OAKLAND– The former leader of a once-influential Oakland community group was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for ordering the killing of three men, including a journalist who was working on a story about the financial troubles of the organization.
Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey was the first American journalist killed on U.S. soil for reporting a story in nearly two decades.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that Chauncey’s life would end because of a story,” his ex-wife, Robin Hardin-Bailey, told the packed courtroom.
Looking at defendant Yusuf Bey IV, she said he and Bailey actually were similar in their attempts to uplift the community.
“I forgive you because the Chauncey Bailey I knew, the Chauncey Bailey who came here to right the wrongs, to tell the stories of people who had no voice, I believe that he would forgive you, too,” she said.
Despite his conviction in June, Bey, the former head of Your Black Muslim Bakery, continued to assert his innocence in a statement read by his attorney Gene Peretti.
“I want the people to know it has never been about truth and justice, it has been about perception and politics,” the statement said. “I do apologize to my family and the families of the victims for not making wiser decisions in allowing this to have occurred on my watch.
“I will not rest until I find out those who are truly responsible for setting this operation up,” the statement added.
Bey, 25, was given three life terms in prison without the possibility of parole in the 2007 murders of Bailey, Michael Wills and Odell Roberson in separate attacks.
Bailey, 57, was gunned down in broad daylight in downtown Oakland while walking to the newspaper.
Co-defendant Antoine Mackey, also 25, a bakery supervisor, was sentenced to two life terms in prison for the murders of Bailey and Wills.
“I think this is justice at its ultimate,” prosecutor Melissa Krum said of the sentencing. “There could not have been a more maximum sentence unless we had sought the death penalty.”
Founded some 40 years ago by Bey’s father, the bakery, which promoted self-empowerment, became an institution in Oakland’s black community while running a security service, school and other businesses. In recent years, the organization was tainted by links to criminal activity.
Prosecutors argued that Bey felt he was above the law and was so desperate to protect the legacy of his family’s bakery that he ordered the killing of Bailey.
Krum said she had expected Bey to deny the crimes at the sentencing.
“It’s disappointing to hear a defendant say something like that when you know that it is completely untrue,” the prosecutor said.
Mackey chose not to speak in the packed Alameda County courtroom that had a heavy presence of armed deputies.
Mackey’s lawyer, Gary Sirbu, said his client also maintains his innocence and opted not to speak out of respect for the victims’ families in the courtroom.
“He’s certainly sympathetic to what he heard, like any other person in the courtroom would’ve been, but that is different from an admission of guilt,” Sirbu said.
Both defense lawyers said their clients will appeal their convictions.
Prosecutors say Wills, 36, was killed randomly after Bey had a conversation with Mackey about the Zebra murders, a string of racially motivated black-on-white killings in San Francisco in the 1970s. Bey and Mackey are black. Wills was white.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon said during the sentencing that Wills’ murder was a hate crime.
With both defendants watching, Wills’ mother, Robin Haugen, tearfully said their family is still struggling with his death.
“We keep asking why, why Michael, why would someone order him murdered just because of his race,” Haugen said. “This was a man who saw everyone as equal.”
Roberson, 31, was killed by bakery handyman Devaughndre Broussard in retaliation for the murder of Bey’s brother by Roberson’s nephew, according to trial testimony.
Broussard, 23, the prosecution’s star witness, testified during the trial that lasted more than two months that Bey ordered him and Mackey to kill all three men in exchange for a line of credit.
Broussard, who inexplicably laughed several times while testifying for more than a week, said he killed Bailey on Aug. 2, 2007, on a busy city street with three shotgun blasts, including a final shot to the face to ensure his victim was dead.
Broussard said Mackey was his getaway driver.
Despite defense lawyers questioning Broussard’s credibility, he was sentenced earlier this month to 25 years in prison as part of a plea deal in exchange for his testimony.
During sentencing, Judge Reardon told Bey the next time he might be in a leadership position, he should rely on inspiration instead of using fear and threats.
Before Bailey’s death, Cuban-American Manuel de Dios Unanue, an outspoken journalist, was shot in the head in a New York City restaurant in 1992.
Police believe drug traffickers and businessmen plotted to murder him in retaliation for hard-hitting stories he had written about their operations, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.