OAKLAND — A 30-year-old man was acquitted Monday of charges of murder, robbery and assault, which hinged largely on the word of a co-defendant, who agreed to testify in exchange for leniency.
Oakland’s Odell Jones was found not guilty of murdering 25-year-old Justin Sessions in November 2017, officials say was inspired by a robbery plot. Jones’ co-defendant, 34-year-old Darryl Hickman, made a plea to agree to testify against Jones, which the defense argued provided a motive for falsely accusing Jones of shooting.
“We are very pleased with the jury’s decision,” Jones’ attorney, Annie Belles, said after the verdict, but declined to comment further.
Justin Sessions was shot dead when he and his brother, Joshua Sessions, came to a meeting where they planned to buy a laptop computer from Hickman and his co-worker at a lower rate, which police claimed. that it was Jones. The meeting turned out to be a robbery, and Sessions was shot in the back as he tried to escape.
Joshua Sessions identified Jones as the shooter, but had previously excluded anyone else from the photo lineup and told police he was not 100 percent sure that Jones was there. Hickman also identified Jones as his coworker, but Belles argued to the jury that Hickman was “trying to save his skin” by giving the police a name to avoid a life sentence.
Hickman pleaded no contest to second-degree murder, with the deal that if he testified truthfully he would receive a sentence of murder and 11 years in prison, court records show.
Elsewhere in Alameda County, two other murder trials center on a similar plea deal. On Monday, a jury convicted Brenton Boatwright of second-degree murder in the 2019 shooting, after hearing testimony from his former co-defendant, Abdulsatar Muqbel, who was part of a shootout with Boatwright. In that case, Muqbel pleaded no contest to the murder charge with the promise that if he testified truthfully, he would receive a downgrade for murder. In another courtroom, William Homert is facing murder charges based on testimony from former co-defendant Trevor Simpson.
In a pre-trial motion, Belles attacked the use of such deals, arguing that they inherently bolster the credibility of informers. He wrote that unless a judge came forward and accused the witness of lying during the trial, the jurors would assume that the person was telling the truth.
“The court would unreasonably wear two hats – that of the factfinder for Hickman’s ‘telling the truth’ and that of the impartial judge in Mr Jones’ trial,” Belles wrote. “These two terms are inappropriate and, at the very least, create the appearance of favoritism.”