Appeals court upholds Hollis' 24-year sentence

by Susan Matthews | 7/30/09 12:31pm

A state appeals court upheld the 24-year prison sentence originally awarded to Christopher Hollis in the case of the 2005 fatal shooting of Meleia Willis-Starbuck '07 on Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Thursday.

Hollis had argued that the original judge in the case, Judge Vernon Nakahara of Alameda County Superior Court, had made errors in his sentencing, which Hollis claimed violated his constitutional rights, the Chronicle reported.

The First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld Vernon's original decision in a 3-0 vote.

Hollis was convicted in April 2008 with voluntary manslaughter, assault with a firearm and being a felon in possession of a gun, and was handed his 24-year sentence the maximum sentence that can be awarded for this charge in July 2008.

Prosecutors had originally sought to convict Hollis of murder, but the jury in the case sided with the defenses' plea that the shooting had been unintentional, the Chronicle reported.

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, Hollis' attorney, assistant public defender Greg Syren, told The Dartmouth in July 2008.

Syren told The Dartmouth at that time that he was disappointed with the sentence, adding that he had "thought the judge might exercise a little temperance."

Hollis, 24, expressed remorse for his actions and pleaded for mercy from the judge in his original sentencing, 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 told The Dartmouth at that time.

"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."

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

"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 district attorney had 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 however, told The Dartmouth in the July 2008 interview that he had 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 told The Dartmouth last July, adding that Hollis had at that time already been in custody for about three years.

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, the Chronicle reported. Willis-Starbuck allegedly asked Hollis to "bring the heat" during the phone call, witnesses at the scene have testified. District Attorney John Adams also told The Dartmouth after a preliminary hearing on January 10, 2006 that witnesses heard Willis-Starbuck tell Hollis to "bring the heat" in her call.

Hollis arrived at the scene riding in a vehicle with two other men and shot repeatedly into the crowd, hitting Willis-Starbuck fatally in the chest.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

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