Hollis prison sentence upheld

by Susan Matthews | 7/30/09 10:00pm

Meleia Willis-Starbuck '07

Hollis' lawyers in the appeal had argued that the original judge in the case, Judge Vernon Nakahara of Alameda County Superior Court, had made errors in his sentencing which violated Hollis' constitutional rights, the documents said.

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

David Martin, Hollis' appeals attorney, told The Dartmouth on Thursday that Hollis may continue to appeal the sentence. Martin, however, added that he did not believe it was likely that the decision would be overturned.

"The real shot is at the appeals court level," he said.

Martin, who has been representing Hollis for the past year, did not represent Hollis in his first trial.

Hollis was convicted in April 2008 of voluntary manslaughter, assault with a firearm and being a felon in possession of a gun. He was given a 24-year sentence the maximum for that charge in July 2008.

Prosecutors had originally sought to convict Hollis of murder, but the jury in the trial sided with the defense's argument that the shooting had been unintentional, and found him guilty of manslaughter.

Hollis appealed the case because "he felt the judge was not following the jury's will," Martin told The Dartmouth on Thursday.

The jury could have convicted Hollis of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter, Hollis' previous attorney, assistant public defender Greg Syren, told The Dartmouth in July 2008. In California, jury members determine whether the suspect is guilty, but do not make any sentencing recommendations.

The district attorney had originally offered Hollis a plea bargain for second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, if Hollis pled guilty or no-contest, Syren told The Dartmouth in July 2008, but Syren said at that time that he had wanted a determinant sentence, or one in which life in prison is not a possibility.

Syren told The Dartmouth in the July 2008 interview that he was disappointed with Nakahara's sentence, adding that he had "thought the judge might exercise a little temperance."

Willis-Starbuck's biological father, John Kalish, said at that time that 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," Kalish said to KGO-TV after the original sentencing.

Willis-Starbuck was interning during her sophomore summer in her hometown of Berkeley, Calif., when she was killed. She called Hollis, a long-time friend, on the morning of July 17, 2005 to ask for assistance in an altercation she and a group of women were having with members of the University of California, Berkeley football team. Several witnesses at the scene testified that Willis-Starbuck asked Hollis to "bring the 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 fatally in the chest.

"The irony of the case is that they were actually best friends," Martin told The Dartmouth on Thursday. "Yeah, it was accidental [that he shot Willis-Starbuck], but it wasn't accidental that he shot the gun."

Following Willis-Starbucks' death, the College established the Meleia Willis-Starbuck Memorial Award for Citizenship and Social Justice, a scholarship to fund students who work or volunteer for organizations committed to equity during their leave terms. Willis-Starbuck was working for the Women's Daytime Drop-In Center for homeless women and children during summer 2005.

Willis-Starbuck was also posthumously recognized by the College's Martin Luther King Celebration Committee with the Emerging Leadership Award in January 2008, at the Fifth Annual Social Justice Awards. The committee said they thought Willis-Starbuck's service record would have ensured that she would win the award had she lived longer, The Dartmouth previously reported.

While a student at the College, Willis-Starbuck was involved in the African-American Society, Dartmouth Alliance for Children of Color and the Dartmouth College Greens, a nonpartisan student activism organization.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!