Hollis sentenced to 24 years in prison

by Ben Nunnery | 7/15/08 3:14am

Correction appended.

Christopher Hollis received the maximum sentence of 24 years in California State prison on Friday for fatally shooting Meleia Willis-Starbuck '07 in 2005. Hollis had been convicted this past April of voluntary manslaughter and various lesser charges for his role in the shooting.

Hollis's attorney, assistant public defender Greg Syren, said he was disappointed with the sentence.

"The judge essentially gave him the maximum sentence, though he had the discretion to choose many other options," he said. "I thought the judge might exercise a little temperance."

Hollis, 24, expressed remorse for his actions and pleaded for mercy from Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakahara, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Hollis, who also presented letters from friends and family to demonstrate good character, had minimal criminal history, according to Syren. These factors indicated that Hollis did not deserve the maximum sentence, Syren said.

"I think he's remorseful for shooting his friend Meleia Willis-Starbuck, but I don't think he's remorseful about shooting into a crowd of people," Nakahara said in his sentencing statement, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's clear the bullet went through Meleia's heart, but it deeply wounded many other people including Mr. Hollis and Mr. Hollis's family. These types of tragedies can be avoided if we talk to young people and help them realize the gun is not the great equalizer."

Willis-Starbuck was interning during her sophomore summer in her hometown of Berkeley, Calif., when the incident occurred. She called Hollis on the morning of July 17, 2005 to ask for assistance with an altercation she and a group of women were having with members of the University of California, Berkeley football team. Witnesses have said that Willis-Starbuck asked Hollis to "bring heat" during the phone call. Hollis arrived at the scene riding in a vehicle with two other men and shot repeatedly into the crowd, hitting Willis-Starbuck in the chest.

In California, jury members determine the suspect's charges, but do not make any sentencing recommendations. The jury could have convicted Hollis of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter, Syren said. In April, Syren described the manslaughter sentence as "a victory" for Hollis, as reported by The Daily Californian.

The district attorney originally offered Hollis a plea bargain of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence from 15 years to life in prison, if Hollis pleaded guilty or no-contest. Syren, though, wanted a determinant sentence, one in which life in prison is not a possibility.

Hollis must serve at least 80 percent of his sentence, or approximately 20 years and four months in prison, before becoming eligible for parole, Syren said, adding that Hollis has already been in custody for about three years.

Willis-Starbuck's biological father, John Kalish, said he was disappointed that Hollis did not have to spend more time in jail, according to KGO-TV in San Francisco.

"I hope he's in jail and doesn't get to see his daughter grow up, because he took my daughter away," he said to KGO-TV.

The original version of this article, which ran on Tuesday, July 15, incorrectly referred to Willis-Starbuck's father as John Karlish. In fact, his name is John Kalish. The article also mistakenly reported that Chris Hollis testified that Willis-Starbuck asked him to "bring heat" when she allegedly called him prior to the incident. In fact, several witnesses at the scene testified on January 31, 2006 that Willis-Starbuck phoned Hollis and asked him to "bring heat" during the argument. Gregory Mitchell, a witness who said that he was drunk and asleep in the car which had brought Hollis to the scene during the shooting, testified on January 31, 2006 that he remembered the driver, Christopher Wilson, saying "Let's roll. Chris Hollis wants to check up on Meleia." Mitchell then added, "I don't remember the exact words, but it was something to that effect." District Attorney John Adams told The Dartmouth after a preliminary hearing on January 10, 2006 that witnesses heard Willis-Starbuck tell Hollis to "bring heat" in her call. The Berkeley police involved in the investigation have also discussed the alleged phone call, telling the San Francisco Chronicle in September 2005 that they believed Willis-Starbuck had called Hollis to ask for help.

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