DA cuts deal with informant in Antar Bey’s death
Police informant could get reduced robbery sentence, if judge agrees to deal.
By Paul T. Rosynsky, Chauncey Bailey Project
OAKLAND — A police informant whose testimony helped the district attorney’s office secure a guilty verdict in Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Antar Bey’s murder trial won a deal this week in his own robbery case.
The deal, which still must be approved by an Alameda County Superior Court judge, could result in a seven-year state prison sentence for the informant, a considerably more lenient punishment compared with the 25 years to life he faced before the Bey murder trial began.
Instead of proceeding through a trial on charges of second-degree robbery, the informant agreed to plead guilty to grand theft. The plea deal also prevents the informant from being charged with a third strike under California’s much-debated “Three Strikes” law, which mandates longer prison terms for repeat violent criminals.
The informant played a key role in the murder case against Alfonza Phillips, who was convicted Nov. 19 of killing Bey during a failed carjacking on Oct. 25, 2005. The informant told police Phillips was the man who shot Bey, and during the trial, the informant testified that Phillips confessed to the slaying to him.
Although he was not the only witness to testify that Phillips talked about killing Bey, and his information was not the only evidence the police had against Phillips in the case, the informant’s statements were the primary reason why police focused on Phillips in their investigation, testimony from the trial revealed.
Before the informant told police that Phillips confessed to the killing to him, police had few leads in the murder and continued to investigate other motives, including the possibility it was an assassination, the testimony showed.<
font size=”2″ face=”Arial,geneva,helvetica”>But after the informant told police his story, detectives were able to link Phillips to the crime with other evidence. Police matched a fingerprint found at the scene to Phillips’ left middle finger. A witness to the crime also identified Phillips as the killer during the trial and Phillips’ girlfriend told police that he confessed the murder to her. (During the trial she said she made that statement after detectives threatened her.) And in a taped jail house telephone conversation Phillips had with his girlfriend, he is heard telling the girlfriend to “stay silent.”
Nevertheless, police would have never focused on Phillips had it not been for the informant’s initial statements and the case would have been more difficult to prove in court had the informant not cooperated with the district attorney’s office, said Phillips’ attorney, Leonard Ulfelder.
Ulfelder continues to maintain that his client is innocent of the crime and that the murder of Bey was a well-executed assassination.
The only reason the informant talked to police about Phillips was because he was angry about a failed drug deal between the two, wanted reward money and he knew “how to play the game,” Ulfelder said.
During his testimony, the 44-year-old informant described himself as a “career criminal” who conducted robberies to feed a drug habit. He told jurors he frequently gave police tips about other crimes in exchange for money and the hope that future criminal charges against him would be less stringent.
The man also received a reward from CrimeStoppers of more than $1,000 for providing information about Bey’s murder.
But he denied that his testimony in the Phillips case was tied to a deal for a lesser sentence in his robbery case. Instead he said he “found God” and decided to tell police about Phillips because he thought Bey was a good man who should not have been killed.
Deputy District Attorney Colleen McMahon also told jurors that the informant’s testimony was not linked to any future deal. McMahon could not be reached for comment Friday.
Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Warren, who worked on the informant’s robbery case, also could not be reached for comment.
Ulfelder said Thursday that when he initially spoke with the informant before the murder trial, the informant said he was not going to testify in the trial unless he received a deal from the district attorney.
At that time, Ulfelder said he was told by the informant that the district attorney was offering a deal in which the informant would have to spend 17 years in prison.
“(He) told me that the original offer was 17 years,” Ulfelder said. “His wife told me the same thing.”
Spencer Strellis, the informant’s defense attorney, said Friday there was no connection between his client’s testimony in the murder trial and the plea deal made with the district attorney’s office this week.
“I understand exactly where the public defender is coming from but it just doesn’t play,” Strellis said. “My client never talked to the district attorney, and I never talked to the district attorney about what benefit, if any, he might get from his testimony.”
The informant gave his initial statement to police before he committed the robbery that placed him back in jail, court documents and testimony in the murder case show.
At that time, he was not facing any criminal charges and had no motive other than being a good citizen, Strellis said.
“My client talked to the police about the facts of the case before my client was in legal problems,” Strellis said. “It just doesn’t fit chronologically.”
But Ulfelder argued that the informant has enough street smarts to know that he would get in trouble in the future and spoke to police in an effort to bank some goodwill.
Ulfelder also said the informant’s testimony is tainted because it came after he was in jail on the robbery charge and facing 25 years to life in prison.
“If you believe that,” Strellis said, “I have a bridge to sell you.”