East Bay mother devastated after son's teen killer strikes plea deal, lowering sentence

Dan Noyes Image
Friday, August 25, 2023
East Bay mother devastated after son's teen killer strikes plea deal
A Bay Area mom is looking for answers after her son's 17-year-old killer struck a plea deal with Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price.

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Alameda County prosecutors have informed a San Leandro mother that the teenage gang member who shot and killed her son in January will be back on the streets in as little as four years.

She contacted ABC7 News to find out why the 17-year-old gunman was not being tried as an adult for the murder. In addition to the mother and several sources inside the district attorney's office, we were able to speak with a witness who was in the parked car, just inches away, when Lamar Converse died.

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Kasandra Riley described her son, 35-year-old Lamar Converse, as "a loving person" who "would give you the shirt off his back."

She lost Lamar the night of Jan. 30. She even heard the gunfire a little over a block away, and since then, she's been afraid to leave her home.

Kasandra Riley: "I get afraid. I get afraid. I'd be afraid."

Dan Noyes: "Are you now afraid more going outside than you were before?"

Riley: "All the time. I actually went to the nail shop down the street and had to call somebody to pick me up because I was nervous. I was scared."

That Monday night just before 11, Lamar asked his friend to give him a ride to meet a young woman who wanted to buy two ounces of marijuana. The driver met ABC7 News I-Team reporter Dan Noyes at the scene and told him from behind the wheel of his car, "So, I pull on this side, the girl walks from the corner and Lamar roll down his window. He's talking to her about the transaction of the weed."

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Sources inside the DA's Office verified his story saying, Lamar met the 18-year-old woman online. They set a meeting at 167th Avenue and East 14th Street in San Leandro. She traveled there with her 17-year-old friend. Authorities say he's a member of Oakland's Ghost Town gang, and that she tried to use counterfeit money.

The driver said Lamar started counting, "He goes like 20, 40, and then he looked at the money like, 'This money fake.'"

Surveillance video from a used car lot shows Lamar Converse arguing with the woman, and then her 17-year-old friend rushing up with a handgun.

"All I see is the gun," said the driver. "He like, the dude walked to the car, like, 'Give me everything. Tear it off.' (makes gun sounds) He starts shooting. He never reached for nothing. Mar never made a move. We didn't have no guns on us. We ain't, we wasn't - nothing going on funny with us. No, we was just trying to get his money and we was gonna go back home."

Three weeks later, Alameda County Sheriff's investigators arrested the 17-year-old. One prosecutor told the I-Team the shooter confessed, that it was a "rock-solid case" for transfer to adult court, and not a robbery, but "a planned hit".

But, ABC7 News was there Monday at the Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro when the DA's Office announced a deal. The teen admitted murder in the 2nd degree with personal and intentional discharge of a firearm, but he won't receive the 40-year-to-life prison sentence he could face if tried as an adult. The case remains in juvenile court.

"That's heartbreaking to hear them say they want to try him as a juvenile," Riley said.

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After meeting with Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price, Jasper Wu's family says they are still concerned they won't get "justice."

Everyone gets released from Juvenile Hall by the time they're 25, but sources inside the DA's Office tell me the gunman could be out in two to three years if he follows the program. His mother declined to comment after the hearing. Riley directed her anger at District Attorney Pamela Price.

"The decision that was made today up in court was not right. I need her to go deep down inside and feel the pain that I'm suffering with, so she would know how it feels and make the right decision," said Riley.

Riley tells us she requested a meeting with Price but never got an answer.

"The people who live in this county have said we want a different vision," Price said in March. "We want a different administration of how we do justice."

ABC7 News also never received an answer for a request for an interview with the DA, after calling and emailing her spokesperson. Price did address her vision for juvenile justice at her first staff meeting in March at the Oakland Arena, video we obtained using the California Public Records Act. Price said, "We want to end harsh penalties. We don't want three strikes. We want to give young people another way, another pathway."

New state law is helping Price's efforts. Assembly Bill 2361 signed by Governor Gavin Newsom last September makes it more difficult to transfer juvenile cases to adult court, even for the most serious crimes including murder.

Frankie Guzman of the National Center for Youth Law told us, "The prosecution must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that a young person cannot be rehabilitated within the juvenile court system in order for a judge to be empowered to transfer the young person to the adult system."

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Guzman says juvenile justice laws are not focused on punishment, but on rehabilitation. "Because the truth is, that young person will ultimately more than likely will get out one day. And the question that I ask is, do we want that person to get out better, the same, or worse? And the juvenile justice system is the only system that provides that young person with developmentally appropriate services, education, mentorship, rehabilitative and behavioral health services, where in the adult system, they're thrown to the wolves essentially."

That argument rings hollow for Converse's family. His sister, Lanisha Jones, told the I-Team, "I do also believe in second chances as well. And I understand what they're trying to do with the young people. But when it comes to murder, that's different... If you rob from someone or you steal from someone, you're able to go give back whatever you've taken from them, but when you take a life that is forever."

"My son has a nine-year-old that would never see her dad again," says Riley. "You know, he can live life and enjoy life, his mother can hug him, his mother can smell him, talk to him. I can't do that anymore. And I just feel like the system is just, it really just failed me."

The teenage gunman will be back in court in two weeks to find out how long he'll be in juvenile hall. Riley is hoping District Attorney Pamela Price will change her mind and send this case to adult court.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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