Man gets prison for 2009 El Sobrante murder

March 4, 2011 5:02:16 PM PST
A 47-year-old homeless man was sentenced to 18 years in state prison Friday for beating to death an El Cerrito public works manager in a home-invasion robbery in El Sobrante in 2009.

In a plea deal worked out by the attorneys on the case, Raymond Gardner pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, robbery, two counts of burglary and being a felon in possession of a firearm for killing 57-year-old Bruce King inside his home in the 2400 block of May Road in unincorporated El Sobrante.

Gardner also admitted to enhancements for using a deadly weapon and having two prior prison convictions, one for receiving stolen property and the other for identity theft.

His attorney Daniel Horowitz said without the plea deal, Gardner could have faced the death penalty.

Mindy Charlup, King's partner of 10 years, spoke at the sentencing along with other family members and city employees, who all described King as a kind, generous, soft-spoken man who loved dogs and was a loyal supporter of his alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley.

Co-workers said that he had worked for the El Cerrito Public Works Department for 15 years and was the manager of the city's maintenance and engineering services.

After his murder, the city raised more than $50,000 and built the Bruce King Memorial Dog Park in his honor. "King", the El Cerrito Police Department's new police dog, was also named after him, family members said.

Charlup said she was the one who found King bleeding and gasping for breath the morning of April 5, 2009. He died at the hospital 12 days later.

The door had been kicked in and the house had been ransacked, she said.

She said she believed the attack happened the night before as King was making dinner because a half-made salad still sat on the kitchen counter and a chicken breast was defrosting in the microwave.

Family members said there was blood everywhere, and it was clear from the defensive wounds on King's body that he had fought with his attacker.

Charlup described King as the type of person who would take insects outside rather than kill them.

"He was the kindest, most giving person I have ever known in my life," Charlup said.

"I cannot forgive Raymond Gardner for what he has done to Bruce and to our family," King's sister, Bonnie Hazarabedian said.

King's niece, 15-year-old Callie Hazarabedian, said she would never forget the day she was told that her uncle had been brutally beaten and was in a coma. She said she remembered crumpling to the floor and sobbing.

Callie Hazarabedian said she believed Gardner was a "disgusting excuse of a person" and a "monster."

"Looking at him makes my skin crawl," she said.

She, along with other family members, asked the judge to sentence Gardner to life in prison but said after the hearing that they were relieved to not have the case drawn out any longer with a trial and future appeals.

"Raymond is a shameful beast who is hated by everyone who knew and loved (King)," Charlup said.

Gardner didn't express any remorse for the killing and appeared not to react while King's family members spoke. He smiled as he was signing some paperwork.

Prosecutor Barry Grove said police arrested Gardner the day after the beating after he and his wife used one of King's credit cards at Casino San Pablo.

Grove said investigators would never know for sure if Gardner acted alone or why King was targeted.

The two men did not know each other and King was not involved in any type of criminal activity, family members said.

Grove said he offered Gardner a lesser sentence in exchange for his guilty plea in part because the evidence was not as strong as he would have liked.

Gardner was found in possession of a lot of property that had been stolen from King's house, but prosecutors would have had to prove at trial that Gardner stole the property himself rather than acquired it from someone else, Grove said.

He said there was a lot of blood at the scene, but none of it had come from Gardner.

Gardner, who used methamphetamine, had made some incriminating statements to other methamphetamine users, but one witness later recanted his statement and another has since been deported to Mexico, Grove said.

He said while he wasn't happy to see a man he believed to be a killer sentenced to something less than a life in prison, he believed "it was the best deal that we could get under the circumstances."

Horowitz said there wasn't much to say on Gardner's behalf.

"I think this is the price we pay for the war on drugs," he said. "Innocent people are getting killed."

"It's clear that the crime in this case has resulted in an extraordinary amount of pain, suffering, and grief and will continue to do so for some time," Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Brian Haynes said.

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