The murder conviction of a Richmond man in a fatal shooting near the University of California, Berkeley, in 2006 has been overturned by a federal appeals court in San Francisco.
A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled by a 2-1 vote on Monday that Nicholas Beaudreaux, now 31, did not have a fair trial in Alameda County Superior Court in 2009 because his defense lawyer was incompetent in failing to object to a key witness.
Beaudreaux was convicted in that trial of first-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison in the shooting death of Wayne Drummond, 23, shortly after midnight on Sept. 4, 2006.
Prosecutors said the incident began with a confrontation between Drummond and a third man, Brandon Crowder, then 21. Beaudreaux injected himself into the argument and shot Drummond in the torso, prosecutors said.
Friends who did not realize Drummond had been shot took him to a nearby sorority house, where he collapsed and died.
The key witness to identify Beaudreaux as the shooter was Dayo Esho.
The appeals court majority said that Esho's identification of Beaudreaux was based on "unduly suggestive procedures" that did not begin until 17 months after the incident.
Esho was shown two different photographic line-ups of suspects; Beaudreaux' image was the only one to appear in both line-ups. He did not positively identify Beaudreaux until the preliminary hearing.
The only other witness was Crowder, who according to the court was "likely not regarded as a credible witness" because he had reached a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
The court said that because "Esho's identification testimony was essential to the state's case," there was a reasonable probability that Beaudreaux would have received a more favorable verdict if his lawyer had sought to exclude Esho's testimony.
The panel ruled on a habeas corpus petition Esho filed in federal court after his conviction was upheld in the state court system.
Prosecutors could now either retry Beaudreaux or appeal to an expanded appeals court panel or the U.S. Supreme Court. A spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office had no immediate comment.