The mother of a young woman from Berkeley who was killed in 2020 is speaking out this week about the plea deal in the case.
Charles Jones, now 23, agreed to a deal Wednesday that would sentence him to 21 years in prison for the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Sereinat’e Henderson.
Sereinat’e (pronounced "serenity") was two months pregnant at the time.
If a judge affirms the deal in March, Jones will serve 85% of his sentence, at most, along with credit for time served, a judge said during a brief hearing Wednesday morning.
"I think he should get more than 21 years," said Salima Wyrick, Henderson's mother, after the hearing.
"He not only took my daughter's life, but he took my unborn grandchild's life also. And he took his mom from him," she said of her grandson, now 4, as the little boy played nearby. "He took her away from her siblings and her family. My family just wants to know why."
Several members of Henderson's family attended Wednesday's hearing as did members of the Jones family.
Jones originally had been charged with 12 felonies, including Henderson's murder and the attempted murder of her 10-month-old baby, younger brother, a cousin and Wyrick, all of whom were together when the shooting happened near Malcolm X Elementary School on Oct. 21, 2020.
Instead, Judge Scott Patton accepted Jones' no-contest plea to one count of manslaughter with an enhancement for the personal use of a gun.
A separate pending shooting case was dropped as part of the deal.
Annie Beles, Jones' attorney, agreed that there was a factual basis for the plea, but specified that it was "on the aiding and abetting theory" only.
She also noted that current California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation rules allow for prison time to be served at 67% of the sentence rather than the 85% standard set by the state.
"That is something you are telling him is a possibility," Judge Patton said. "It's not a guarantee."
After the brief hearing, prosecutor William Boselli attempted to comfort Wyrick when she began to cry.
"I know this is hard. It's not an easy situation," he told her. "I get it."
Mother of slain woman: "That won't be closure for me"
Wyrick and several family members who attended the hearing, along with two BPD homicide detectives, spoke to Boselli behind closed doors for about 30 minutes.
Afterward, Wyrick said the deal didn't seem right.
She recalled the night of the shooting and how someone had fired into the back of their car, which Henderson had been driving.
Wyrick's teenage son had protected Henderson's baby that night by throwing him down onto the floorboards and covering the baby with his body.
"If my son was not in that backseat, my grandson would've been gone," she said. "My daughter, Sereinat’e, never moved. When I looked over at her, I saw her just fall over."
Sereinat’e had been shot in the head and was later pronounced dead at Highland Hospital. On the night of the shooting, one officer broadcast over the radio that 17 shots had been fired in just 20 seconds.
On Wednesday morning, Wyrick said the 21-year manslaughter plea deal did not seem like justice for Sereinat’e.
"That won't be closure for me," Wyrick said. "She's just getting swept up under the rug, like she's another statistic and you're slapping him on the hand."
She said she still had no answers as to why the shooting happened and wished Jones would explain it.
"You're not snitching on anyone," she said. "It's to help me with my child."
No motive was ever released in the case.
Charles Jones had a long history of alleged violence
Police described Jones in court documents as a gang member and a "person of interest" in gang-related shootings dating back to 2018.
One of them, on Milvia Street in Berkeley, left two people seriously wounded. Another took place on I-580.
Jones was just 17 at the time and charges do not appear to have been filed in either case.
Charles Jones. BPD
Jones has been in jail since his arrest in November 2020 in connection with a different Berkeley shooting, according to court papers.
Then 19, he was already a felon due to a firearm conviction for machine gun possession.
When he was arrested, police said he had an AR pistol, a digital scale, more than $400 in cash and about “50 bindles of suspected crack cocaine." In court papers, police said those items were "consistent with the sales of narcotics."
Subsequent progress was slow in the murder case. Jones was not charged with Henderson's murder until January 2022, more than a year after the shooting.
The case was finally set to have its preliminary hearing Wednesday, when a judge would have heard evidence in the case for the first time to determine if it would proceed to trial.
Instead, attorneys announced the plea deal.
Wyrick said it was still very difficult to face the loss of her daughter, and the fact that her grandson, Jah'hadi, is growing up without his mother.
"All I have is pictures of her," she said. "I go and sit at her grave, every birthday."
"That's not fair," she continued. "That's not fair at all."
Sereinat’e Henderson grew up in Berkeley just blocks from where she was killed.
She attended Malcolm X Elementary, as did many of her siblings and cousins. Henderson then went on to Longfellow and Berkeley High School.
Jones is now set to return to court to be sentenced on March 15.