Berkeley couple pleads not guilty to murder in city’s first homicide case this year

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Update 3/31/15: The murder charge against Kneitawnye Sessoms was dropped

A couple charged with the murder of Berkeley resident Sylvan Fuselier — which marked the city’s first homicide of the year — pleaded not guilty at a Monday court hearing after several delays.

Berkeley residents Kneitawnye Sessoms, 41, and Michael Diggs, 28, allegedly murdered the victim with a hatchet in February. They were charged with robbing Fuselier and burglarizing his West Berkeley residence the night he died, thereby upping the charges to special circumstances, which can increase the severity of their sentences.

“No defendant ever walks into the court right away and pleads guilty,” said James Giller, Sessoms’ attorney, who has represented about 100 defendants in homicide cases.

Several months ago, Giller predicted that his defense in the case would involve examining the individual roles Diggs and Sessoms played in the alleged incident to show that Sessoms is not culpable.

Diggs, who is represented by a different attorney, will celebrate his 29th birthday Monday in Santa Rita Jail, the same facility where Sessoms is being held. Neither defendant was offered bail.

The case is the city’s only reported homicide thus far this year. Last year, there were four reported homicides, and the year before, there were five.

Kimberly Veklerov is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KVeklerov.