Chauncey Bailey Project

Prosecutor: Bakery follower admitted guilt in jail call

Avenal Ave. house in East Oakland where prosecutors say a woman was tortured in 2007 (Oakland Tribune)
Avenal Ave. house in East Oakland where prosecutors say a woman was tortured in 2007 (Oakland Tribune)

Avenal Ave. house in East Oakland where prosecutors say a woman was tortured in 2007 (Oakland Tribune)

By Thomas Peele, The Chauncey Bailey Project

OAKLAND – Three little words.

They either are an admission of guilt in six felonies, as a prosecutor said Thursday, or a simple lament over falling in with the wrong person and being made a scapegoat for it, which is what a defense lawyer contended.

The words, recorded during a jail phone call: “My dumb ass.”

The man who said them, Richard Lewis, a follower of former Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV, is charged with kidnapping two women at gunpoint and torturing one of them in a failed attempt to learn the location of a drug dealer’s stash. He is the first member of Bey IV’s inner circle to stand trial for the myriad crimes that caused the bakery to collapse in the summer of 2007.

As lawyers made closing arguments Thursday during the trial’s fifth week, prosecutor Christopher Lamiero said Lewis’ self-deprecating remark during a conversation with his brother clearly implied guilt. The defendant was talking about how he feared spending another long stretch of time in jail, was worried about DNA evidence and the possibility others involved in the crime were cooperating with police.

Lewis had recently spent more than two years in jail in San Francisco on murder charges. He was acquitted after an incriminating statement he gave police was thrown out on technicalities.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon told jurors they would begin deliberations Monday.

When he testified last week, Lewis claimed those three words were taken out of context. He said he meant them as a preface to the next sentence in the conversation, one where he said his girlfriend had complained that he had been mistreated in jail.

Lamiero told jurors that made no sense.

“Mr. Lewis is a liar,” Lamiero said. “He is not as smart or as slick as he thinks he is.” What Lewis meant was that “it’s my fault because ‘my dumb ass’ went out and did this kidnapping and torture.”

Lewis’s lawyer, Patrick Hetrick, said in his closing argument that Lewis meant that he made a mistake by taking up with Bey IV and the “cultish organization he inherited from his father,” the late bakery founder Yusuf Bey.

“It doesn’t mean he’s guilty,” Hetrick said.

Hetrick said that two of Bey’s IV’s half brothers, Yusuf Bey V and Joshua Bey, who testified against Lewis, had lied to put “a major portion of the blame for this failed escapade on an outsider, someone they don’t give a damn about.”

Lewis testified last week that he wasn’t involved in Bey’s alleged plot to rescue the bakery from bankruptcy and pay off $1 million in debt by robbing drug dealers using an old police car and posing as cops.

Bey V and Joshua Bey, who have both pleaded guilty in the kidnapping and torture case, testified that Lewis was involved. Bey IV, and another defendant, Tamon Halfin, will be tried separately, after Bey IV faces triple-murder charges in May for allegedly ordering journalist Chauncey Bailey and two other men killed in the summer of 2007.

Lamiero told jurors there was ample evidence in addition to that testimony to convict the defendant — the phone call, ammunition found in Lewis’ room at the bakery that fit the kind of weapon he was described as carrying and DNA that matches one in about every 3,500 people and cannot be excluded as his.

It was Lewis, Lamiero said, who threatened to burn the woman with a hot curling iron and who also drew her blood with a knife found at the scene.

“Lewis took that knife and cut that lady as she sat in this chair,” Lamiero said, pointing to a red kitchen chair found in East Oakland house where a police officer rescued the woman on May 17, 2007. She testified a garbage bag was put over her head and she was beaten and threatened with death.

She said she never saw her attackers’ faces because they wore masks and could describe them only by rough estimations of height. Lamiero said testimony about “a little man with a gun” matches Lewis, who is 5’8″. Hetrick contended that Lewis doesn’t match the description.

Lamiero told jurors that they shouldn’t blame or doubt the woman for not remembering some details because of the emotional trauma she endured.

“I just can’t imagine what she went through,” he said.

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