RICHMOND -- An investigation by six law enforcement agencies has resulted in charges against five suspected Norteno gang members and associates in the shooting death of a North Richmond man outside a Pinole bar in February that may have sparked a flurry of gang-related violence.
David Arce, Thomas Burk and Eduardo Bonilla have been charged with murder and gang enhancements by the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office. Arce has a special circumstance allegation -- committing murder for the benefit of, and in association with, criminal street gang members -- that could result in the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole.
Two women, Stephanie Arce (David Arce's sister) and Christina Onetto (Bonilla's sister), have been charged as accessories after the fact with gang enhancements for making false statements to law enforcement officers.
Four of the five -- David Arce, Burk, Bonilla and Onetto -- made their first court appearance Thursday afternoon in Richmond. Arraignment for all defendants was delayed until Monday to give them time to find a private attorney or public defender.
The Pinole Police Department led the multi-agency investigation, assisted by the Richmond Police Department, the Contra Costa District Attorney's and Sheriff's offices and Parole Department, and the West Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team. Together they probed the shooting death of Earl Hamilton Jr. outside the Green Lantern bar Feb. 2.That night, an argument between suspected gang members inside the bar escalated into violence in the parking lot, according to prosecutors When police arrived, they found Hamilton, 30, dead of gunshot wounds.
The agencies are continuing to investigate that killing, as well as other shootings and killings suspected to be retaliatory acts.
Those who knew Hamilton consider him an unlikely target. He was shot in the head at age 16 in Hayward, family members said. The gunshot wound left him with a plate in his head. He walked with a limp and had no use of his right arm. He struggled to string words together, speaking in a halting voice.
He defied doctors who said he would never walk again and could be seen riding a bicycle or playing basketball in his North Richmond neighborhood. His family stressed that he was not a gang member.
"He was cool with everybody. That's what I don't understand," his mother, Jennifer Goodwin, said outside the courtroom. "After they calmed the argument down, it should have been squashed. It was just words, so why would you take someone's life?"
The oldest of four brothers, Hamilton is the third to be lost to street violence. He is buried with his younger brother, Marquis Hamilton, who was killed in November 2011 in North Richmond at age 20.
Another brother, Nelson Earl Hamilton III, 23, was gunned down in North Richmond on Saturday. Authorities are investigating whether his killing is connected to the bar argument.
"Nobody should have to bury a child and turn around the next month and bury another child," said Lynn Hamilton, the brothers' stepmother who helped raise them.