OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A rapper cried tears of joy Tuesday when jurors acquitted him of murder charges for a fatal shooting outside of a nightclub in the heart of downtown Oakland three years ago and only convicted him of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
After four days of deliberations, jurors found Billy Shaffer Jr., 33, of Antioch, a convicted felon who has performed under the names Billy Bankroll and Wild Bill, not guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
In addition to the involuntary manslaughter charge, jurors also convicted Shaffer of personally using a firearm and being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm.
Shaffer faces a maximum state prison term of 14 years when he’s sentenced later this year. Before that, there will be a hearing on the defense motion for a new trial on Oct. 13.
Alameda County prosecutor Jimmie Wilson alleged in his closing argument last week that Shaffer was the aggressor in a fight outside the Bella Ultra Lounge at 11th and Clay streets at 1:18 a.m. on Oct. 1, 2014, that ultimately led to the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Connie Sowels III of Berkeley.
Wilson said the fight began when Shaffer snatched a gold chain from Sowels’ neck and said Shaffer shot and killed Sowels when Sowels fought and tried to get the chain back.
But Katherine Isa, one of two defense attorneys who represent Shaffer, alleged that Sowels started the fight when the two men quarreled over a woman Shaffer was leaving the nightclub with.
Isa said Shaffer acted in self-defense while he was prone on the ground while Sowels was straddling him and beating him up.
Isa said Shaffer “reasonably believed he was in imminent danger of suffering great bodily injury or being killed.”
Referring to Shaffer’s 2010 conviction for possessing a gun he was not registered to own in Sacramento County, the defense attorney said, “Even an ex-felon with a gun has the right to defend himself when the elements of mutual combat are met, as they were in this case.”
Sowels was taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland after he was shot but was pronounced dead a short time later.
Shaffer was arrested 12 days after the shooting after police pulled him over for traffic violations.
Wilson said it might not have been wise for Sowels to try to get his gold chain back from Shaffer given the fact that Shaffer was armed with a gun but he said, “You can’t blame the victim for deciding to get his property back.”
Wilson said Shaffer didn’t bring his gun with him when he went into the nightclub but later on he went out to his car and retrieved it, which he said he believes shows that Shaffer had a malicious intent.
Peter Fitzgerald, another defense attorney for Shaffer, said Wilson failed to prove that Shaffer planned to rob Sowels and told jurors that under those circumstances they couldn’t use the felony murder rule to convict Shaffer.
Fitzgerald and Isa hugged Shaffer and dabbed his tears with facial tissue Tuesday after jurors acquitted him of the murder and voluntary manslaughter charges.
Wilson declined to comment on the jury’s verdict.
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