RICHMOND -- Four of five alleged West Contra Costa gang members charged in the shooting death of a handicapped man outside a Pinole bar in February entered pleas of not guilty at their arraignment Tuesday, and one, the suspected gunman, learned prosecutors will not seek the death penalty against him.

From inside the prisoners' enclosure in the Richmond courthouse, David Arce pleaded not guilty and denied all enhancements in the death of Earl Hamilton Jr., 30, who family members said lost the use of his right arm and struggled to speak as the result of a gunshot wound suffered when he was 16. Arce, the suspected gunman, is charged with murder with a special circumstance allegation -- committing murder for the benefit of, and in association with, criminal street gang members.

The sentencing options for those charges are death or life in prison without possibility of parole, said Contra Costa deputy district attorney Mary Knox. In this case, prosecutors decided to seek the latter for Arce, a Richmond resident.

Eduardo Nelson Bonilla, of Richmond, and San Pablo resident Thomas William Burk, like Arce alleged members of the Norteno gang, pleaded not guilty to murder. Christina Onetto, Bonilla's sister, pleaded not guilty to being an accessory after the fact with gang enhancements. Onetto, of Richmond, did not appear for the hearing. Her plea was entered by her attorney.

Richmond resident Stephanie Arce, David Arce's sister, had previously pleaded not guilty to the same charges Onetto faces, and also to drug and gun charges related to the case.


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Hamilton was shot just after midnight on Feb. 2 following an argument inside the Green Lantern bar that escalated into violence in the parking lot. Hamilton was dead when police arrived.

Law enforcement officers suspect the shooting sparked a wave of retaliatory gang-related attacks, Knox said. Hamilton's brother, Nelson Earl Hamilton III, 23, was shot and killed in North Richmond on March 8.

The defendants in the killing of Earl Hamilton Jr. are scheduled to make their next appearance in court May 16 in Richmond.

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.