SAN FRANCISCO -- The conviction and life sentence of a member of the defunct Your Black Muslim Bakery in the 2007 kidnapping and torture of an Oakland woman has been overturned by a state appellate court.
The jury in the 2010 trial of Richard Lewis heard weak evidence "that was far from overwhelming" based mostly on three turncoat witnesses, 1st District Court of Appeal Justice Peter Siggins wrote in a 3-0 decision released Friday.
Jurors may also may have been influenced by testimony and statements about other crimes involving the bakery, the justice wrote, including the August 2007 murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey, an event that did not involve Lewis.
Because of the new ruling, Lewis, 29, a former San Francisco high school football star, could get a new trial.
Siggins indicated that too much evidence about crimes by other bakery members were used against Lewis. And the judge also called inflammatory that during the trial, Alameda County deputy district attorney Christopher Lamiero called the bakery a "terrorist stronghold."
Lewis' court-appointed trial attorney, Patrick Hetrick, should have raised stronger objections to Lamiero's arguments, Siggins wrote in a 43-page decision.
Two other bakery members, half-brothers Joshua Bey and Yusuf Bey V, pleaded guilty in the case and took the stand against Lewis, but Siggins was skeptical of them. Lewis was "convicted mainly on the basis of thinly corroborated testimony of accomplices who received substantial benefits for their testimony," Siggins wrote.
Joshua Bey and Yusuf Bey V told jurors that Lewis was with them when the woman was taken to a vacant East Oakland house in May 2007 and beaten in a failed attempt to learn where drug money was hidden. A passing police officer rescued the woman.
Her attackers fled. Cars that left the scene were traced to bakery members, but the victim was unable to identify her attackers because a bag had been placed over her head.
Joshua Bey was sentenced to three years in prison. Yusuf Bey V received a 10-year term.
Both faced life without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Another bakery member, Tamon Halfin, also pleaded guilty but did not testify.
Lewis testified at his trail that he was not involved in the crime.
Joshua Bey and Yusuf Bey V testified that another half-brother, bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV, concocted the plan because he believed that the woman knew where an Oakland drug dealer stashed a large amount of money.
Police investigated the kidnapping for three months and were set to raid the bakery compound on Aug. 1, 2007, to search for evidence related to it and two murders when then-Oakland police Chief Wayne Tucker ordered a 48-hour delay.
Prejudice was manifest
The next day, Aug. 2, 2007, Yusuf Bey V sent an underling to kill Bailey, the editor of the Oakland Post newspaper, because Bey believed the journalist was writing an unflattering story about him involving a bankruptcy filing.
Police then raided the bakery the next day and Yusuf Bey IV was arrested in the kidnapping case. But before he faced trial on those charges, he was convicted in 2011 of ordering Bailey and two other men killed. The kidnapping case against Yusuf Bey IV was then dropped.
He and a co-defendant in the murders, Antoine Mackey, were sentenced to life without parole and have appealed.
Lewis was not charged in any of the murder cases. But at his trial, Lamiero mentioned the Bailey slaying numerous times. That, Siggins wrote, was unfair to Lewis.
"The potential for prejudice was manifest," the justice wrote. "Bailey's notorious murder, in particular, may have been highly inflammatory."