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Deliberations Begin in Berkeley Murder Trial

Monday May 07, 2012 - 06:57:00 PM

Jurors today began deliberating the fate of a Berkeley man charged with murder for the shooting death of popular former Berkeley High School student Keith Stephens six years ago. 

Prosecutor Stacie Pettigrew told jurors that 31-year-old Bahsson Smith "thought he was getting away" with murder by trying to blame the shooting on another man but evidence eventually connected him to the crime. 

In her closing argument in Smith's trial, Pettigrew said Smith told friends in phone calls from jail that were recorded by authorities that "they ain't got enough evidence" against him and "I ain't worried." 

Pettigrew said Smith presented himself to Berkeley police as a witness to Stephens' shooting in the 1200 block of Carrison Street in southwest Berkeley on Feb. 19, 2006, and shifted the blame to Kamassa Palmer, a friend who had been in a dispute with Stephens shortly before he was killed. 

But she said an eyewitness identified Smith as the person who killed Stephens, and that when Smith was interviewed by police, he disclosed details of the crime that only the killer would know. 

Stephens, 24, was a former Berkeley High School student and junior college football player. He was described as very popular and was one of three Berkeley High graduates in the class of 2000 who were profiled in the book "Class Dismissed" by Oakland author Meredith Maran. 

Pettigrew said Stephens was infatuated with cars and that was a factor that led to the series of events that culminated in his shooting death. 

Pettigrew said Stephens had sold an old Buick to Palmer but he was mad at Palmer for not paying him the full amount he was owed, so on the evening of Feb. 19, 2006, he went looking for Palmer because he felt taken advantage of and was upset. 

Pettigrew said Stephens went to the home of Palmer's girlfriend, Nora Miranda, but when she wouldn't tell him where Palmer was he broke a window in her car. 

That act of vandalism ultimately cost him his life, she said. 

Smith was a friend of Miranda and he tracked down Stephens a short time later when Stephens went to an acquaintance's home in the 1200 block of Carrison Street, Pettigrew said. 

Pettigrew alleged that when Stephens opened the door of the home, Smith said, "What's up, cuz," shot Stephens in the chest at short range, then got in a car and drove away. 

She said that when Berkeley police arrested Smith four days after the fatal shooting on suspicion of vandalism and domestic violence against his girlfriend, he asked to speak to homicide detectives and implicated Palmer in Stephens' death. 

Smith's attorney, Darryl Stallworth, told jurors that they should find Smith not guilty because he doesn't think the prosecution presented enough reliable evidence to prove its case against him. 

Stallworth said the prosecution's main eyewitness is unreliable and lacks credibility because he has felony convictions for drug, fraud and theft offenses and was under the influence of drugs, alcohol and medication on the night that Stephens was killed. 

Stallworth also said there's no physical evidence which proves that Smith was the person who killed Stephens. 

"There's no video, no fingerprints, no DNA and the shotgun was never recovered," Stallworth said. 

Stallworth said it appears that Stephens was "a very nice man" with a nice family but he thinks Stephens "set the whole tragedy in motion" by seeking Palmer "in anger and rage" and threatening to kill him. 

Jurors deliberated for about an hour today and will resume their deliberations Tuesday morning.