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Two weeks ago, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Darryl Stallworth thought he had an open-and-shut murder case. So did 11 jurors. In the trial of an Oakland man who had repeatedly beaten his 3-year-old son “Cha Cha” with belts and switches, testimony and photographs of the child’s bruises painted a picture of a painfully abusive household. Medical testimony showed he died of head trauma and internal injuries. But juror No. 1 couldn’t be convinced that defendant Chazarus Hill Sr., 27, knew his repeated beatings would eventually kill his son, said Stallworth, who spoke with jurors after the verdict was read Tuesday. The jury settled on involuntary manslaughter instead of murder. In the end, Hill will still get at least 25 years to life in prison because of the initial guilty verdict of assault on a child causing death, which carries the same punishment as first-degree murder. But the jury’s verdict � reached after seven days of deliberation � and the process of defaulting to the lesser charge presents an interesting case study in the importance of labeling a crime as murder, a distinction that, in general, carries large implications for Hastings College of the Law professor Evan Lee. Language matters in the criminal justice system, said Lee, who teaches criminal law. “It’s about assigning moral blame to the wrongdoer,” he said. “And to call someone a murderer is different than to call them an assaulter.” The jury submitted its guilty verdict on two counts of assault in late December, took a break for the holidays and resumed Jan. 8 to deliberate on the murder charge.
‘It’s about assigning moral blame to the wrongdoer. And to call someone a murderer is different than to call them an assaulter.’

EVAN LEE Hastings College of the Law

“I believe the emotional facts surrounding this case � the 3-year-old child, the father, the belt, the switches � has created an aura of disbelief in how anybody cannot see it as murder,” Stallworth said. “It just boiled down to (the one juror’s) perception.” The juror’s perception was that Hill lacked the mental state needed for murder, which was one of defense attorney William Daley’s two arguments. Daley also argued Hill had not inflicted the head injuries that ultimately killed his son. Daley said he believed the jury was hung up on finding conscious disregard of the high likelihood of death. After getting further instructions, that’s when involuntary manslaughter entered the discussion, Daley said. “I didn’t think there was ever any evidence of actual intent to kill,” Daley said. Stallworth had argued that Hill knew that his son wouldn’t survive by the frequency and velocity of the beatings. Judge Kenneth Kingsbury, who oversaw the trial, declined to get into the specifics of the case, but conceded that malice aforethought is difficult to prove. Involuntary manslaughter alone is punishable by two, three or four years. Since he was convicted of multiple charges, though, Hill’s sentence will be derived from the charge that provides for the longest potential prison term, which is the assault conviction. Sentencing is scheduled for March 8.

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