Another Bailey slaying trial witness has memory problems
By Thomas Peele, The Chauncey Bailey Project
OAKLAND — A man who worked in a liquor store that Yusuf Bey IV and members of Your Black Muslim Bakery vandalized in November 2005 answered “I don’t remember” more than 50 times Monday when a prosecutor asked him about the attack.
Ehab Taha claimed he couldn’t even remember what city the West Oakland store, New York Market, was in. Judge Thomas Reardon later described him as “willfully evasive.”
“I don’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning,” Taha said in response to one of prosecutor Melissa Krum’s questions. “I have a lot of memory loss.”
Krum called him to the stand in Bey IV and co-defendant Antoine Mackey’s triple-murder trial to show jurors that bakery followers were organized in a military like structure with Bey IV at the top.
But Krum said that Taha told her before testifying that he feared appearing in court.
“Didn’t you tell me, ‘I’m not going to risk my life for this?’ ” Krum asked him.
“I don’t remember,” the 26-year-old replied.
Later, a recording showed Taha telling police how he was beaten bloody during the attack and how the assailants stole a sawed-off shotgun from the store.
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Bey IV and Mackey are charged with the 2007 killings of journalist Chauncey Bailey and two other men. Another bakery follower, Devaughndre Broussard, has testified he killed Bailey with the shotgun stolen from Taha at Bey IV’s order and that Mackey helped him.
Broussard also told the jury of seven women and five men that he killed another man, Odell Roberson, also at Bey IV’s order and that Bey IV and Mackey bragged about shooting to death a third man, Michael Wills.
Bey IV and Mackey have pleaded not guilty and could get life in prison without parole if convicted.
Taha, dressed in a white shirt and jeans, was expected to be a minor witness in the case, but his testimony Monday became almost comedic as he stared at the courtroom’s high ceiling and answered “I don’t remember” and occasionally “I’m not sure” to Krum’s repeated questions.
“Isn’t it true that you’re feigning memory loss so you don’t have to testify?” Krum asked.
“No,” Taha answered.
Reardon later ruled that Taha was being willfully evasive in his answers. Krum said he may be recalled to the stand and Mackey’s lawyer, Gary Sirbu, said it was clear he was “woefully lying” to the jury.
But Reardon rejected Sirbu’s motion for a mistrial based on Krum’s question about whether Taha told her that testifying made him fear for his life.
“That crosses the line,” Sirbu said of the question, calling it extremely unfair to the defendants. Mackey was not a bakery follower when the attacks occurred and Sirbu has repeatedly objected to Krum’s use of other crimes to illustrate her theory that Bey IV ordered followers to commit crimes.
“The jury can’t help but be prejudiced,” Sirbu said.
That Krum basically told jurors that Taha told her he feared for his life “created a degree of gravity that there are ongoing and current threats,” Bey IV’s lawyer, Gene Peretti, said in joining Sirbu’s motion.
The detective who interviewed Taha about the attack, Sgt. Dominique Arotzarena, later took the stand and Krum played a recording of the two talking about the crime.
Bey IV pleaded no contest to several felony charges in the liquor store attack. He and others involved said it was a protest over liquor sales in their neighborhood. They also attacked another store the same night.
Last week, a man who admitted taking part in the vandalism, Dyamen Williams, testified that he could not remember if Bey IV participated, nor could he recall the names of anyone else involved.
Reach investigative reporter Thomas Peele at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/thomas_peele.