SAN LEANDRO (CBS SF) — A 19-year-old Oakland youth was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder for a shooting outside a BART station in San Leandro last year in which a 50-year-old bystander who was waiting for a bus was killed.
In addition to being convicted for the death of Kenneth Lee Seets of Fremont outside the Bay Fair BART station around 12:20 p.m. on Jan. 19, 2013, Jabrie Bennett was also convicted of attempted murder for shooting another youth at 89th Avenue and Hillside Street, near Castlemont High School, two days earlier.
However, jurors, who deliberated for the equivalent of three full days, found Andre Smith, another 19-year-old Oakland youth, not guilty of murder in connection with Seets’ death. Jurors only found Smith guilty of an illegal gun possession charge.
In his closing argument last week, prosecutor Mark Melton said Bennett and Smith should both be convicted of murder because they both were armed with guns and acted with reckless disregard for human life.
Melton alleged that Smith provoked the shooting by reaching for his gun and walking toward Bennett after his group of friends got into an argument with Bennett’s friends. He said Bennett is directly responsible for Seets’ death because one of the 10 shots he fired in response to Smith’s actions struck and killed Seets.
He said Bennett fired three shots, fell after he backed into a pole, and then fired seven more shots, one of which hit Seets, who was sitting near Smith.
The two groups of young people didn’t know each other before the shooting, according to testimony in the case.
Smith didn’t fire any shots in the incident but his younger brother responded to Bennett’s gunfire by firing five shots at Bennett’s group. Smith’s brother was prosecuted separately in juvenile court.
Bennett admitted on the witness stand two weeks ago that he fired the shot that killed Seets but said he didn’t intend to kill Seets and his death was “an accident.”
Bennett’s lawyer, William Locke, told jurors in his closing argument that Bennett acted in self-defense because “Smith provoked a fear in Bennett that Bennett responded to.”
Locke said Bennett didn’t play any role in the heated argument that led to the shooting, pointing to evidence that Bennett’s girlfriend and Smith’s brother were the main antagonists in the war of words.
Smith’s lawyer, Barbara Thomas, said in her closing argument that Smith didn’t cause or escalate the confrontation.
After the verdict was announced Thursday, Thomas said the jury acted correctly in finding Smith not guilty of the murder charge but she thinks he shouldn’t have been charged with murder in the first place because he didn’t pull out a gun and “didn’t do anything illegal.”
Locke said he’s “profoundly disappointed” with the verdict against Bennett and hopes for “a better result on appeal.”
Melton couldn’t be reached for comment.
Melton alleged during the trial that Bennett used the same .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle to shoot Seets and the teen who was shot in the incident two days earlier.
In the earlier incident, Bennett allegedly fired 11 shots at the other teen. One of the shots struck and injured the other teen but he survived.
Bennett, who also was convicted of an enhancement of using a gun to kill Seets, faces life in state prison when he’s sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner on April 11. Thomas said Smith only faces about 18 months in prison for his illegal gun conviction.
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