Asmerom Gebreselassie was sentenced today to three consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally shooting three in-laws at an Oakland apartment complex on Thanksgiving Day 2006.
Moments before he was sentenced, Gebreselassie, 48, who repeatedly acted up in court during his lengthy trial earlier this year, told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakahara, “You are a criminal, sir” and “you are an evil man.”
Gebreselassie made the comments after Nakahara told him that he couldn’t address the court and instead should let his lawyer, Fred Baker, speak on his behalf.
Gebreselassie, who admitted he was the shooter in the deadly incident but claimed he was acting in self-defense, alleged that Nakahara was “biased” and “denied my rights” with the rulings he made in the trial.
Nakahara warned Gebreselassie to stop talking, but Gebreselassie told him, “You are not a judge and I’m not going to listen to you.”
Nakahara then ordered deputies to remove Gebreselassie from his courtroom, just as he had done on several occasions during the trial.
Prosecutor Joni Leventis said during the trial that the Gebreselassie and his brother, 44-year-old Tewodros Gebreselassie, conspired to kill their in-laws at the family’s apartment at the Keller Plaza complex at 5301 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland on Nov. 23, 2006, in a mistaken act of revenge.
Leventis said the brothers erroneously believed that their in-laws were responsible for the sudden death of their brother, 42-year-old Abraham Tewolde, earlier that year.
Tewolde was married to Winta Mehari and died at the couple’s home at 2238 Russell St. in Berkeley on March 1, 2006. Leventis said two doctors who examined Tewolde’s body determined that he died of natural causes, and Berkeley police said no foul play was involved.
However, Leventis said the Gebreselassie brothers were still convinced that Tewolde had been killed by Mehari, perhaps with the help of her family members, and decided that Mehari and her family members should die.
Mehari, 28, was killed in the Thanksgiving Day shooting rampage, as was her brother, 17-year-old Yonas Mehari, and their mother, Regbe Bahrengasi, 50.
Leventis said Asmerom Gebreselassie shot all the victims and Tewodros Gebreselassie assisted his brother by letting him into the Mehari family’s apartment.
The Gebreselassie and Mehari families are from Eritrea.
On May 31, at the end of a trial that began on Feb. 8, the Gebreselassie brothers were both convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and two special-circumstance murder clauses: committing murder multiple murders and committing murder during the course of a kidnapping.
They also were both convicted of one count of attempted murder for wounding another in-law, Yehferom Mehari, in the shooting, one count of kidnapping for taking Winta Mehari’s 2-year-old son, Isaac, from the scene, and two counts of false imprisonment.
Because of his convictions on those additional charges, Asmerom Gebreselassie, in addition to his three life terms without parole, was sentenced to one term of life in prison with the possibility of parole, plus 132 years to life.
Tewodros Gebreselassie also faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, but his sentencing has been delayed because he hired a new lawyer after he was convicted.
He’s scheduled to return to court on Wednesday but Leventis said it’s expected that Nakahara will delay the sentencing again to give the new lawyer time to file a motion for a new trial.
Asmerom Gebreselassie also filed a motion for a new trial but Nakahara denied it before he sentenced him today.