A state appeals court panel today reversed the first-degree murder conviction of one of three gang members allegedly involved in shooting a woman to death in front of her 3-year-old daughter on Christmas in 2010 in South Los Angeles.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered the case against Derrick Williams to be sent back to the trial court so that he may either be re-sentenced for second-degree murder or for the prosecution to opt to retry him for first-degree murder for the Dec. 25, 2010, killing of 25-year-old Kashmier James.
In a 46-page ruling, the appellate court justices found that they could not say beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury that heard the case against Williams relied on the valid theory of direct aiding and abetting rather than the impermissible theory of liability under the natural and probable consequences doctrine.
Williams — who was 15 at the time of the crime and a backseat passenger in the car containing two other gang members — was sentenced in October 2015 to 40 years to life in state prison after he and co-defendants Darnell Deshon Houston and Lamar McKnight were convicted of first-degree murder for James’ shooting death and the attempted murder of a man who was not wounded by the gunfire.
The appeals court panel upheld the convictions of Houston, whom the prosecution alleged was the gunman, and McKnight, the getaway driver. The two are each serving life prison terms without the possibility of parole.
At their sentencing in October 2015, the victim’s 8-year-old daughter, Neveah Jackson, asked the three men, “Why have you not said you’re sorry for taking my mommy away from me? … You are mean, evil people.”
The woman’s mother, Kimmolita Evans, told the three defendants that her daughter was killed “all because you wanted to be in a gang, a senseless gang that makes no sense.”
“You took a life away … I want you to remember her face and know why you are sitting in that jail cell,” she told Houston, McKnight and Williams.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy called James’ killing “a really, really horrific crime.”
“Christmas is supposed to be one of the happiest days, especially for a child,” the judge said. “Instead, this was probably the saddest day of this child’s life … What a horrible thing to do to a child on Christmas.”
The judge noted that James was “an innocent woman who has a right to be on the streets of Los Angeles on Christmas night.”
“It’s so senseless and so tragic,” Kennedy said.
A fourth defendant, Ezekiel Simon, who was 16 at the time of the crime and was also a backseat passenger in the car, pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and attempted murder. Simon was sentenced to 29 years in state prison.
Authorities said James was shot at about 10:20 p.m. Dec. 25, 2010, in the 1700 block of West 85th Street as she stood outside a car talking with a friend who lived in the area. Her daughter, who was sitting in the front seat of the car, was not injured.
Authorities alleged that the gang members went out looking for rivals and that James’ friend was mistaken for a gang member. Neither James nor the intended victim were associated with a gang, authorities said.