OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A prosecutor told jurors Monday that a 30-year-old white man should be convicted of two felony counts of making criminal threats for pointing a laser-sighted semi-automatic pistol at two black men after an argument about garbage near the Nation of Islam Mosque in East Oakland in July.
In his closing argument in the trial of Christopher Seelig, Alameda County prosecutor Keydon Levy said, “The threat was very clear. He (Seelig) pointed the gun directly at them” (the two alleged victims).
Levy accused Seelig of provoking a fight and said, “The victims were in sustained fear for their safety.”
But Seelig’s lawyer, Rachel Marshall, said Seelig acted in self-defense and asserted that the alleged victims, Akida Harrison and Cyril Muhammad were the aggressors by continuing to confront Seelig after an apparent misunderstanding over garbage.
Marshall admitted that Seelig uttered a racial epithet at the two black men but said he did so only after they called him a “white boy” and acted aggressively.
The encounter, in which no one was hurt, drew the attention of many Oakland community leaders and members of the Nation of Islam Mosque, which also is known as Muhammad Mosque No. 26, who filled the courtroom of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Rhonda Burgess for the arguments in Seelig’s trial Monday.
Marshall said Seelig lives in an apartment complex at 5280 Foothill Blvd. and just before midnight on July 15 he went outside to go through a garbage bin to look for something he had thrown away earlier in the day.
She said Harrison and Muhammad came out of the mosque, which is located in the same block, and “immediately assumed the worst,” which is that Seelig had added to the debris that was outside the mosque.
Marshall alleged that Harrison was “immediately aggressive” didn’t take Seelig’s word that he was only looking for something he had thrown away and “escalated” the situation by coming face to face with Seelig when Seelig tried to walk away.
The defense attorney said Seelig told Harrison and Muhammad, “I’ve got a gun” because he thought that would scare them away but she said they stayed at the scene and stared into Seelig’s apartment when he went back inside.
Levy said that if Seelig really felt in danger he should have stayed inside his apartment, which he described as “a place of safety.”
But Marshall said Seelig went back downstairs only to close the gate to his apartment complex because his ex-girlfriend and their young son also live there and he wanted to make sure that Harrison and Muhammad didn’t come into the building.
Marshall alleged that the two men “started moving toward him” (Seelig) and said Seelig was “terrified” and uttered “a terrible word” (a racial epithet) and pointed his gun at them for one or two seconds.
The defense attorney said Seelig “used no more force than was reasonably necessary” and didn’t shoot or hurt anyone.
Marshall said Seelig “used a terrible word that hurts people” but told jurors, “Don’t let the use of an offensive word make you convict him of a crime.”
She said, “It’s not a crime to be a jerk and unlikable.”
Marshall said Seelig should be convicted of being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm and of illegally possessing ammunition because he has prior drug-related convictions but she said he should not be found guilty of two counts of the more serious charge of making criminal threats.
Jurors began deliberating Seelig’s fate late Monday afternoon and will resume their deliberations on Tuesday morning.
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