While not conceding that Christopher Hollis fired the bullet that killed his friend and former Berkeley High School classmate Meleia Willis-Starbuck, his attorney John Burris said the 21-year-old Berkeley native had confirmed earlier press accounts of the shooting.
“He was responding to a call for help,” Burris said after Hollis’ arraignment was postponed Tuesday until Oct. 5. “He didn’t mean to kill anyone.”
Hollis, who is being held without bail at Santa Rita Prison, is to be charged with murder in the Willis-Starbuck shooting. He is also to be charged with assault with a deadly weapon for firing a bullet that grazed the hand of Cal football player Gary Doxy who was at the murder scene.
At a Wednesday press conference, Cal Football Coach Jeff Tedford acknowledged that two football players—Doxy, a redshirt freshman safety and David Gray, a junior wide receiver— were at the murder scene. Tedford said the bullet left Doxy with little more than “a scratch on the wrist.”
Gray, 21, was arrested outside a North Beach nightclub last December for carrying a concealed weapon and tampering with the identification marks of a firearm. No charges were filed against him.
“A few of our student athletes were there and witnessed it,” Tedford told reporters Wednesday. “They have been very cooperative all along with the situation. None of our players have been implicated in any wrongdoing. I want to reiterate that it is very sad and tragic and we are doing everything we can to be cooperative through the investigation.”
Berkeley Police spokesperson Officer Joe Okies said university officials have cooperated with detectives investigating the murder.
Burris said his defense might examine the culpability of the football players in the shooting. “That was the genesis of this whole thing,” Burris said.
Police say Willis-Starbuck called Hollis on his cell phone to come to her defense July 17 after she and several friends got in an argument with a group of men in front of Willis-Starbuck’s apartment on College Avenue between Haste Street and Dwight Way. Her friends had said the men called them “bitches” after they refused to go to a party with them.
Responding to Willis-Starbuck’s call, Hollis jumped out of a car at the corner of College and Dwight and fired into the crowd, striking Willis-Starbuck, according to police.
Christopher Wilson, the man police say drove Hollis from the scene, has been released on $500,000 bail and is scheduled to enter a plea on a murder charge Oct. 4.
Hollis fled town after the shooting. Last week Fresno police stopped Hollis and a 33-year-old woman after the woman ran a stop sign. The two gave false names and were released, but when Hollis’ fingerprints were scanned and officers found he was wanted for murder, they tracked him down to a bedroom closet where he was hiding.
Burris, who had spoken to Hollis by phone two months ago, said his client was ready to face charges.
“He’s absolutely relieved not to be leading a life of secrecy and hiding,” he said.
Burris, an Oakland civil rights attorney, who has represented Rodney King, said he would defend Hollis for free.
“Community people who knew him and thought highly of him thought that I should assist him,” he said. “He’s funny, intelligent and dependable—maybe a little too dependable.”