MARTINEZ -- A 21-year-old Oakley man has been sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for fatally shooting a college student on an Oakley middle school campus in 2011.

A drunken and despondent Dameon Zesati walked to O'Hara Park Middle School around 3:50 a.m. on June 4, 2011, intent on killing himself but instead killed a stranger, 21-year-old Oakley resident James Di Dio, defense attorney Elizabeth Barker said.

Di Dio and three friends had been heading home after hanging out on the campus with their skateboards and beer. Di Dio was shot without provocation after Zesati, who had ties to an East Contra Costa County gang, mumbled something about the group being on his turf, said prosecutor Andrea Tavenier.

Di Dio, described by family members as a sweet, multitalented and laid-back kid, had been studying linguistics at San Francisco State and aspired to be a professor.

"I still have a hard time wrapping my head around why things happened the way it did," Tavenier said. "It was completely senseless, stupid and horrible."

Zesati pleaded guilty March 1 to second-degree murder and was sentenced Friday. The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office dismissed a street gang terrorism charge and a gun enhancement as part of a plea deal.

Zesati had a "huge alcohol problem" and had been kicked out of his parents' house the night of the killing, Barker said. He went to a relative's house and, with the rifle he would use to kill Di Dio, pointed the gun to his head and expressed his desire to commit suicide in front of a cousin and her boyfriend.


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The boyfriend was getting dressed so he could take a walk with Zesati when Zesati took off and crossed paths with the victim, Barker said. Overwhelmed with guilt, he turned himself in the next day after confessing to his family and church pastor.

"There was no evidence that Dameon did it. He handed the police a full confession on a silver plate," said Barker, a veteran public defender. "I have never had a case like this. It's amazing how Dameon clearly knew that he couldn't live with himself if he didn't turn himself in."

At his change-of-plea hearing last month, Zesati read a long letter in which he apologized to the Di Dio family, his own family, Di Dio's friends who witnessed the killing and the community at large.

"I would do anything to change the outcome of that night," Zesati wrote. "Above all, I wish I could change history for the sake of James, who in no way deserved what I have done to him."

Tavenier said Di Dio was a person who, had Zesati indicated he was suicidal, would have tried to help despite that they were strangers.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.