DNA from a cigarette butt and an eyewitness’s testimony are sufficient evidence to convict a 61-year-old man of first-degree murder for the fatal shooting of the manager of a Sizzler restaurant in Oakland 22 years ago, a prosecutor said today.
In her closing argument in the trial of Charles Luckett for the slaying of Anthony Vaughn during an attempted robbery at the Sizzler at 2710 Telegraph Ave. at about 10:45 p.m. on July 16, 1993, prosecutor Danielle Hilton said Luckett got away with murder for 19 years until DNA evidence that was developed in 2012 tied him to the crime.
Hilton said, “Justice can finally come to Anthony Vaughn because Mr. Luckett can’t outlive his DNA.”
But Luckett’s attorney Theodore Berry said the testimony of the eyewitness, who said Luckett was one of the two culprits who participated in the attempted robbery and fatal shooting, is unreliable because he said he was only 95 percent sure that Luckett was involved.
Berry said, “95 percent is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The defense attorney also said the DNA evidence against Luckett is questionable because Oakland police did a poor job of collecting and preserving the evidence in the case.
Berry said, “There’s overwhelming evidence that, instead of pointing to the guilt of Mr. Luckett, instead points to his innocence.”
Hilton said two armed suspects came to the Sizzler on the night of July 16, 1993, had dinner and “waited patiently” before attempting to rob the restaurant.
Hilton said the suspects complained that there was hair in their food and demanded to see Vaughn, the manager.
The prosecutor said one of the suspects went to the manager’s office and the other pulled out his gun and ordered the restaurant’s patrons, including a young mother and her baby, to lie on the ground.
The suspect who remained inside the main part of the restaurant told the suspect who was with Vaughn to “kill him, bust him” and then Vaughn was shot and killed, prosecutors said.
Oakland police set up a perimeter after the fatal shooting and arrested a suspect about two blocks away. That suspect was arrested and charged with murder, but the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case against him before it went to trial.
Hilton said it’s not clear if Luckett was the suspect who killed Vaughn, but even if he was only the accomplice, he’s equally guilty of murder because he was an active participant in the crime.
Luckett testified that he’s innocent because he lived in Los Angeles at the time of the incident, but Hilton said she thinks Luckett was lying and didn’t provide any evidence to back up his claim that he wasn’t in Oakland.
Hilton told jurors that Luckett should also be found guilty of the special circumstance of committing a murder during the course of an attempted robbery. Luckett would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if he’s convicted of that charge.
The DNA evidence that ties Luckett to the crime came from a cigarette butt that was snuffed out on a potato on a plate at the table where the two suspects were sitting, Hilton said.
But Berry said, “There’s no way to tell how the cigarette butt was found there or what condition it was in,” and suggested that police could have planted it there.
Berry said the reason Luckett has difficulty backing up his claim that he was in Los Angeles at the time of the crime is that he was “an itinerant worker who lived by the seat of his pants” and doesn’t have tax records or work records to prove that he was in Los Angeles.
Jurors were set to begin deliberating this afternoon.
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