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Friday deaths double city’s homicide rate

By Devona Walker Daily Planet staff
Tuesday April 02, 2002

On Friday, 25-year-old Raymond Smith and 54-year-old Dwight Leeray both died at Highland Hospital from unrelated assaults, effectively doubling Berkeley’s homicide rate for the year. 

Last year there was only one homicide in the city, and it occurred in late December. Twenty-one-year-old Lazarus Ortega was arrested in connection with the murder of his mother, Charlotte Ortega, a teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Oakland. 

On Jan. 22 two men were shot in the head on 64th Street while sitting in their car. Rammar Johnson, 28, died at Highland Hospital that evening and Noel Turner, Jr., 29, died a few days later. Both men were residents of Oakland. 

Only Leeray was a Berkeley resident. He was attacked at 1:20 a.m. Feb. 24 during the course of a strong-arm robbery that occurred in the area of Telegraph Avenue and Webster Street. The victim was allegedly sitting on a bus bench when two men approached him from behind to rob him. One suspect allegedly held Leeray while the other went through his pockets, according to a police report. 

Bryant Davis, a 37-year-old Oakland resident and Michael Porter, a 32-year-old Berkeley resident are both beind held at the Santa Rita jail.  

According to Berkeley Police Chief Dash Butler because this assault occurred during the course of a robbery it could present a special circumstance and the two suspects, if convicted could possibly be facing the death penalty. 

Smith, a resident of San Pablo, was shot to death on March 23 at approximately 11:30 p.m. in the area of Russel and McGee. Accoridng to Lt. Cynthia Harris, the suspect and victim had been gambling before the shooting borke out. There is no suspect in custody in this case. 

And as of the double homicide in January, those suspects too are still at-large. 

The police department has posted a reward in connection with the January shootings but still no one has come forward. 

“No one has responded to the announcement of a reward,” said Harris. “And there were no prints left on the scene.” 

Harris said she believes there are in fact witnesses out in the community who are just afraid to come forward, and she urges them to do so. 

Though officials of the Berkeley Police Department say they have not been receiving more phone calls from the community about safety in the neighborhood or increased pressure from the city, they have stepped up their patrols in South Berkeley. 

“We have increased patrol in South Berkely because we’re concerned,” Harris said. “ Weknew we were going to have to address this. So at this point we are addressing it by an increased pressence.” 

Harris said the extra patrol cars will be scouting out any and all criminal activity. 

She called the police department’s effort a combination of community policing and strictly-enforcement. 

“I think the residents will welcome our added presence, but the criminal element I don’t think they will,” Harris added. 

Coincidentally, around the same time of the most recent homicide residents in South Berkeley held their monthly neighborhood meeting and ivited Chief Butler, Mayor Shirley Dean, City Manager Weldon Rucker and others to receive an update from the city about increased violence and drug activity in the negibhorhood. 

Piror to January several telephone calls had been made by community members into city hall as well as the police department about increased violence in South Berkeley.