MARTINEZ -- An Orinda man charged with murdering his longtime girlfriend with a machete in June killed his brother in the same house 26 years ago -- a death that was ruled accidental by authorities at the time but was submitted as evidence in the current homicide case Thursday.
The murder case recently filed against 62-year-old James Collin in the June 26 slaying of Evangeline Cumbe Devera, as well as calls from his slain brother's friends, has prompted investigators to take a second look into of the death of Tim Mark Collin, who was 32 when James, then 37, fatally shot him on Oct. 31, 1986 in the family's Moraga Way home.
During a court hearing Thursday, deputy district attorney Mary Knox added one count of torture to the murder charges against James Collin, and Collin pleaded not guilty to those charges. Knox also submitted into evidence the Nov. 1, 1986 police report on Tim Collin's death, which the Sheriff's Office had labeled "death: non criminal," as well as James Collin's 2006 misdemeanor battery conviction for beating Devera with a telephone.
"It may be that the prior killing could be relevant as a prior bad act, or may become relevant to prove an aspect or theory of the case," Knox said.
His parents now deceased, James Collin was living in the Moraga Way house with Devera when Orinda police officers responding to a neighbor's 911 call found the 56-year-old woman dead on the kitchen floor, surrounded by blood with deep gashes
It was in the same kitchen 26 years ago that James Collin shot his brother in the chest with a shotgun. According to the police report dated Nov. 1, 1986, this is what happened:
James Collin said he was cleaning his shotgun in his bedroom and was "having problems with the action sticking. He chambered a round to check the action. With the round in the chamber, he carried the shotgun though the house."
Heading to the garage, intending to fix the gun, James Collin said the gun went off as he was walking through the kitchen. Tim Collin was shot in the chest and pronounced dead at a hospital an hour later. James Collin told investigators he did not recall pulling the trigger.
The brothers' father was in the adjoining family room, with his back turned, when he heard the shot. Their mother was in another part of the house. The father said there were no arguments or problems between the brothers before the shot rang out.
The story has never rung true with many of Tim Collin's friends, some of whom contacted investigators or this newspaper upon hearing of James Collin's recent arrest.
"The way I heard it was (James) was not that balanced, and it probably wasn't an accident. I just never forgot this,'' said 59-year-old Kendall Langan, who attended Miramonte High School with Tim Collin.
"It was a disgusting story,'' Langan said. "Everyone was like, 'Was this an accident or was there something else involved?'"
Discovery Bay resident Bill Knaus, 57, attended UC Berkeley with Tim Collin after they graduated from Miramonte in 1973. He described Tim, a groomsman at his wedding, as a well-liked, highly intelligent "guy's guy," and his brother Jim as an "odd duck." Tim was always surrounded by friends, while Jim was a loner, and Knaus often wondered whether jealousy was a factor in the shooting.
"Tim and I had a mutual friend, who has since passed away, and he was convinced it was an intentional act," Knaus said. "I think that planted a seed of doubt in my mind that it wasn't an accident."
After reading that James Collin was accused of killing a woman with a machete, Knaus said his suspicions are stronger than ever.
While sheriff's investigators have been interviewing people about the 1986 killing, Knox said the Tim Collin homicide has not been officially reopened.
Still, Langan said he is pleased to see the police report detailing that tragic Halloween night in 1986 presented in court.
"I'm just pleased that they are at least introducing it into evidence because there is sadness to this, and I don't think we know the whole story,'' he said.
James Collin returns to court Aug. 20 to schedule a preliminary hearing. He remains jailed in lieu of $1 million bail.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.