Man charged with 1st Berkeley homicide of 2014 pleads no contest to 1st-degree murder

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OAKLAND — Michael Diggs, charged with the 2014 murder of 54-year-old Sylvan Fuselier, pled no contest in a bargain with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office on Monday.

Diggs, 30, in asserting “no contest” did not admit or deny guilt but rather gave the court the ability to determine his punishment. The Alameda County Superior Court found him guilty via his no contest plea but not guilty by reason of insanity.

The agreement held a stipulation that Diggs admit to committing a carjacking Oct. 6, 2008. According to the judge, admitting to the prior carjacking conviction — in addition to being found guilty of the first-degree murder with a deadly weapon — would result in two strikes per California’s three-strike law. As such, the length of his commitment to a state hospital would reflect those two crimes.

According to the California penal code, Diggs must spend a minimum of 180 days committed to an institution in accordance with his not guilty by reason of insanity finding. As first-degree murder carries a life term, Diggs could be held in a state hospital for the rest of his life.

In Berkeley’s first murder last year, Diggs allegedly killed Fuselier in his Berkeley apartment the night of Feb. 21. Berkeley police were responding to a welfare check request when they found Fuselier in his apartment at 1121 Addison St. about one week after they believe he was murdered.

According to court documents, the murder was committed with a hatchet, and investigators determined that Fuselier died from wounds from sharp instruments.

Diggs was arrested March 12, 2014, on suspicion of violating parole and possessing burglary tools. A few weeks after his arrest, Diggs became a suspect in the murder investigation when a county crime lab matched fingerprints at the scene to his.

According to transcripts of Diggs’ interrogation, after hours of questioning and without his attorney present, Diggs confessed to killing Fuselier. Diggs’ attorney previously motioned to suppress the evidence on grounds that he had been coerced into confessing, but a judge dismissed the motion.

Police initially charged Diggs and his girlfriend at the time, 41-year-old Kneitawnye Sessoms, with first-degree murder with a special-circumstance clause for allegedly murdering Fuselier while also burglarizing his residence and robbing him. All charges against Sessoms were dropped in October because of a lack of enough evidence to implicate her, and the special-circumstance charge was dropped for Diggs.

At Monday’s hearing, the prosecutor said the agreement conditions include Diggs admitting to the carjacking, facing possible restitution charges and giving DNA, in addition to the court finding Diggs not guilty by reason of insanity at the time of the offense. Diggs’ attorney Sydney Levin said the restitution charges, which could include monetary fees or community service, should not apply in a not guilty by reason of insanity case — but the judge ruled that in special circumstances, it does.

In taking the plea deal, Diggs waived several of his rights, including the rights to a speedy court or jury trial, to question witnesses, to present evidence to trial, to abstain from testifying against himself and to appeal the court’s decision.

Diggs is scheduled to receive his sentencing at a hearing set for July 27 at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland.

Contact Jamie Nguyen at [email protected].