Bad Blood

Too many shootings in the city have this in common: escalating anger over an old grudge soon leads to murder. But did a 2-year-old boy have to die?

"After our investigation at the scene, we went to the hospital for further investigation and to pick up Naemon. This was very emotionally straining for me as well, due to my having a daughter of about the same age. Carrying a dead 2-year-old child in your arms through the empty halls of a hospital is an experience that is unimaginable."

Later, Assistant Medical Examiner Jon J. Smith performed autopsies on the two bodies, cataloging their wounds and the charting paths the bullets had taken as they passed through flesh. The killer had put bullets through Dernae's head, neck, jaw, lower back, back, left shoulder, left arm, left forearm, left hand, left buttock, left thigh, stomach, right forearm, right armpit, and right thigh. Two shots had punched through Naemon's chest, leaving copper shrapnel in his small heart.

Ridout escaped serious harm by flinging herself from the car and crawling on her stomach toward the cover provided by a Chevy station wagon parked nearby.

She and Dernae had been in the process of taking Naemon to stay with a cousin on Turner Terrace who'd offered to baby-sit the boy.

When police arrived Ridout told them she'd seen Stevens approach the car on foot, clad in an oversized black hooded sweatshirt and carrying some type of long gun. There were shots. Lots of them. Then he'd vanished.

Based on the strength of her statements, police quickly captured Stevens and prosecutors later charged him with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder with "special circumstances," a legal distinction making Stevens eligible for the death penalty or a life term in the penitentiary without the possibility of parole. For the police the arrest of Stevens was a rare success, but that triumph wouldn't last long. By April, Stevens was standing trial in the courtroom of Judge Ksenia Tsenin, and that trial did not go well for the prosecutors.

After six weeks of testimony, the jurors found themselves unable to reach a unanimous decision on any charges; 10 were set on guilty verdicts, while two were equally adamant that he wasn't guilty.

"I thought since Jazzy survived it'd be a slam-dunk case," Randolph Wysinger said. "Usually the problem they have is nobody wants to testify. But here they have a witness." Though Wysinger is disappointed, he doesn't blame the cops or district attorney, and thinks Prosecutor Marshall Khine "did a good job."

Khine constructed his case around Ridout's identification of Stevens as the shooter. But on the night of the killings, the area was drenched in shadows, because at least a half-dozen large halogen lights attached to the exterior walls of the apartment buildings along Turner Terrace were busted or burnt out. Defense lawyers for Stevens — attorneys Marla Zamora and Tito Torres — contended there wasn't enough illumination on the street for Ridout to make an accurate ID on the hoodie-wearing shooter. (See sidebar.)

The defense attorneys thought Ridout pinned the murder on Stevens — perhaps subconsciously — after being "bombarded" with rumors about his role in the feud. "I really don't believe that she really got a look at the person who did the shooting," Torres told the judge, according to transcripts.

SF Weekly was unable to contact Ridout, who is currently ensconced in a witness protection program.

While it's unclear exactly why the jury hung up, they may have harbored some doubts about Ridout's testimony. As the jury discovered, her story about what happened on Turner Terrace evolved and mutated somewhat in the months since the killings. During her early conversations with police, Ridout had told the officers she couldn't make out Stevens' facial expression as he came toward the car. She also said he was running at the car before he opened fire. At trial she had a different recollection, saying she could distinctly make out a scowl on his face, and that he'd stalked toward the vehicle at a fast walk, not a run.

Plus, the jury may have wondered whether she could truly make out the assailant given the dim lighting on the hill. The district attorney's office is presently preparing to try Stevens for a second time.

"At one point, a majority of the jury had indicated that they voted guilty," said Bilen Mesfin, a spokesman for District Attorney Kamala Harris. "Our office is retrying this case because we will not give up our efforts to secure justice for victims and bring some just resolution for the community."

Legal counsel for Stevens declined to comment.

For Mike Brown, the bloodshed from revenge reflects "a lack of pride, a lack of opportunities." A retired Muni driver, Brown runs the Inner City Youth center, a mentoring program for kids in Lakeview, and tried to intervene in the lives of Howard, Stevens, and Wysinger. The neighborhood war has devastated Brown, a normally upbeat and energized character with four kids of his own. "It's hard, very hard," he said soberly. "The ones who survive, they gotta be real special."

Though his family has resided in Lakeview for generations, R has abandoned the neighborhood: "The beef is still going on. They're trying to pull people into it, so I stay away."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.