Update 3/31/15: The murder charge against Kneitawnye Sessoms was dropped.
A Monday plea hearing for 40-year-old Kneitawnye Sessoms — charged with murdering Sylvan Fuselier, 54, in February — was delayed due to a discovery procedure: a formal phase in which parties exchange evidence to prepare their cases.
Michael Diggs, 28, was also charged with murder in the Fuselier case. Diggs and Sessoms, whom police identified as a couple, allegedly murdered Fuselier using a hatchet. They were also charged with robbing the victim and burglarizing his residence the night he died, thereby making the charges a “special circumstances” murder, which can increase the severity of their sentences, according to court documents. The victim and suspects were Berkeley residents, and the case marks the city’s first homicide this year.
James Giller, Sessoms’ attorney, said the delay for the plea hearing was due to “stalling.” Discovery procedures often involve issuing subpoenas and taking depositions.
“We wouldn’t have been ready anyway, because we have to prepare,” Giller said.
Sessoms and Diggs could face the death penalty, although Giller said the possibility was not likely. The plea hearing was rescheduled for June 2, at which time Giller said Sessoms will plead not guilty.
On Feb. 28, Berkeley Police Department responded to a welfare check at a West Berkeley apartment located on Addison Street near San Pablo Avenue. Police found Fuselier and pronounced him dead at the scene.
In an affidavit, BPD Sgt. Peter Hong wrote that video surveillance footage from a week before showed Fuselier entering his apartment followed by a man and a woman. The next morning, Hong wrote, footage showed a woman appearing to clean door handles as she left the building. Several hours later, footage showed a man exiting from the back of the apartment, Hong wrote.
On March 12, police said they arrested Diggs for a parole violation and possession of burglary tools. Hong wrote that, after police searched Diggs’ property, an item that had belonged to the victim was found.
Police officers arrested Sessoms on March 31. Police said Sessoms admitted during in-custody interviews to being the woman captured on video leaving the apartment.
Hong also wrote that, during an interview with police April 1, Diggs confessed to killing Fuselier with two different sharp instruments. Diggs also alleged during the interview that Sessoms was inside the victim’s home and that they both exited the building Feb. 22, Hong wrote. Diggs said he took the victim’s property when he left the building that morning, police said.
Fuselier was convicted of two counts of second-degree robbery and sentenced to five years in prison in connection with a string of East Bay robberies that began in 1994, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Known as the “Noteman,” he would write short notes to shopkeepers asking them to turn over their cash.