Three Berkeley crimes see developments in 1 week

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Dapree Doyle/Senior Staff

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Within one week, three separate Berkeley homicide cases saw major developments in the form of arrests and convictions.

Attempted murder suspect James Sykes was apprehended Jan. 25, Anthony Durant was found guilty of a 2015 murder Jan. 31 and Will Watson was arrested for a 2016 murder case the next day, Feb. 1.

Sykes, a homeless man, is charged with attempted murder on suspicion of setting fire to a tent that he shared with the victim, whom he was dating, according to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Andrew Frankel. He was arrested at the scene of the crime — a homeless encampment on 2nd and Gilman streets — about 8 a.m. the morning the crime occurred.

The two parties had been in a heated argument when Sykes allegedly attempted to set the tent on fire, according to Frankel. The victim received minor injuries. Sykes is being held without bail at Santa Rita Jail on charges of attempted murder and nine other charges, including arson and domestic violence.

Sykes’ plea hearing is set for 9 a.m. Feb. 27 at Rene C. Davidson Alameda County Courthouse.

On Jan. 31, a jury found Anthony Durant guilty of the second-degree murder of his childhood friend and Stockton resident Christian Sheppard and of unlawful firearm use.

The 2015 murder occurred after Sheppard, Durant and several friends met to play dice behind the South Berkeley Rosewood apartment complex on Russell Street. Witnesses said they heard Durant and Sheppard arguing, which was followed by gunshots, then a pause, then more gunshots. Sixteen shell casings were recovered from the scene.

Sheppard was found by two other friends who had left the dice game earlier that day. The police then arrived and administered first aid to Sheppard before he was rushed to Highland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival. Sheppard was a father to two young daughters.

Durant is scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. March 24 at the Rene C. Davidson Alameda County Courthouse. Durant also faces charges of unlawful firearm activity and causing death by discharging a firearm, adding a potential 25 years to his prison term if convicted, according to KTVU.

BPD detectives arrested Will Watson in Monterey, California on Feb. 1 in connection to a September 2016 South Berkeley murder. Two days later, the District Attorney’s Office charged Watson with the murder of 19-year-old Ignacio “Greg” Francis Jr. of Berkeley. The shooting was the second Berkeley homicide of 2016, according to Berkeleyside.

Watson is currently being held at Santa Rita Jail without bail. He is scheduled for an attorney and plea hearing at 9 a.m. Feb. 17 at the Rene C. Davidson Alameda County Courthouse.

Contact Audrey McNamara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.