RICHMOND -- The lithe, tattooed body reposed in an open white casket adorned with red flowers. Friends, relatives and clergy described a man who loved his family and respected his elders, liked fast cars and playing sports.
"Vincent had a heart," Cochise Potts, a pastor and family friend, told mourners at Olivet Institutional Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland on Wednesday. "He had a heart."
Vincent Demarlo Jones, who was shot and killed in Oakland on Oct. 26, had a heart but also an infamous criminal past and a reputation as one of the most fearsome gang members in Richmond in the mid-2000s, where he once was the city's "Most Wanted" fugitive. He went by the moniker "V.I."
"V.I. was one of the big ones," said Richmond police Lt. Bisa French. "Back in 2005, he was one of those guys who comes around once in a while and is seemingly into everything, they kind of blow up for a brief period. Small groups of people can account for a lot of gun violence."
Family say Jones was working hard to turn his life around since being released from prison in August after serving more than five years on federal firearms charges. His mother, sister and several cousins described him as a loving man devoted to his family. They said that since his release, he had served as a father figure to his girlfriend's daughter.
Jones was killed while walking to work in the pre-dawn hour, moments after leaving the federal halfway house where he had been
His death wasn't just a tragedy to his friends and family and an item in the next day's news, it was the subject of a departmentwide memo distributed within the Richmond Police Department.
"We did notify officers of him being killed in Oakland because we wanted them to be aware that this may spark retaliatory shootings in Richmond," French said.
Born in Martinez in 1985, as a teenager Jones became known as a member of a street gang known as "the 20s," so named for the south Richmond neighborhood where streets number from 20 to 29. The gang is affiliated with the better-known Easter Hill Boys, named for a housing project that became notorious for crime in the 1980s before being bulldozed and rebuilt.
In the unrelated murder trial of Joe "Fatter" Blacknell in February, Richmond Det. Christopher Llamas testified as a gang expert that "V.I." was a respected street leader who helped forge a lasting alliance between south and north Richmond neighborhoods against rivals in central Richmond.
When he was 16, Jones was convicted as an adult for carjacking and sentenced to more than two years in prison. He was paroled in October 2004, according to records with the state Department of Corrections.
Jones was sent back to prison twice for parole violations before October 2004.
It was between May 2005 and October 2005 that a spate of gang-related shootings put the city on edge. Then-police Chief Terry Hudson called Jones the department's "top priority," and other police officials labeled him a "street terrorist" during an unusual media campaign to hasten his arrest.
Like several young men who grew up in Richmond's neighborhood wars of recent decades, Jones and Blacknell reached an almost mythic status among their street brethren, slightly-built, heavily-armed teens, seemingly ubiquitous in dispensing mayhem.
Amid the hysteria of the summer of 2005, a beleaguered Hudson held up Jones as the worst-of-the-worst.
Police arrested Jones in October 2005 after a car and foot pursuit, cornering him with a police dog. State parole agents and the U.S. marshals were also in on the manhunt.
But despite all the public proclamations that Jones was a "violent enforcer" responsible for multiple killings and nonfatal shootings, he was only convicted of federal firearms violations, and sentenced to 77 months in prison in early 2007. Part of his sentence included that he would not be paroled back to Richmond.
Authorities said Jones had been residing at the halfway house in Oakland since August after his release, and had a job working at a local thrift store.
His killer chased him a short distance before shooting him, police said.
Police responded to reports of shots fired about 5:41 a.m. They found Jones shot alongside his apartment complex in the 400 block of Vernon Street. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Oakland police Sgt. Johnna Watson said investigators were following leads but declined to say whether they had suspects.
More than 200 mourners, many in tears, packed the purple and white worship hall for Jones' memorial. Few nods were made to Jones' past, but some loved ones said much of Jones' reputation was built on myth and misinformation.
Meanwhile, police cars, some marked, others all black, circled outside.
Richmond has seen a steady drop in crime since the days when Jones was on the streets. When the city had declared Jones its "Most Wanted" fugitive in September 2006, there had already been 29 homicides that year, many in broad daylight.
There have been just 15 homicides in Richmond this year, a far cry from the 40-plus annual totals of the mid-2000s.
But in the days following Jones' death, shots crackled in several parts of the city. Police responded but found no one injured.
"We don't know if the shootings reported around town are associated with (Jones') death," French said.
Jones was Oakland's 105th homicide this year.