Berkeley murder conviction overturned because of questionable testimony

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Last Monday, the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco overturned a conviction for a murder that occurred in Berkeley 11 years ago, based on questionable eyewitness testimony at the time.

In 2009, the Alameda County Superior Court sentenced Nicholas Beaudreaux to 50 years to life for first-degree murder. Jamie Lee Moore, Beaudreaux’s federal appeals court attorney, said the conviction depended largely on eyewitness testimony — an “unreliable” method of suspect identification, according to Moore.

Beaudreaux and a school acquaintance, Brandon Crowder, had stood trial for involvement in the 2006 shooting of Wayne Drummond on Durant Avenue. Drummond died of his wounds after friends, thinking he was intoxicated, brought him to the UC Berkeley sorority Alpha Omicron Pi.

According to the judicial opinion of presiding judges Marvin Garbis and Marsha Berzon, Beaudreaux’s first-degree murder conviction largely rested on the the eyewitness testimony of Dayo Esho, present at the shooting Sept. 4, 2006. The judges considered the process leading up to the positive identification of Beaudreaux “unduly suggestive.”

Without the testimony, the judges argued, there existed a “reasonable probability” that Beaudreaux’s verdict would have been more favorable.

The defendant’s counsel in 2009, David Kelvin, failed to prevent the inclusion of Esho’s testimony when presented by the prosecution, according to the judicial opinion. Kelvin said he suffered from extreme back pain on the date of the trial and that the judge refused to postpone the hearing.

“I couldn’t think straight,” Kelvin said. “I literally could not walk from the car to the courtroom.”

As a result, Jamie Moore built her defense of Beaudreaux on the claim of “ineffective assistance of counsel,” the concept that the inadvertent mistakes of the defendant’s lawyer resulted in a violation of his constitutional rights to a fair trial.

The San Francisco appeals court ruled 2-1 in favor of granting habeas corpus, meaning that, for now, Beaudreax’s case is on track to be retried in superior court.

Contact Sophia Brown-Heidenreich at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.