The families of two young men from Berkeley who were shot inside an Oakland art gallery in 2016 decried a plea deal this week that added no time to the sentence of killer Otis Wyatt, who is already heading to prison in a separate murder case.
Relatives of Craig Fletcher-Cooks, 20, and Terrence McCrary Jr., 22, addressed Wyatt and the court during a brief sentencing hearing Tuesday before Judge Kimberly Colwell.
"This court, this is a farce. I am sorry — this is a farce," said Mary Cazden, Fletcher-Cooks' foster mother. "You already are sitting in jail for murdering one person. You murdered two more and you're going to do no extra time."
In the wake of the plea deal, the families said it felt like Wyatt had killed three young men for the price of one.
Wyatt was 19 years old when police say he shot Fletcher-Cooks and McCrary inside Prime Development, a gallery and streetwear shop then located at 322 15th St. in Oakland. It has since closed.
According to authorities, Fletcher-Cooks was killed while defending his girlfriend from the unwanted advances of Wyatt and his friends during a crowded birthday party at the gallery on Aug. 14, 2016.
McCrary just happened to be standing nearby and was struck, and fatally wounded, by a single stray bullet.
Wyatt was ultimately charged with the murders of Fletcher-Cooks and McCrary.
While awaiting trial in that case, a jury convicted him of a different murder in Oakland that took place two months after the art gallery shooting.
After moving through the court process at a glacial pace, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office made a deal with Otis Wyatt last month, offering him voluntary manslaughter for the killing of Fletcher-Cooks and dropping the McCrary murder charge altogether.
"A system that's broken"
McCrary's pain was evident in court this week as well.
"What does life mean to you? I don't understand you," she said to Wyatt. "I can't embrace the choices you make. And I can't embrace the decision of this court that decides that you shouldn't be held accountable."
Earlier this year, Wyatt was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of 23-year-old Darrell Daniel.
His new voluntary manslaughter conviction carries a sentence of 11 years, with 10 additional years for firing a gun.
But the new sentence runs concurrently with the sentence from the murder case.
That means Wyatt will still be eligible for parole within 25 years of his arrest nearly seven years ago, on Valentine's Day in 2017. In-custody credits could also reduce his sentence.
On Tuesday, McCrary told the court how the prosecutor assigned to her son's case had told her the office did not want to risk a bad outcome by going to trial, telling her, "We got a win."
The words rang in her mind. For her family, she said, it had not felt like any kind of victory at all.
"I'm holding everyone in this room accountable for the work that they do — for you to be allowed to be held not accountable for this," she said to Wyatt. "It's beyond my imagination. I can't understand a system that's broken, that failed you as well as my child."
"My heart goes out to the way we allow for young people like you to get past school and not be educated on how to love yourself and to love one another," McCrary told him. "But you dream of it. You think about it, and you pray about it — because my heart prays for you."
Read more about Pamela Price on The Scanner.
Terrence McCrary Sr. read a poem he'd written to mark the occasion and a cousin read a statement from Terrence Jr.'s sister, Erika.
In the essay, she described how, more than seven years after her baby brother's death, tears still overwhelm her out of nowhere.
She talked about losing her "only chance to be an auntie" and the rage and grief she still feels, "this hole drilled deep into your heart, so deep it hurts to breathe."
"Why did you hate yourself so much that you forced us to hate you too?" she wrote to Wyatt. "You have made my brother a memory. I can't forgive that right now."
"God is going to handle everything"
Craig Fletcher-Cooks' family addressed the court next.
"We loved my grandson to death," said Andrea Glasper, who at times struggled to find the right words for the moment.
"To go around killing people, you have to be sick. And you need help, seriously. You need help," she told Wyatt. "It's just crazy. And, I don't know, God is going to handle everything."
"That's right," murmured several people in the courtroom.
Gerald Jordan spoke next.
The boys had been friends for 13 years, he said, living in the same house since sixth grade and playing sports side by side. They had been as close as brothers.
Jordan said he had driven two hours to get to court that morning so he could look Wyatt in the face.
"I had to look at pictures last night for nine hours of my best friend. I got no sleep," he said. "I hope you feel my heart beating in my chest right now. Because you're an individual that's never going to be forgotten."
"I hope the people in jail know what you did"
Jordan called the shooting a senseless act and "a coward move," noting how Wyatt and his group of friends had attacked Fletcher-Cooks, who was alone with his girlfriend at the party.
