A judge sentenced Christopher Hollis to 24 years in state prison on Friday, the toughest sentence possible, for fatally shooting his friend Meleia Willis-Starbuck after responding to her plea for help in a Berkeley street confrontation nearly three years ago.
Noting that Willis-Starbuck, 19, had called Hollis, a 24-year-old Hayward man who had attended Berkeley High School with her, to help her after she and several female friends got into a confrontation with a group of Cal football players, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakahara said it was sadly ironic that “her protector was the one who killed her.”
On April 29, jurors convicted Hollis of voluntary manslaughter and two other charges for the incident near the intersection of College Avenue and Dwight Way in Berkeley about 2 a.m. on July 17, 2005. Prosecutor Elgin Lowe had asked jurors to convict Hollis of either first-degree murder or second-degree murder, but defense attorney Greg Syren said voluntary manslaughter would be more appropriate.
In their closing arguments in Hollis’ trial, Lowe and Syren agreed that Willis-Starbuck called Hollis for help after she and several female friends got into a confrontation with a group of seven to 10 UC Berkeley football players after the players tried to pick up the women and then insulted them after their advances were rebuffed.
The defense attorney and the prosecutor also agreed that Hollis fired at least several shots from a .30-caliber gun toward a crowd in the incident and that one of the bullets struck Willis-Starbuck in the heart and killed her.
Willis-Starbuck had just completed her freshman year at Dartmouth College and had returned to Berkeley to take a summer job providing social and health services to low-income women.
But Syren and Lowe strongly disagreed about the charge for which Hollis should be convicted.
Lowe told jurors that they should convict Hollis of either first- or second-degree murder because by firing four or five shots he acted with conscious disregard for human life and he had time to reflect on his actions before aiming again and pulling the trigger for his final shots.
But Syren said Hollis should only be convicted of voluntary manslaughter because he “had no intent to kill anyone” and was only trying to disperse the crowd of people who were gathered on the street that morning.
Judge Nakahara sentenced Hollis to 11 years for his manslaughter conviction, the maximum possible, plus another 10 years for using a gun.
He sentenced Hollis to one year for his assault with a firearm conviction for apparently causing a minor injury to UC Berkeley football player Gary Doxy, who was grazed on his right wrist after Hollis opened fire, and one year for being an ex-felon in possession of a handgun.
Hollis was convicted of selling marijuana for sale in 2002 and wasn’t supposed to be carrying any weapons.