The murder trial of Fresno gang member Jerel “Relli” Stanfield appeared to have all of the elements for a conviction: the prosecution said he had the murder weapon on him when police shot and apprehended him in an alley.
But after about 12 hours of deliberations over four days, a Fresno County Superior Court jury on Thursday told the judge they could not convict Stanfield, 28, in the Easter killing of a rival four years ago.
The jury of nine men and three women said they were split 7-5 on the murder charge and divided on the five other felony charges, including a charge of a felon in possession of a handgun. To reach a verdict, the jury’s vote must be unanimous.
Jurors did find Stanfield guilty of evading police, but not guilty of assaulting a police officer with his sports utility vehicle. Because of the jury deadlock, Judge Jonathan Conklin declared a mistrial, which allows prosecutors to retry Stanfield on the murder charge, as well as the other five charges.
Prosecutor Christopher Gularte said he could not comment because the case is still pending. But he and defense lawyer Miles Harris agreed to return to court on April 5 for a status conference.
“THANK YOU LORD, JESUS CHRIST, FOR BRINGING MILES HARRIS TO FRESNO.”
Chantal Lewis, the defendant’s mother
After the verdict, Stanfield’s family, who were in court for every day of the six-week trial, thanked Harris, who attacked the Fresno Police Department as being dishonest and unprofessional. “Thank you Lord, Jesus Christ, for bringing Miles Harris to Fresno,” said Stanfield’s mother, Chantal Lewis.
Stanfield’s sister, Jasmine Stanfield, said the family hasn’t been sleeping well since Stanfield’s arrest. “I was so afraid. It has been nonstop worry,” she said. “But now the truth has come out. He didn’t do it. And we will continue to stand strong by him.”
Chief Jerry Dyer said he was disappointed by the verdict, especially since there was a witness to the murder and the murder weapon was found on Stanfield. He also said his officers were truthful and provided testimony to their best recollection.
“To insinuate that the gun was planted on Stanfield by the officers is preposterous,” Dyer said. “The Department of Justice conducted the ballistic examination on the firearm and determined it had been used in two recent shootings to include the murder.”
The chief also voiced concerns about gang members attending the trial “and the potential for witnesses and jurors to be intimidated.”
A criminal complaint accused Stanfield of killing 23-year-old William Simpson on March 31, 2013. During the trial, Gularte said Stanfield killed Simpson, a member of the Dog Pound street gang, to promote the Strother Boys street gang. Specifically, Gularte said Stanfield shot Simpson because he wore a baseball cap with the letter “P” on it. The P represents the Dog Pound.
In addition, Gularte said Stanfield threatened Simpson’s pregnant girlfriend, Lajeana Ramsey, with a gun as she clutched her young child.
But what happened afterward sparked community outrage and played a key role in the jury’s decision, said Harris, who spoke with several jurors after Conklin dismissed them from jury service.
Simpson was shot multiple times at an apartment complex on North Clark Street near Ashlan Avenue, just west of Highway 41, around 3:10 a.m. Stanfield was arrested later that afternoon after a police pursuit.
Harris said dozens of people saw police Sgt. Michael Palomino and Officer Charles Renfro shoot Stanfield without justification near Strother and Arthur avenues in southwest Fresno near Chandler Airport. (Records provided by the Fresno Police Department show the shooting was ruled justified.)
The shooting later led to a street protest and threats against officers, and prompted police Chief Jerry Dyer to order extra precautions for police, including putting two officers in patrol vehicles and putting motorcycle officers in cars. The chief also ordered a citywide crackdown on gangs.
Following his arrest, Stanfield filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court, accusing the Fresno Police Department of using excessive force. In court documents, Stanfield contends police planted the gun on him. His civil trial is pending.
A CRIMINAL COMPLAINT ACCUSED JEREL STANFIELD OF KILLING 23-YEAR-OLD WILLIAM SIMPSON ON MARCH 31, 2013.
After Thursday’s mistrial, Harris credited investigator Jeff Gunn, a former Fresno police officer, for tracking down witnesses and getting their statements. Harris also said he and Stanfield’s family weren’t backing down from the allegation that police planted the gun on Stanfield.
During the trial, Gularte told jurors that the gun used to kill Simpson was found in one of Stanfield’s pant legs after he was shot by police. But Harris pointed out that Stanfield’s fingerprints were not on the gun. In addition, Harris said, officers gave conflicting statements about where the gun was found. One officer testified he removed the gun from Stanfield’s back waistband. Another officer testified the gun was underneath Stanfield after he was shot.
A sergeant testified he saw the gun on the street and he thought it belonged to police, Harris said.
“The prosecution conveniently picked the statement of an officer who said the gun was in his pants leg,” Harris said. “But jurors told me that they were troubled by the officers’ conflicting accounts.”
Harris contended Stanfield was with friends, far from the crime scene, when the killing happened. He also said after Simpson was killed, police had little evidence to pin the murder on Stanfield, but tracked him down anyway and shot him several times, including in the back of the head, while he was running from officers without a gun in his hand.
“THE PROSECUTION CONVENIENTLY PICKED THE STATEMENT OF AN OFFICER WHO SAID THE GUN WAS IN HIS PANTS LEG.”
Defense attorney Miles Harris
Gularte, however, said police did not plant the gun on Stanfield. He defended police for shooting Stanfield, telling jurors that officers ordered him to show his hands. Instead, Stanfield kept reaching in his waistband, Gularte said.
Gularte also told jurors that ballistic tests revealed that the Glock 40-caliber semi-automatic was used to kill Simpson and wound two other people – Hakim Momon and Dwayne Davis in a drive-by shooting at Shields and Hughes avenues on March 26. Gularte told the jury that ballistic tests show the 40-caliber Glock found on Stanfield was the weapon used to wound Momon and Davis in the arms and legs as they rode in a car. Momon later identified Stanfield as the person who shot him and Davis, Gularte told the jury.
Harris, however, pointed out that Ramsey told a 911 operator that she was sleeping in a car when Simpson was killed in front of it. Once gunfire erupted, Ramsey said her first instinct was to protect her sleeping child in the back seat.
Harris also said Ramsey never identified Stanfield as the gunman until a week after the slaying after “word on the street” identified Stanfield as the alleged killer. In addition, Harris said law enforcement gave Ramsey $22,000 to relocate after her boyfriend was killed. And in the trial, Ramsey testified that she saw Stanfield on the night of the killing, but never saw him holding a gun. Instead, she testified she saw him get into the passenger side of an SUV that had two other people in it.
Regarding the March 26 shooting, Harris said Momon and Davis could not identify the shooter. Momon only did it after “the word of the street” identified Stanfield as the gunman, Harris said.
Court records say Stanfield has prior convictions for street terrorism and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Conklin said Stanfield will be held without bail in the Fresno County Jail while prosecutors decided whether to retry him.