OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Diantay Powell’s defense lawyer admitted Tuesday that Powell brutally gunned down two teenage girls near Brookdale Park in East Oakland in 2012 but said he should only be convicted of voluntary manslaughter because he had a troubled childhood.
In his opening statement in Powell’s trial in Alameda County Superior Court, defense attorney Darryl Stallworth said Powell “was walking around with no decision-making ability” because he’d been forced to move from home to home as a child, began using drugs at the age of nine and started taking painkillers after he was shot 14 times when he was only 13 years old.
“My client, Diantay Powell, is responsible for the deaths of Bobbie Sartain and Raquel Gerstel but the issue you will struggle with is whether it was first-degree murder, second-degree murder of voluntary manslaughter,” Stallworth told jurors.
Sartain, 16, and Gerstel, 15, were killed in a hail of at least two dozen gunshots in the 2600 block of Minna Avenue near Brookdale Avenue shortly after 5 a.m. on Nov. 25, 2012.
Stallworth said Powell, who was only 18 at the time and is now 21, “could not and did not form the specific intent to premeditate and deliberate this shooting with malice aforethought,” referring to the elements required for a verdict of first-degree murder.
Instead, Stallworth told jurors to hold Powell responsible for the twin killings at the end of the trial by convicting him of two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
However, prosecutor Melissa Dooher said she will ask jurors to find Powell guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, saying that the evidence in the case proves that he was the shooter.
A second defendant, 23-year-old Antonio Edwards, is standing trial with Powell on a charge of being an accessory after the fact for allegedly driving Powell away from the shooting scene.
According to family members and friends, Gerstel and Sartain were friends who grew up together in Alameda. Gerstel lived in San Leandro and was a freshman at Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo. Sartain lived on High Street in Oakland, a few blocks from where the shooting happened.
Stallworth said Powell’s mother was an alcoholic who also was addicted to crack cocaine and his father served time in prison for selling drugs, so Powell at times was homeless and had trouble finding food.
The defense attorney said Powell had to find an outlet and that outlet was marijuana, which he said Powell started using at the age of nine and had “for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Stallworth said Powell then moved on to stronger drugs such as cocaine and heroin and used painkillers after he was shot near McClymonds High School in West Oakland.
Stallworth said that on the night of the shooting, Powell had sex with Gerstel and they later hung out in a car with Edwards, Sartain and another young man.
Stallworth said the five teens wound up hanging out in the 2600 block of Minna Avenue, but Sartain got upset when Powell got a call from one of his girlfriends and asked Gerstel and Sartain to leave the car.
An argument ensued and Powell pulled Sartain out of the car, but she responded by punching Powell in his face, Stallworth said.
Powell became angry and after Gerstel got out of the car and asked him what he was doing, Powell “started firing,” first shooting Gerstel and then shooting Sartain after she tried to run away, Stallworth said.
Powell will testify during his trial but Stallworth told jurors, “He won’t be able to give you many details because he was high and angry” when he opened fire.
Dooher said witness Albert Rich, who has prior convictions for false imprisonment and illegal gun possession, will testify that a few days after the incident, Powell told him that he had fatally shot Gerstel and Sartain and had “emptied his clip.”
Dooher said Powell called Gerstel and Sartain “bitches” in conversations and text messages after the shooting but Stallworth said Powell’s language merely was “reflective of his bravado and swag.”
Edwards’ attorney, David Bryden, said Edwards had no idea that Powell would open fire that morning and because Powell was armed with a gun, Edwards “had no reasonable choice other than to drive away” with Powell after the shooting.
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