A reputed gang member was sentenced on Friday to 40 years to life in state prison for firing a shot that killed a 30-year-old mother of three children at a child's slumber party in East Oakland in 2016.
Kali Ponder was convicted on Sept. 19 of second-degree murder for the death of Lakeya Venson inside a house in the 9200 block of Sunnyside St. shortly after 1 a.m. on April 10, 2016.
Ponder, who was 18 at the time and is now 22, admitted during his trial that he fired the shot that killed Venson but said he opened fire because he thought another man was going to shoot at him and he feared for his life.
Ponder said, "I just started shooting, I was scared."
Alameda County prosecutors said one of the seven shots that Ponder fired struck Venson, who was on a porch outside the house, in her back, pierced through her body and caused her death.
They said a group of children between the ages of 5 and 15 were inside the house at the time.
Ponder testified that he went to that area because he wanted to retrieve a golden necklace that a group of young men had stolen from one of his friends when a fight broke out at a party at a skating rink in San Ramon earlier in the evening and he thought the people responsible for the theft lived in that area.
Under cross-examination, Ponder denied the allegation by prosecutor William Layne that he didn't really care about his friend's necklace but instead wanted to get revenge because he felt disrespected because the people who stole the necklace were from the Case Gang and Ponder and some of his friends belong to the rival Stubby/ENT Gang.
Ponder, who was a running back and defense back on the football team at De Anza High School in El Sobrante before he graduated in 2016, said, "I'm not a gang member."
Referring to Venson's death, Ponder said, "I feel horrible that I did that (killed her) and she's not here."
Ponder said he didn't know until his trial that that the man who he thought was responsible for stealing his friend's necklace didn't have anything to do with the theft.
According to court documents, the man, who was Venson's fiance, isn't associated with the Case gang and the other people who were at that house that night aren't associated with the gang but the house itself is associated with the gang.
Ponder's attorney Mark McGoldrick argued in a motion before the trial began that gang evidence shouldn't be admitted because Ponder didn't face any gang charges or allegations.
But Layne wrote that, "Gang evidence is intertwined in the very fabric of this case" and is relevant because it's is the motive for the shooting.
In addition to second-degree murder, Ponder was convicted of assault with a firearm and shooting at an inhabited dwelling.
Before she sentenced Ponder, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Rhonda Burgess said he "fired a gun at a house full of children and adults."
Burgess said Venson "was particularly vulnerable because she was at a home enjoying a child's birthday party" and had no connection with Ponder.
Although Burgess sentenced Ponder to 40 years to life at a hearing that was packed by family members of both Venson and Ponder, he'll be eligible for parole after serving 20 years because he was only 18 at the time of the fatal shooting.