Judge denies DA motion to reduce charges in murder case

The prosecutor asked to reduce the charges "per the instructions I received from our administration."

Judge denies DA motion to reduce charges in murder case
Family and friends of Maria and Benison Tran protest outside court in Dublin on Wednesday morning. Scanner Insider

Update, 3:30 p.m. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Delucchi has denied a DA motion to reduce the charges in the double murder case against former sheriff's deputy Devin Williams.

Prosecutor Ted McGarvey told the judge at the start of the hearing Wednesday that, "Per the instructions I received from our administration, I would move the court to strike the alleged enhancements and the special circumstance allegations."

Judge Delucchi said he was denying the motion, "given the age of the case … and how many court appearances there have been even under the new administration," because it was so sudden.

Read more about Pamela Price on The Scanner.

Delucchi noted that "a court may refuse a prosecutor's request for dismissal" and said the DA's office could file an amended complaint with revised charges after the preliminary hearing if the case proceeds.

Original story: Family and friends of a husband and wife who are alleged to have been slain by an Alameda County sheriff's deputy in 2022 are protesting a decision by the Alameda County DA's office to reduce charges in the murder case.

As originally filed by former DA Nancy O'Malley, a conviction in the case against 25-year-old Devin Williams would have resulted in life in prison without parole.

That's about to change, people familiar with the case said.

On Wednesday morning, more than a dozen relatives, co-workers and friends of Maria and Benison Tran gathered outside the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin to protest the decision.

They held signs calling for justice for the victims as well as messages such as "Stop Asian hate now."

Other signs explicitly supported the recall of DA Pamela Price.

One sign featured a black-and-white photograph of the slain couple above a message saying, "They deserve better" and describing Price as "soft on murderers."

The DA's office is expected to announce the reduced charges in an oral motion Wednesday afternoon at the start of the preliminary hearing, which is essentially a mini-trial where some of the evidence in the case will be presented to a judge.

According to court papers, Devin Williams had been "in a dating relationship" with Maria Tran in the months leading up to her killing.

"The fact of their relationship was well known to members of their respective familiar and co-workers," according to a defense motion in the case.

On Sept. 7, 2022, shortly after midnight, a man called 911 to report that his sister and brother-in-law had just been shot, according to charging papers.

When deputies arrived, witnesses said the shooter — who had already fled the scene — was "a cop" named Devin.

Witnesses later identified the shooter through photo lineups as Devin Williams.

Read more court coverage on The Scanner.

Williams left the area but "peacefully surrendered" to CHP officers in Fresno County about 11 hours after the shooting, according to court papers. Officers found "red matter believed to be blood" inside his car at the time of his arrest.

In September 2022, the DA's office charged Williams with the murders of Maria and Benison Tran along with the special circumstances of multiple murder and murder to avoid arrest.

A conviction on those "special circumstance" charges would have made him ineligible for parole.

Kevin Nishita murder charges to see ‘significant reductions’
Nishita, a retired veteran police officer, was working as a security guard for a TV news crew when he was killed just before Thanksgiving in 2021.

Wednesday's expected move to drop special circumstances against Williams is in line with prior charging revisions since DA Pamela Price took office last year.

Early on, she pledged to review all "special circumstance" murder cases: life in prison cases in which parole would be off the table.

Price's stated policy on such charges is to avoid them "absent extraordinary circumstance," she said in a directive in April.

The goal of the directive was to "advance racial justice in Alameda County," where a disparate number of life without parole cases involve Black defendants.

Early last year, Price dropped "specials" in the case of David Misch, a convicted killer facing multiple murder charges, and Delonzo Logwood, who had been charged with three murders but ultimately took a plea deal for one count of manslaughter.

More recently, Price dropped specials in the Jasper Wu case, a toddler who was killed by a stray bullet in a freeway shooting, the Pak Ho robbery-murder case, the Jarin Purvis case, which was filed as special circumstance murder but became a manslaughter case under Price, and the Kevin Nishita murder case.

This story may be updated if additional information becomes available.

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