OAKLAND -- On the day 23-month-old Hiram Lawrence Jr. was fatally shot in a West Oakland parking lot, his father and two fellow rappers were filming a music video that disrespected a gang from the Acorn public housing project, testimony in court revealed Wednesday.
The testimony was given during a preliminary hearing for Fredrick Coleman, a 17-year-old who is one of three people accused of firing at least 40 bullets at a group of people from the Campbell Village housing project on Nov. 28, 2011.
Hiram Jr. was killed by one of those bullets as his father, Hiram Lawrence, held his son behind a taco truck in a parking lot at the corner of 7th and Willow streets. Several other people were also shot and wounded during the gunbattle that followed.
Coleman, who police said fired the bullet that killed the baby, was charged in state court with murder and several counts of attempted murder. Two other people who were with Coleman -- Dionte Houff, 30, and Houston Nathaniel III, 23 -- were charged with similar crimes in federal court. Both face the federal death penalty.
After hearing two days of testimony in the Coleman case, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman ruled Wednesday that a prosecutor had presented enough evidence to send Coleman before a jury on criminal charges that could send him to prison for life. Coleman is being charged as an adult.
Among the evidence was testimony that detailed the contents of a rap video Hiram Jr.'s father was filming and an admission from a gang member who said he drove Coleman, Houff and Nathaniel to the parking lot with a plan to avenge the disrespecting of the gang jacket. The jacket, which was stolen from an Acorn gang member, was stomped and spat on during the video.
The gang member who testified said he tried to stop Coleman, Houff and Nathaniel from shooting into the crowd because he thought there were too many people standing around.
The gang member, who a prosecutor asked not be identified, said he couldn't persuade the others not to shoot, and when he heard that a baby had been killed, decided to give evidence to police and prosecutors.
"I remember watching the news and praying for the baby," said the gang member, who was also charged in federal court. "I came clean because there was a baby involved."
In exchange for testifying, the gang member received a promise from federal prosecutors that they would not seek the death penalty against him, he said.
Another man who testified against Coleman was standing in the parking lot when the bullets starting flying. The man, who a prosecutor asked not to be named, admitted being a member of a gang that is based in the Campbell Village housing project. The gang member said the filming of the music video had ended, and everyone was standing around talking when shots began to ring out.
"I was wondering when it was going to stop, but it wouldn't stop," he said. "It just kept going; they just kept shooting and shooting."
The 26-year-old man said he first ran behind the taco truck and then remembered he had a gun and began to fire back. Eventually, he said, he ran from the scene and realized he had been shot in the stomach. He, too, said he decided to talk to police when he learned a baby had been killed.
"I felt bad about the whole situation," he said. "My girl was all in my ear talking to me to do the right thing, saying (expletive) like what if that was one of our kids."