Two men affiliated with a West Oakland gang have pleaded guilty in federal court in Oakland to conducting a gunfire attack that killed a 23-month-old boy in 2011. Dionte Houff, 34, and Houston Nathaniel III, 25, also pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, assault on and the attempted murder of six other people who were wounded in the shootings on Nov. 28, 2011. Hiram Lawrence Jr., who would have turned 2 years old on Dec. 28, received a bullet in the head and died 11 days later, after being taken off life support.
Houff and Nathaniel entered their guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton on Wednesday and will be sentenced by her on Jan. 24. The attack took place at about 6 p.m. on a group of people standing in front of a liquor store at Seventh and Willow streets in West Oakland, where a local rapper had just finished filming a music video. Houff and Nathaniel admitted in written plea agreements that they were affiliated with the Acorn gang and had agreed with other Acorn members to “try and shoot, injure or kill members of rival gangs.”
They said they had heard that members of a competing gang, known as Lower Bottoms, were filming a video that allegedly disrespected Acorn. They each said in the agreements that they drove to that location for the purpose of shooting at members of the rival gang, got out of their car, walked over and “fired my gun at the group of people.” Hough pleaded guilty to a total of 15 felonies and Nathaniel to 21, including racketeering conspiracy in both cases, contained in a 23-count superseding indictment returned by a grand jury in 2015. But they did not plead guilty to a charge of the murder in aid of racketeering of Hiram.
A conviction on that count would have carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors will drop that count as part of the plea bargain. Instead, the two men pleaded guilty to a count of using a gun in a violent crime that caused the death of an infant victim. Prosecution and defense lawyers agreed to recommend a sentence of between 38 and 43 years in prison for each defendant. If Hamilton decides to impose a greater sentence, the men will be entitled to withdraw their pleas and go to trial on all charges, including murder.
In addition to pleading guilty to charges in the Nov. 28 attack, Nathaniel pleaded guilty to attempted murder, assault and use of a gun in two attacks on Nov. 6 that wounded two teenagers.
A third gunman, Frederick Coleman, 22, pleaded guilty in Alameda County Superior Court in 2015 to a state charge of the first-degree murder of Hiram. Prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office dropped additional charges related to the other six victims. Coleman, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Paul Delucchi to 25 years to life in prison, and will be eligible for parole in 25 years.
Two other alleged Acorn members, John Devalier Daniels, 29, and Jermaine Earnest, 27, were charged in the 2015 indictment with racketeering conspiracy and the murder in aid of racketeering of a man perceived to be a rival gang member on April 16, 2014. The grand jury indictment alleges that Earnest was the shooter and Daniels was the driver in a drive-by shooting at 10th and Willow streets in Oakland.
Their cases are pending in Hamilton’s court. The Acorn gang is based out of the Acorn housing project in West Oakland.
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