Because of a legal technicality, charges were briefly dismissed today against two brothers accused of murdering three members of an Eritrean family in Oakland on Thanksgiving Day in 2006.
However, the Alameda County District Attorney's office, which was forced to drop the charges because it wasn't prepared for a preliminary hearing in a timely manner, immediately re-filed charges against Asmeron Gebreselassie, 43, the suspected gunman in the Nov. 23, 2006, incident, and 39-year-old Tewodros Gebreselassie. The brothers could still face the death penalty if they're convicted.
The preliminary hearing in the case, which had been scheduled to begin today, is now scheduled to start on Jan. 23.
The Gebreselassie brothers both still face three counts of murder for the deaths of Winta Mehari, 28, her brother Yonas Mehari, 17, and their mother, 50-year-old Regbe Bahrengasi.
They also face one count of attempted murder for the non-fatal shooting of Yehtram Mehari, the brother of Winta and Yonas, one count of kidnapping for allegedly taking Winta Mehari's 2-year-old son from the scene and two counts of false imprisonment involving two other family members, Angersom Mehari and Merhawi Mehari.
In addition, they also are charged with two special circumstances murder allegations that could earn them the death penalty: multiple murder and murder during the course of a kidnapping.
The victims and the defendants were all members of Oakland's sizable Eritrean community. About 20 members of that community, some dressed in traditional Eritrean clothing, attended today's brief hearing.
Oakland police think the motive for the shooting at the Keller Plaza apartment complex at 5301 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland about 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day 2006 was that the Gebreselassie brothers wanted revenge for
the death of their brother, Abraham Tewolde, 42, about eight months earlier, on Mar. 1, 2006.
Police said Abraham Tewolde's cause of death was undetermined and his brothers were suspicious of Winta Mehari, his widow.
A few days after the incident, Fitsum Keflezighi, a cousin of Bahrengasi and Winta and Yonas Mehari, said he thinks a dispute over money was the cause of their shooting deaths.
“It's all about greed and money,” he said after the Gebreselassie brothers' first court hearing on Nov. 28, 2006.
After today's hearing, Keflezighi said, “I wish there were no delay” in the preliminary hearing but a two-week delay isn't a big deal at this point because it's already been well over a year since the shooting occurred.
Keflezighi said the dismissal and the re-filing of the charges “is just a technicality” and he has “no doubt” that the Gebreselassie brothers are guilty.
According to law enforcement officials, Tewodros Gebreselassie went to the Meharis' apartment on Thanksgiving Day 2006 even though he wasn't invited but they let him in because they didn't think he would be a threat.
They wouldn't have let Asmeron Gebreselassie in because they feared him more, according to one law enforcement official who didn't want his name used.
According to probable cause for arrest documents filed in court, Tewodros Gebreselassie was talking on his cell phone and said, “Yeah, they're all here” and opened the door, allowing Asmeron Gebreselassie into the apartment.
According to the court records, Tewodros Gebreselassie grabbed the 2-year-old boy and Asmeron Gebreselassie fatally shot the three victims.
The brothers were arrested at their nearby apartment a short time later.
According to the probable cause documents, Asmeron Gebreselassie admitted being involved in the crime.