Three convicted of murdering to steal wheel rims

Three young Oakland men were convicted of first-degree murder today for the shooting death of another young man who was on his way to his job on the overnight shift at the Oakland Post Office nearly three years ago.

The three defendants were also convicted of the special circumstance of committing murder during the course of an attempted carjacking because jurors agreed with prosecutor Angela Backers that the motive for the Jan. 27, 2005, incident is that they wanted to steal the fancy 20-inch wheel rims on the car that victim Lamar Whitehead, 21, was riding in.

Because of the special circumstances finding, defendants Terrell Watson, 21, Ishmael Johnson, 22, both of Oakland, and Jason Tyree West, 20, of Vallejo will all be sentenced to life in prison without parole by Alameda

County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon at a hearing on March 7.

Watson and West were also convicted of attempted murder for shooting Keith Griffin, who was Whitehead's best friend and was driving Whitehead to work in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo when shots rang out in the 3900 block of Webster Street near Mosswood Park in Oakland about 11 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2005.

In addition, Watson was convicted of trying to dissuade a witness in the case.

Backers told jurors in her closing argument earlier this week that the three defendants “had talked about stealing rims” and Johnson “set up” the shooting by pointing out Griffith's car.

The prosecutor said Watson opened fire first and West fired additional shots after Johnson shouted, “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!”

The bullet that killed Johnson first went through Griffin and then struck Whitehead, she said.

Griffith survived the shooting incident and testified against the three defendants.

West's attorney, James Giller, attacked the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses in his closing argument, saying, “That's what this case is all about.”

Giller said he doesn't think that West even had a gun that night but he told jurors that even if they think West fired shots, those shots occurred after Watson started shooting and he believes Whitehead was killed by Watson's shots.

Giller said, “I submit that my client didn't have a gun and fire shots, but even if he did, the deed was already done.”

Giller said, “Jason had no part in this and did not kill Lamar or attempt to murder Keith Griffin. I ask you to find him not guilty.”

Whitehead's mother, Robin Douglas, said she was pleased by the guilty verdicts for the three defendants, saying “these guys saw him (Whitehead) every day and decided to carjack him and ambush him.”

Douglas said her son had been working for the post office for three years when he was killed and worked six days a week.

The Rev. Xavier Garrison, who is Whitehead's first cousin and also heads Fathers Against Drugs and Violence, said Whitehead was “a young man who wanted to work hard and didn't steal or rob or kill anybody.”

Garrison said Whitehead “wasn't one of these people who try to get rich quickly and think they're invincible, don't use their brain and are easily influenced.”

Referring to the large number of homicides in Oakland, Garrison said, “We have a problem in this city and it will only get worse because the culprits keep getting younger.”

Bay CIty News

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