Hollis convicted of manslaughter

April 29, 2008 7:32:53 PM PDT
An Alameda County jury today convicted Christopher Hollis of voluntary manslaughter for the death of 19-year-old Meleia Willis-Starbuck, who was fatally shot near the intersection of College Avenue and Dwight Way in Berkeley in the early morning hours of July 17, 2005.

In Oakland on Tuesday morning, a jury pronounced judgment in the case of an accidental shooting that ended the life of a promising young college student almost three years ago. The jury decided that while the shooting was avoidable, it wasn't intentional.

In Alameda County Superior Court, one of the last chapters ended in sad and youthful teenage tragedy. Christopher Hollis looked relieved, but reflective, as a jury found him guilty of manslaughter, not murder. Hollis was on trial for the shooting death of Meleia Willis-Starbuck, which occurred almost three years ago.

"When you take a firearm and you shoot it in the general direction of a crowd, even with some provocation, that's going to get you into a lot of trouble," said Defense attorney Gregory Syren.

Starbuck and Hollis had been close friends. So close that when she felt threatened by a crowd in Berkeley, she called him and asked for help.

Hollis says he was trying to protect her, when he fired a 38 caliber pistol into the crowd, several times.

One of those bullets hit Meleia in the chest, killing the very person he wanted to save.

"In the end he is held accountable for her death. It's just on a different level," said Prosecutor Elgin Lowe.

Then and now, Meleia Starbuck's friends describe her as a humanist, a very good student at Berkeley High School who earned a full scholarship to Dartmouth College. Last summer, in her memory, they placed a bench on College Avenue at the place where she died.

I knew Meleia very well," said Rick Ayers who knew both Starbuck and Hollis, from teaching at Berkeley High.

"Sometimes I think it's the existence of guns and people making bad judgment calls," said Ayers.

Hollis could serve from six to 30 years for the manslaughter and gun charges. The district attorney says if he had hit someone else, it would have been worse. Nonetheless, the jury felt sympathy.

"I try my case. I trust the jurors. I figure they have the final say" said Lowe.

Ultimately, this was a sad end with no full satisfaction for anybody. One bad decision ended with two tragedies.

"It's something that will never go away. It will just after a while, will be further in the past," said Ayers.


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