Attorney Michael Scott sits next to his client, Lavell White, in a Lompoc courtroom on Tuesday. White and another former basketball player from Allan Hancock College are charged with the fatal shooting of Terence Richardson, 23, in December 2014 in Santa Maria. The trial is taking place in Lompoc due to a clogged court calendar. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Jurors heard opening statements Tuesday in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court trial of two former Allan Hancock College basketball players charged with murder, robbery and burglary.
Ali Mohammed, 22, and Lavell White, 25 are accused in the fatal shooting of Terence Richardson, 23, of Santa Maria on Dec. 30, 2014, near the intersection of Bradley Road and Jones Street in Santa Maria. Mohammed is charged with wielding the gun.
The fatal shooting allegedly occurred during a drug deal gone wrong, as Richardson sat in the passenger seat of a vehicle driven by Ryan DiPalma, the trial’s first witness.
The pair are charged with murder, and also face special-circumstance allegations that the slaying occurred during the commission of a robbery, and several charges for robbery and residential burglaries.
In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Savrnoch detailed a number of residential burglaries and robberies of other drug dealers that occurred before the fatal shooting.
“In the days leading up the murder, Lavell White was trying to find another marijuana dealer they could rob,” Savrnoch said. “You will hear that Lavell White said he believed the dealers in Santa Maria were soft compared to the ones he knew in Gary, Indiana, meaning they were not armed and were easy prey.”
Referring to text messages, Savrnoch noted a conversation between White and a former baseball player seeking to “hit a stain,” a term for robbing a dealer of drugs and cash. The conversation also included a query about whether they could get some “bangers” — referring to guns.
Law enforcement officers contend the 9-mm gun used in the shooting had been stolen during one of several burglaries at the Montiavo Apartments.
“We are confident after you hear all of this evidence that you will agree we proved this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Savrnoch said.
Attorney Michael Scott, who represents White, said the trial would include testimony from “a cast of characters,” many of whom lied to law enforcement officers during several interviews.
Those involved include a number of athletes formerly with Hancock’s football, basketball and baseball programs, along with several drug dealers, Scott said.
Attorney Lori Pedego stands in a Lompoc courtroom alongside her client, Ali Mohammed. He is one of two former Allan Hancock College basketball players on trial for the fatal shooting of Terence Richardson on Dec. 30, 2014 in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
“The prosecution will attempt to prove its case by calling to the stand a succession of young men of dubious character, questionable veracity and with ample motive to deflect attention away from themselves,” Scott said.
A key witness, Gentry Oden, gave varying stories to law enforcement about the burglaries and the homicide.
“The evidence will show that a majority of the prosecution’s civilian star witnesses were high on marijuana every day, and supplemented their income through criminal activity,” Scott said.
“The evidence will also show that the football players appeared to have circled the wagons to protect themselves by implicating the basketball players,” Scott added.
Attorney Lori Pedego, who represents Mohammed, also noted Oden’s multiple stories to law enforcement officers.
“The number of lies that Mr. Oden gave to police in the various reports is too long to list here,” Pedego said.
Oden’s password-protected phone reportedly was used to arrange the drug deal involved in the shooting, the defense attorneys said.
While Richardson reportedly was sitting in the front passenger seat when he was shot once in the abdomen, Pedego said, a security guard will testify Richardson was in the rear seat upon arriving at Marian Regional Medical Center.
“You may or may not hear any evidence about why or why not that occurred,” she said, adding the witness consistently told the same story.
“I ask you to pay attention to the witnesses that you’re going to hear from,” Pedego said. “Keep an open mind as to their motives and their credibility, and at the end of this trial you will know that the prosecution has not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and you must return a verdict of not guilty.”
When he took the witness stand, DePalma, who became emotional during his testimony, recalled driving to the scene where the shooting took place to sell marijuana. His best friend, Richardson, sat in the front passenger seat.
Upon arrival near the intersection, DePalma said, a man got into the back seat while another stood outside the driver’s door demanding money and marijuana. DePalma sped away and a shot was fired from the rear seat.
“I thought it was a blank,” DePalma said, adding his friend claimed he had been shot and needed to go to the hospital.
But DePalma admitted he could not describe those two people involved in the attempted robbery and shooting, estimating they were 5 feet, 10 inches tall.
Scott, who said he is 5 foot-10, walked near his client, who is 6 feet, 6 inches tall, instructed White to stand, and asked DePalma, “He’s substantially taller is he not?”
DePalma answered affirmatively.
Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday before Judge James Voysey in a Lompoc courtroom. The trial is being held Mondays through Thursdays in Lompoc to help ease the court system’s clogged calendar.