By TERRY COLLINS
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A jury convicted the leader of a financially troubled community group of three murders, including the shotgun shooting death of the first American journalist killed on U.S. soil for reporting a story in nearly two decades.
Yusuf Bey IV, former head of Your Black Muslim Bakery, was found guilty Thursday in a month-long spree of violence that culminated with the August 2007 shooting of Chauncey Bailey while he walked to the newspaper where he was investigating the financial woes of Bey’s group.
Jurors also found co-defendant Antoine Mackey guilty in the murders of Bailey and Michael Wills, but deadlocked on a murder charge against him in the death of Odell Roberson Jr.
“I hope that it sends the message that the First Amendment is not going to be murdered by murdering journalists,” prosecutor Melissa Krum said of the verdicts. “You cannot kill the man and expect the message to be killed.”
Founded some 40 years ago by Bey’s father, the bakery, which promoted self-empowerment, became an institution in Oakland’s black community while running a security service, school and other businesses. In recent years, the organization was tainted by connections to criminal activity.
Prosecutors argued that Bey felt he was above the law and was so desperate to protect the legacy of his family’s once-influential bakery that he ordered Bailey murdered. The Oakland Post editor had been working on a story about the organization’s finances as it descended toward bankruptcy.
Bey and Mackey, both 25, appeared stoic during the reading of the verdicts, which prompted tears from the families of the victims and defendants.
“Justice has finally been done,” Bailey’s cousin, Wendy Ashley-Johnson, said outside court. “Now Chauncey can rest. This chapter is over.”
Bey’s attorney, Gene Peretti, said he had thought the case would end in a mistrial because jury deliberations had entered a third week.
“It’s a surprise and very disappointing frankly,” Peretti said, adding that his client was “a little bit stunned.”
Mackey’s lawyer, Gary Sirbu, said his client was a victim of guilt by association because he was tried alongside Bey.
“In this particular case, I think Mr. Mackey should have had a separate trial,” Sirbu said.
Both lawyers planned to appeal. Bey and Mackey could get life in prison without the possibility of parole when they are sentenced on July 8.
Bey’s mother, Daulet Bey, who wept before and after the verdicts were read, said, “I believe in my son’s innocence, I do.”
Bey was charged with ordering the killing of Bailey, 57, as well as the slayings of Roberson, 31, and Wills, 36, in July 2007.
Mackey, a former bakery supervisor, was accused of acting as the getaway driver for Devaughndre Broussard, who confessed to killing Bailey on a busy city street with three shotgun blasts, including a final shot to the face to ensure his victim was dead.
Mackey was convicted of murder for shooting Wills. He was accused of aiding Broussard in Roberson’s shooting, but jurors couldn’t decide whether he was guilty.
Prosecutors said Bey ordered Broussard to kill Roberson in retaliation for the murder of Bey’s brother by Roberson’s nephew.
Mackey was accused of killing Wills at random after Mackey and Bey had a conversation about the Zebra murders, a string of racially motivated black-on-white killings in San Francisco in the 1970s. Bey and Mackey are black, and Wills was white.
Broussard, the prosecution’s key witness, testified that Bey ordered him and Mackey to kill the three men in exchange for a line of credit.
The two-month-plus trial featured more than 70 witnesses for the prosecution and only a few for the defense, including Mackey.
Broussard struck a plea deal of 25 years in prison in exchange for serving as the prosecution’s key witness. The former bakery handyman inexplicably laughed several times while testifying for more than a week, including while describing Bailey’s shooting on Aug. 2, 2007.
Lawyers for Bey and Mackey questioned Broussard’s credibility. Prosecutor Krum told jurors that while Broussard, 23, is a “sociopath,” his testimony was credible.
Before the killing of Bailey, Cuban-American Manuel de Dios Unanue, an outspoken journalist, was shot in the head in a New York City restaurant in 1992.
Police believe drug traffickers and businessmen plotted to murder him in retaliation for hard-hitting stories he had written about their operations, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Frank Smyth, CPJ’s journalist security coordinator, said Thursday’s verdicts were reassuring.
“This sends a signal to those who would violently attack the press in the United States that they will not get away with it,” Smyth said.