Appeals briefs allege fratricide in bakery struggle
By Josh Richman, The Chauncey Bailey Project
Alfonza Phillips, convicted of murdering Antar Bey in 2005, says his conviction should be overturned because he was denied the chance to claim at trial that Bey actually was ordered slain by his own brother, Yusuf Bey IV, in a fratricidal power struggle for control of Oakland’s Your Black Muslim Bakery.
Phillips’ trial attorney had hinted at this but was barred by the judge from spelling it out to the jury; the allegations are spelled out clearly now in Phillips’ appeals briefs. A three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeals will review the briefs and issue a ruling in coming months. Phillips, sentenced in December 2007 to life in prison without the possibility of parole, is at Corcoran state prison.
Bey IV is in jail awaiting trial both on charges of kidnapping and torture in a May 2007 incident and on charges that he ordered the July and August 2007 killings of Odell Roberson Jr., who was Phillips’ uncle; Michael Wills; and Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey. His attorney, Lorna Brown, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
The briefs say Antar Bey’s common-law wife, Amarreh Bey, also known as Joshaya Joshua, two days after her husband’s death described to police a rift within the Bey family in which some believed her husband had risen to the CEO’s post by orchestrating the 2004 assassination of the previous CEO, Waajid Aljawwaad. She told Oakland police Sgts. Tim Nolan and Derwin Longmire that Yusuf Bey IV called their home and said that Antar was going to be killed or in jail before long. She said she believed Yusuf Bey IV wanted the bakery.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to support that defense, and so didn’t let assistant public defender Leonard Ulfelder present it.
“The trial court’s exclusion of evidence that Bey’s murder was an assassination by Yusuf Bey IV and others associated with the (Your) Black Muslim Bakery was an abuse of discretion which violated appellant’s (Phillips’) constitutional rights to confront the witnesses against him, to present a defense and to due process of law,” Randi Covin, Phillips’ appellate lawyer, wrote in her December 2008 opening brief.
“By excluding Amarreh Bey’s testimony regarding violent struggles for control of the bakery and recent threats and attempts on the life of Antar, the CEO, the trial court completely eviscerated appellant’s defense and made it impossible for jurors to come to a reliable conclusion as to his guilt or innocence,” she argued.
Rolefson was right to exclude a “third-party culpability” defense based only on motive, the state Attorney General’s Office responded in June: “There was absolutely no evidence tying anyone to the murder other than appellant.
“There was only speculation. Simply because a faction of the Black Muslims was in a power struggle and may have wanted to see Bey dead did not show that they killed Bey.”
But Covin filed a reply brief last week insisting “substantial evidence showed that a rival Black Muslim faction involving Yusuf Bey IV, Elijah Bey and John Bey intended to assassinate Antar and then acted in conformity with that intent.”
Covin’s argument seems to contradict former bakery handyman Devaughndre Broussard’s testimony to a grand jury in April that he shot and killed Roberson, Phillips’ uncle, on Bey IV’s order as retribution for Phillips killing Antar Bey.
Covin also argued in her briefs that the judge erred by not letting Ulfelder reopen his case after a newspaper article outlined Longmire’s long-standing, friendly relationship with Bey IV. Longmire had testified he interviewed Dwayne Johnson — Phillips’ girlfriend’s father, who testified Phillips boasted of killing Antar Bey — for 20 unrecorded minutes before Johnson gave his official statement to police. Ulfelder should have had a chance to cross-examine Longmire and present other evidence of “Longmire’s improper intervention on Yusuf IV’s behalf in another pending criminal case,” Covin wrote. “The excluded evidence would have strongly supported an argument that Longmire improperly intervened in this case, as well, manufacturing false statements by Johnson and (Althea) Foy (Phillips’ girlfriend) to protect Yusuf IV at appellant’s expense.”
But the state responded that a “newspaper article that alleged that Longmire had a relationship with a member of the victim’s family sometime after Antar Bey’s murder is simply of insufficient significance to justify the reopening of the case” days after Ulfelder had rested, and that “any error was harmless because Longmire’s role in this case was insignificant and there was overwhelming evidence to support the conviction.”
Longmire has been suspended from duty pending completion of a probe of his involvement with the Bey family and his investigation of Bailey’s slaying.