OAKLAND, Calif. – A trial in which one of the killers of three people who was afraid of being outed by a victim has resulted in a conviction.
An Alameda County jury has convicted two Oakland brothers accused of fatally shooting three in-laws during Thanksgiving dinner in 2006.
Asmerom and Tewodros Gebreselassie were found guilty this week of first-degree murder and kidnapping in the deaths of their widowed sister-in-law, her brother and their mother.
During the nearly five-month trial that took almost five years to conclude, prosecutor Joni Leventis argued that the Eritrean brothers sought revenge and mistakenly believed the in-laws had killed their brother to get access to a $500,000 life insurance policy.
Leventis also said the two men believed their brother was killed because he could reveal that his brother-in-law was gay.
The triple homicide divided Oakland’s usually close-knit Eritrean community.
Prosecutors argued that the brothers thought Winta Mehari, the sister in law, had something to do with the death of her husband Abraham eight months earlier. An autopsy was inconclusive.
Police said Asmeron Gebreselassie shot and killed Mehari; Mehari’s younger brother, Yonas Mehari; and the Meharis’ mother, Regbe Bahrenegasi. Authorities said Authorities said Tewodros Gebreselassie opened the door for Asmeron at the party on Nov. 26, 2006, at the in-laws’ apartment.
“I’m very thankful the jury understood the case and came back with the right verdict,” Leventis said after the verdict. “It’s about time the family got the justice they need.”
Darryl Stallworth, Asmeron Gebreselassie’s attorney, said he was stunned by the verdicts and planned to appeal. He said his client had killed the victims in self-defense.
“It’s tragic,” Stallworth said outside the courtroom. “The family brandished weapons that required Asmerom to defend himself.”
“It’s a grave miscarriage of justice,” said J. Tony Serra, Tewodros Gebreselassie’s attorney. “Our client did not open the door for his brother.”
Merhawi Mehari, who lost his mother, sister, and brother in the shootings, said his family was pleased with the outcome. “They deserved this.”
The brothers also were charged with kidnapping for taking their then 2-year-old nephew from the shooting scene to the downstairs apartment where they lived. Both testified that they acted in self-defense. The victims were unarmed.
The brothers could face life in prison without parole when they are sentenced on Aug. 2.