court today sentenced a man to life in prison and two additional potential life terms in the 2012 murder of a Monte Sereno man after the defendant’s mother criticized prosecutors for “rushing” the case. Judge Michele McCoy imposed a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on defendant Marcellous Drummer in the choking murder of Raveesh Kumra and the invasion and robbery of Kumra’s three-story, gated home of cash and property on Nov. 30, 2012, Deputy District Attorney Kevin Smith said.
The judge also sentenced Drummer to concurrent terms of 15 years to life for the home invasion and 11 years to life for robbery and false imprisonment of Kumra and his ex-wife, Harinder Kumra, Smith said. McCoy said that Drummer and two other Oakland criminal street gang members accused of committing the home invasion and robbery that led to Kumra’s murder involved considerable premeditation, including duct tape, surveillance of the home and forced entry. “This crime was planned like a military operation,” McCoy said. McCoy said that while most street gangs were based in part on ethnic identification, the gang Drummer and his cohorts were in was concerned only with money.
The idea of committing crimes “just to afford a BMW instead of a Honda Accord is just shocking,” the judge said. McCoy rejected a motion for a new trial by Drummer’s attorney James Blackman, who argued that prosecutors did not present sufficient evidence to prove Drummer’s role in the murder or his state of mind during the crime to justify the severity of a sentence of life without future parole.
On Nov. 4, a jury convicted Drummer of first-degree murder with special circumstances, as well as felony home invasion, robbery, false imprisonment and misdemeanor assault charges. Drummer and fellow Oakland gang members DeAngelo Austin and Javier Garcia were charged in the murder-robbery, but Drummer was tried separately and the first to go to trial. The others are to be tried next year, prosecutors said.
During the robbery on Nov. 30, 2012, Kumra died of asphyxiation while his legs were tied and his mouth covered with duct tape in his kitchen while Harinder Kumra was beaten in her bed, dragged downstairs and tied up next to him, according to prosecutors. Harinder Kumra remained there until after her husband died while the co-defendants ransacked and robbed their home of thousands of dollars in cash, gold jewelry and their daughter’s wedding gifts and until Los Gatos/Monte Sereno police arrived early the next morning. Drummer served as the “guard” over the Kumras during the robbery and could have helped Raveesh Kumra to survive but did not, Smith told the judge. Before imposing the sentence, McCoy asked if anyone in the court wanted to say something in Drummer’s behalf and the defendant’s mother, Jacqueline Butler, rose to speak. “I believe that this case has been pushed through,” Butler said.
Butler claimed that a key witness used by prosecutors to convict Drummer, Katrina Fritz, had “constantly changed her testimony” and that the prosecution never recovered DNA evidence linking Drummer to Kumra’s home. Smith reminded the judge about the testimony from Harinder Kumra, who said she still had problems going to sleep from her ordeal. The prosecutor said the Kumras suffered “a vicious attack” with consequences for the their family “beyond just a murder.” Blackman said he remained “troubled by the evidence” that he said did not warrant a life sentence, which he claimed “raises constitutional questions.”
After the hearing, Smith said the Kumras’ family members were “very satisfied” upon learning of the sentence and “hoping to move on with their lives.” Smith said prosecutors had been pursuing Butler for months this year to testify in her son’s case, and issued a warrant for her to appear in court, but she avoided it by moving to New Mexico. A warrant for her arrest for failure to appear was lifted after the jury’s verdict against Drummer, Smith said.
It was Drummer, not prosecutors, who fast-tracked the case by requesting an early preliminary hearing after his arrest in May, which resulted in his conviction and sentencing for murder “seven months later, almost record speed,” Smith said. Fritz, a former prostitute who serviced Raveesh Kumra at his home in Monte Sereno and at local hotels from 1999 to 2011, was originally charged with murder in the case for providing the three defendants with information about the location and layout of Kumra’s home and how to enter through a side door.
But Fritz, who provided details of the crime that led to Drummer’s arrest, forged a deal with prosecutors to testify against Drummer, Austin and Garcia in exchange for a sentence of no more than 17 years in prison. Fritz still must provide testimony in the pending murder trials for Austin and Garcia to fulfill the agreement, Smith said.
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