When prosecutor Elgin Lowe displayed Meleia Willis-Starbuck's short jaunty jacket — ice-blue, cap-sleeved, bell-shaped — Christopher Hollis held his head and looked away. Earlier, before the jury filed in, Apprehension had seen Hollis joshing with a deputy: grinning. But he wouldn't look at the jacket or the photo — shimmering on a screen — of nineteen-year-old Willis-Starbuck with head flung back, hair askew, round red hole in the middle of her mostly bare left breast, bright red blood soaking her flung-aside top. He wouldn't look because he was her pal. And because he had killed her.
Both sides agree that just after 1 a.m. on July 17, 2005, ex-Berkeleyite Ivy Leaguer Willis-Starbuck felt disrespected by Cal football players near campus. One player later testified that another had invoked Chewbacca, the hairy Star Wars wookie. An upset Willis-Starbuck phoned Hollis; witnesses say she told him to bring a gun. Hollis' friend Christopher Wilson testified that he drove Hollis over and then saw him fire several shots. Lowe wants Hollis convicted of murder for shooting into the crowd. Defense attorney Greg Syren says it was manslaughter, as Hollis was playing Meleia's hero.
But this is what her life and death boil down to: a sunny, houseplant-dotted courtroom a few blocks from Chinatown where judge, clerks, and defense lawyer joke about taxes before the session starts. An American flag the size of a two-car garage flanks one wall. Mostly empty rows of graffiti-hacked seats hold only six spectators, straining to stay awake as a ballistics expert explains how guns fire. When he first got the bullet to examine, says criminalist Robert Hinkley, "a small amount of blood" was on it. He washed it before doing tests that revealed numerous characteristics in common with other bullets found in Hollis' residence. There went her blood, down a sheriff's-department drain.
Hollis chewed gum during the testimony, writing on a pad, face giving nothing away. When he was little, he looked forward to certain days. They all led to this one.
Willis-Starbuck went to Cuba and Vietnam on social-justice trips. She had a Dartmouth scholarship.
Witnesses say her tragedy was spurred by guys calling girls ugly. Anyone who was ever nineteen remembers that stuff. For eternities, it has mattered more than we want to admit.
But whoever killed eighteen-year-old Markeese Edwards isn't in court, because he or she remains at large. Shot point-blank at 8th and Peralta avenues on March 16, the resident of Oakland's Chester Street "loved to sing and had a passion for cooking," his mother wrote in an e-mail to the Lower Bottom Neighborhood Association. "Markeese asserted his independence from his family ... by searching for answers among his peers. ... Unfortunately for Markeese, his network of friends ... were all too often engaged in crime." He was trying to turn his life around, she writes, when that fateful Palm Sunday came. "Hopefully, Markeese's death can serve as a point of reflection for us as community members and friends."
Locked and loaded
With X-ray vision, you could see how many people around you are packing heat. A lot! According to Oakland Police Department logs, on April 11 one person was shot on International Boulevard, another on 26th Street, two more on Market Street. On April 12, two were shot on 90th Avenue, two on 22nd Avenue, one on Bancroft Avenue, one on 60th Avenue. On April 13, two were shot on 51st Avenue. On April 14, one was shot on School Street.
Colonic crime wave
A "serial pooper" has been defecating in doorways on the 1900 block of University Avenue in Berkeley. "We think we know who it is," says BPD Sergeant Mary Kusmiss. It's the town's second recent colonic crime wave; when College Avenue businesses were dumped on — it counts as misdemeanor littering — the BPD worked with Berkeley Mental Health to develop a possible profile, then "nabbed the pooper." Still, maybe we need a task force on this. According to Walnut Creek police records, "someone has been leaving human feces in [a] neighborhood pool for the last three weeks."
A woman's completed federal and state tax forms — with checks — were swiped from her Berkeley mailbox on April 14. The empty envelopes were found discarded nearby: "Facing the ongoing challenge of identity theft," Kusmiss says, "we suggest that residents not put outgoing mail in their mailboxes" but in secure curbside boxes instead. An auto-burglary rampage swept North Berkeley on April 11, with ten break-ins: two on Vincente Avenue, two on Capistrano, three on The Alameda, others on Cornell, Spruce, and Santa Rosa. How bold are auto-burglars? In the Shattuck Avenue Andronico's parking lot on April 17, Apprehension saw a modest little car, its rear passenger window freshly smashed, glass littering the seat and pavement. It was 6 p.m.; the lot was very busy. Speaking of supermarkets, on April 13, after leaving the Berkeley Bowl bearing a stolen burrito, a man brandished a box-cutter at the security guard chasing him. Apprehending him nearby at the Ashby Flea Market, Berkeley cops found that he'd filched two enchiladas too.
A graffiti-fearing Walnut Creeker called the cops on April 12 to report "two male subjects walking ... with spray paint cans." Officers located the pair, "who had been primping with hairspray," reads the log. "Stiff hair, but no crime."
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