Makeitha Christon’s life hangs in the balance while he awaits a sentence hearing, where it is expected that the 25-year-old resident of Los Angeles will be given a life sentence for a crime that he may not have committed.
On the night of September 1, 2005, an armed man attempted a robbery and shot three men, killing one of them, near Western and Century. The shooter was able to flee the scene. An eyewitness pointed out to the police a man believed to be the shooter. There was also a video of this same man near the crime scene at the time of the murder. A wanted sign with this man’s picture and name was posted, but he was never apprehended.
According to Christon’s aunt, Yvette Cunningham, Christon’s name did not surface until a $50,000 reward was offered for the arrest and conviction of the shooter. Cunningham said that at that time Christon’s ex-girlfriend stepped forward and claimed that Christon told her that he was involved in the shooting.
Christon’s name and photo was then put along side the other suspected shooter’s photo on the wanted sign. On November 21, 2006, Christon was arrested for murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery.
Cunningham came to her nephew’s aid and hired attorney Joel Isaacson, who argued in preliminary hearings that there were discrepancies and inconsistencies in the prosecutions witness’ testimony. Isaacson argued that the district attorney failed to prove the allegations and that the case should be dismissed due to lack of evidence. There was no murder weapon, eyewitness, or DNA found to link Christon to the crime.
The case still went to trial. Cunningham hired a new attorney, which she believes is the worst mistake that she made. She contends that the new attorney, Barry O. Bernstein, mishandled the case.
“Barry Bernstein, without a doubt, failed miserably to properly represent my nephew,” Cunningham said. “Mr. Bernstein only called two witnesses on the Makeitha’s behalf, which were youngsters from the neighborhood. He did not organize a defense witness list of people that could have testified as to the good mannerisms or accomplishments coupled with first hand knowledge that Makeitha had not committed illegal acts.”
Toward the end of the trial Cunningham overheard two of the jurors talking openly about this case. She brought that to Bernstein’s attention, who was supposed to report that to the judge. That could have caused a mistrial. But Bernstein failed to notify the judge and the case carried on.
On April 30 of this year, Christon was found guilty on nine counts of murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery.
At that point Bernstein tried to get Christon a new trial because the jurors had openly spoken about the case, but the judge ruled that Bernstein is a seasoned attorney and the courts should not be held accountable for his oversight. That oversight is very costly to Christon, who is awaiting sentencing.
Cunningham has sent a complaint to the State Bar of California Audit and Review office, hoping that they will find that Bernstein was negligent. Cunningham is hoping that will allow Christon to receive a new trial.
Cunningham said that Bernstein only visited Christon once before the trial and once during the trial. She also said that Bernstein missed a number of hearings for the case, sending his assistants instead. The State Bar told Cunningham that since she filed a complaint against Bernstein he has changed his name to Bob Bernstein.
When contacted by the Sentinel Bernstein’s assistant said that he had no comment.
Christon’s life may never be the same. He did not have a juvenile record, and the only incident that he had ever been a part of was a misdemeanor domestic charge over an argument with a girlfriend while he was in the Navy.
Christon has a two year old daughter that he has not seen since she was seven weeks old.
It is unclear who was the murderer, but it does appear that justice has not been done.
Christon has a new attorney, and will have to wait for an appeal, which is a very lengthy process.
“It is very unfortunate that a very small amount of circumstantial evidence can cause a person to be convicted,” said Wayne Higgins, Christon’s attorney. “A jury has made a decision, but it is a matter that should warrant a further review with an appeal.”
Higgins said that Christon is being very patient, understands the appeal process, and hopes to come out victorious.