OAKLAND (BCN)— An Alameda County Superior Court judge today ordered that there be a separate hearing for one of the seven people accused of murder for a gun battle in West Oakland last year that killed a 30-year-old mother of three children, citing a possible conflict of interest.
Judge Jeffrey Horner issued his ruling just before a preliminary hearing for the seven defendants resumed following a three-week delay caused by scheduling conflicts with several of the attorneys in the case.
They are charged with murder for the fatal shooting of Chyemil Pierce in the 2800 block of Chestnut Street at about 4:45 p.m. on March 9, 2015, when a gun battle broke out after two groups of people argued and fought.
Oakland police said Pierce, who worked as a human resources specialist at Kaiser Permanente, wasn’t involved in the argument but had just picked up two of her children from a charter school in the area and was struck by gunfire as she tried to help them to safety.
Charged with murder for Pierce’s death are Joneria Reed, Jerry Harbin, Julian Ambrose, 18, Alex Davis, 26, Shelton McDaniels, 30, Michael Stills, 22, and Anthony Sims, 21.
In addition, Ambrose and Sims face an attempted murder charge for allegedly shooting at Harbin.
Dijon Ward, Reed’s son and an eighth defendant in the case, is charged with being an accessory after the fact for allegedly hiding the gun that Sims allegedly used.
Horner said today that he thinks there’s a potential conflict of interest because Sims’ attorney William DuBois previously represented McDaniels in a pimping case in which McDaniels was convicted and sentenced to state prison.
McDaniels is now being represented by Stephen Avilla, who has spent the past three weeks at an unrelated trial in Hayward defending Ayodele Patterson, who is charged with murder for the fatal shooting of an 80-year-old Hayward woman inside her home in 2010.
Acting without Avilla being present because the jury in Patterson’s case is still deliberating, Horner said, “I’m severing Mr. McDaniels from this hearing on my own motion because of a potential conflict of interest.”
Horner said the potential harm to McDaniels and Sims “is serious” and said it was incumbent on him to act.
Outside of court, DuBois said he had informed Avilla about the potential conflict many months ago and Avilla wasn’t concerned about it for the purposes of the preliminary hearing, which will determine if there’s enough evidence for the eight defendants to stand trial.
Other attorneys in the case said they think Horner severed McDaniels from the case because he was in a hurry to resume the preliminary hearing and was tired of waiting for the Patterson case to end, as jurors have been deliberating for nearly two weeks.
Horner’s ruling means that McDaniels will have a separate hearing at a later date.
After he issued his ruling, the first witness in the hearing, Riana Buffin, resumed her testimony. She began her testimony on Aug. 4 and 5.
The hearing is expected to last all week and possibly longer.
Prosecutors say Sims, Harbin, McDaniels, Davis and Ambrose all opened fire in the shootout that killed Pierce, who was hit by a bullet in the back of her head. Investigators haven’t said who they believe fired the shot that killed her.
Stills isn’t charged with firing a gun during the incident but is accused of being armed with one and prosecutors allege that he’s also legally responsible for the killing.
Ambrose suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the incident and spent more than a month at Highland Hospital in Oakland. He was arrested when he was released from the hospital on April 14, 2015.
Sims was also injured in the shooting.