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Brothers Convicted of Murder in Death of Berkeley High Student

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday June 01, 2011 - 09:56:00 AM

Two Oakland brothers were convicted today of three counts of first-degree murder and other charges for killing their brother's wife and two of her family members,one of whom was a student at Berkeley High, on Thanksgiving Day 2006 in what a prosecutor said was a misguided act of revenge. 

Jurors deliberated for six and a half days before reaching their verdicts against Asmerom Gebreselassie, 47, and Tewodros Gebreselassie, 43. 

They reached the verdicts at the end of the day on Thursday but didn't announce them until this morning. 

The three people killed in the shooting were Winta Mehari, 28; her brother, Yonas Mehari, 17, a student at Berkeley High; and the Mehari's mother, 50-year-old Regbe Bahrengasi.  

In addition to the three murder counts, jurors convicted the Gebreselassie brothers of one count of attempted murder for wounding Yehferom Mehari in the shooting; one count of kidnapping for taking Winta Mehari's 2-year-old son from the scene; and two counts of false imprisonment.  

They were also convicted of two special-circumstance murder clauses: committing multiple murders and committing murder during the course of a kidnapping. 

The brothers both face life in prison without the possibility of parole when they are sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakahara on Aug. 2.  

In her closing argument in the lengthy case, which began on Feb. 8, prosecutor Joni Leventis said the Gebreselassie brothers conspired to kill their in-laws at the family's apartment at the Keller Plaza complex at 5301 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland on Nov. 23, 2006. 

She said the brothers, who are Eritrean, mistakenly believed that their in-laws were responsible for the sudden death of their brother, 42-year-old Abraham Tewolde, earlier that year. 

Tewolde was married to Winta Mehari and died at the couple's home at 2238 Russell St. in Berkeley on March 1, 2006. Leventis said two doctors who examined Tewolde's body determined that he died of natural causes. 

However, Leventis said the Gebreselassie brothers were still convinced that Tewolde had been killed by Mehari, perhaps with the help of her family members, and decided that Mehari and her family members should die. 

Leventis said the Mehari family never would have let Asmerom Gebreselassie into their apartment because he'd angrily confronted them several times about Tewolde's death, but that they allowed Tewodros Gebreselassie inside on Thanksgiving because he had maintained good relations with them. 

Tewodros Gebreselassie ate food and drank a traditional Eritrean coffee drink at the Meharis' apartment, then called his brother Asmerom on his cellphone and let him into the apartment, the prosecutor said. 

She said Asmerom proceeded to shoot and kill Winta Mehari, Yonas Mehari and Regbe Bahrengasi "in cold blood." 

Asmerom Gebreselassi, who represented himself at the beginning of the case but later was defended by a professional lawyer after he acted up in court, admitted during the trial that he killed the three victims but said he did so in self-defense. 

Gebreselassie said one reason he thinks his in-laws killed Tewolde is that they wanted to collect on a $500,000 life insurance policy he had taken out six months before his death. 

He also alleged that Winta Mehari wanted to kill Tewolde because he was going to disclose that her brother was gay and was molesting the couple's young son. 

He said homosexuality is unacceptable in the Eritrean community and the Mehari family would have been disgraced if Tewolde had made the allegations. 

Defense attorney Darryl Stallworth, who represents Asmerom Gebreselassie, told jurors that there was enough reasonable doubt to find his client not guilty. 

Tony Serra, who represents Tewodros Gebreselassie, said his client should also be found not guilty because there was insufficient evidence that he let his brother into the apartment and knew his brother would shoot their in-laws.