"I want you to look at me, so you can understand what you took from me," he told Wyatt. "I hope the people in jail know what you did."
Mary Cazden, the foster mother, said Fletcher-Cooks had been taking cooking classes and technology classes when he was killed.
"The week before you killed him, he graduated from a tech program," she said. "He didn't know what he wanted to do, but he was doing what we should be doing at that age of exploring. And we're never getting to see … where that was going."
Cazden said she had been blessed as a foster mother to raise "children of all different colors."
"If the people you had killed had not been Black and brown, you would not have gotten the sentence that you are getting," she told Wyatt. "And that is the truth, and, I'm sorry, this is not OK."
In the years since Craig was killed, she said, she'd watched his friends growing up, getting engaged, having children.
They're making plans for their futures, something Craig will never get to do, Cazden told Wyatt.
"You took our children," she said. "I hope you rot in jail."
In court Tuesday, Wyatt, now 26 years old, did not address the families or make any remarks about the sentence.
His defense attorney, Darryl Stallworth, offered brief comments after the hearing.
"My client and I offer our condolences to family and friends of the young men that lost their lives," he said.
"I still really haven’t accepted it"
In recent weeks, after reading about plans for the plea deal on The Berkeley Scanner, the mother of Wyatt's other victim, Darrell Daniel, got in touch.
Lawynda Banks said she had been devastated to learn about the other mothers whose sons had reportedly been killed by the same man who killed her son.
In the article, Florence McCrary talked about being alone in court when she learned about the plea deal, and how difficult that had been.
"I want this other mother to know that we did care," Banks said this week. "We do care. But we live way in Texas."
Despite the time and distance, Banks said, she'd kept close tabs on the case, talking with authorities and reading up on any news.
"We’re all really still hurting, me and his siblings," she said. "Here in Texas, he has five siblings. We celebrate his birthday like he’s here. We all have our ashes."
His younger brother, now a rap artist, often talks about Daniel in his lyrics.
She said she and Daniel had been so close that his siblings were sometimes jealous. She described him as "a sweetie." They would talk on the phone every day.
"I’m still waiting for that phone call," she said. "I still really haven’t accepted it yet."
In court papers, police described Otis Wyatt as a Campbell Village Gangsta associate and said he had fired numerous rounds at Daniel on the day of the murder, striking him.
Wyatt then "walked directly towards Daniel and shot Daniel again numerous times," police wrote in charging papers.
OPD recovered 12 casings at the scene and multiple witnesses identified Wyatt as the killer, police wrote.
He was arrested in Oakland in early 2017 and has been in custody without bail ever since.
In January, a jury found Wyatt guilty of Daniel's murder.
Banks said she had been unable to come to California for the subsequent sentencing hearing.
In recent days, she said, the DA's office had told her that his sentence, and the fact that he would one day be eligible for parole, had hinged on the fact that he was a teenager at the time of the killings.
But she said she still had many questions. For one, she said, Wyatt had lived with Daniel before the murder.
"He was feeding you. He was taking care of you," she said, as if talking to Wyatt. "I wish I could have been there so I could have asked him: Why?"
"Prison is made for people like him"
At the time of his death, Daniel had just completed an engineering program, his mother said. He was getting ready to move to Los Angeles. And his girlfriend was pregnant with his baby.
The little boy, now 6, is the spitting image of Daniel as a child, in looks, likes and affect, Banks said.
"His son, he wants to be dropped off at his dad's house. No matter how much we try to explain this to him, he doesn’t understand it," she said. "At least we have memories. We have things. His baby has nothing."
Banks said her son's murder in 2016 had derailed her life. She lost a good job at a dialysis center and spent some time in a mental hospital.
Her house was foreclosed upon. She later had to buy it back. She's just finally getting her life back together all these years later, she said.
Just recently, she was able to order her son's death certificate so she could have his ashes shipped to her.
"I didn't want to face it," she said. "I was torn up."
She said she was grateful for the Oakland Police Department's work on the case.
The lead detective had promised her that he would find her son's murderer. He said he would not retire until he did.
"When he caught Otis, he called me and he said, 'Ms. Banks, I got him,'" she said. "And the DA, he stayed on it. I am so thankful."
The prosecutor had also told her that she and the other families could come to court to speak when Wyatt is up for parole. Banks said she wouldn't miss it.
"He never needs to see the daylight again. Prison is made for people like him," she said. "You took three mother’s sons away from them. He never needs to come home — ever. Never."