Page One

Berkeley Drive-By Murder Victim Suspected in Richmond Deaths

By Richard Brenneman
Friday September 28, 2007

A Berkeley man slain by a fusillade of high-powered automatic rifle shots fired from a passing van early Saturday morning had himself been arrested two years earlier as one of six suspects in a similar slaying in Richmond. 

Meanwhile, police have issued a bulletin naming a suspect in the weekend’s other murder. 

The two killings doubled the city’s homicide toll for the year, with 2007’s four killings matching the total for 2006. 

Police and Berkeley firefighters found the lifeless body of Isaac Castro, 37, on the sidewalk outside his home in the 1800 block of Eighth Street in West Berkeley and pronounced him dead at 4:42 a.m. 

Though the friend who called police said he thought Castro had fallen down the stairs, police have called the crime a homicide, though they have declined to offer any details. 

Berkeley police issued a wanted flyer Wednesday naming Jose Christian Vera Flores as the suspected killer. A day laborer who works throughout the Bay Area, Flores is between 5’6” and 5’10” tall, weighs about 150 pounds and has brown eyes and black hair. 

He was born on April 26 in either 1981 or 1982. 

Berkeley Police Public Information Officer Sgt. Marty Kusmiss has asked that anyone who has information about Flores to call homicide investigators at 981-5741; anyone seeing him should call 911 immediately.  


Drive-by retaliation? 

Sgt. Kusmiss said police believe drug dealing may have played a role in the shooting death of 26-year-old Dwayne Murphy, who was gunned down less than 11 hours after firefighters declared Castro dead. 

Neighbors told Berkeley police Saturday that Murphy was standing with friends near the corner of 63rd and King in Berkeley when shots rang out from a passing dark blue minivan. 

He fell, mortally wounded by several slugs that struck his abdomen. He was rushed to Highland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 

The Richmond murders for which he had been arrested two years ago were themselves believed by Richmond detectives to have been retaliation for yet another killing a month before just south of the Berkeley/Oakland border—which they in turn linked to a gang war among groups in Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond. 

Murphy was arrested in Berkeley on July 21, 2005, one of six suspects booked on suspicion of killing Sean James McClelland, 26, and LaCorey Rashone Brooks, 22. 

Their bodies were found inside a car shortly after midnight on June 27, 2005, after it had crashed into parked vehicles near the corner of Harbor Way and Ripley Avenue in Richmond. Their bodies were riddled by shots fired from at least three different weapons. 

Richmond Police Sgt. Allwyn Brown said Murphy was on active parole at the time of his arrest. The officer said Murphy was the member of a West Berkeley gang at the time of the Richmond murders. 

Police had been tracking a sometime bloody rivalry between gangs in the two cities. 

The six suspects in the Richmond killings were arrested on Ramey Warrants, issued on the basis of sworn statements made to a judge before formal charges have been filed. 

Sgt. Brown said no charges were filed in the Richmond murders because the deputy district attorney said “there wasn’t quite enough evidence” to issue the complaints. 

No other suspects were ever arrested or charged in those killings. 

At the time of the arrests, Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan said the shootings were retaliation for the murder a month earlier of Jamon Monty Williams. 

The 18-year-old Williams, who worked as an auto detailer, was gunned down near the corner of 60th Street and San Pablo Avenue following an argument outside a nearby liquor store. 

He was carrying bindles of crack cocaine in his pocket when he collapsed on the sidewalk outside an auto parts store.  

According to a July 21 Richmond police operation order authorizing search warrants at four Berkeley addresses, “The subsequent criminal investigation revealed that the shooting was a retaliatory act carried out by a group of Berkeley criminals who are linked by association to” Williams. 

“Our investigation has identified a conspiracy involving at least six identified individuals,” according to the document. “These people are validated gang members, and/or associates—four of six are on active parole.” 

Murphy, along with the other five, was released shortly after his arrest. He remained a prime suspect in the killings. 


Prior attacks 

Sgt. Kusmiss said that “there is a strong likelihood drugs are involved” in Sunday’s drive-by, “based on the strong correlation between drugs and violence in this city. 

“We are very, very troubled that someone would use a high-powered rifle, an automatic weapon,” said the sergeant, because the weapons are designed to kill. “We are fortunate that no one else was killed or injured,” she said. 

She asked anyone with information on Murphy’s death to call homicide detectives at 981-5741, or the department’s non-emergency all-hours line at 981-5900.