MARTINEZ -- A Berkeley man was convicted Monday of first-degree murder in the 2009 slaying of a 17-year-old San Ramon Valley High School senior outside his Danville home during a marijuana robbery.

The conviction of Walter Bell, 22, includes murder enhancements for using a gun and committing the killing in the act of a robbery that carry a state-mandated sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Contra Costa deputy district attorney Jill Henderson said.

Rylan Fuchs was shot to death on Jan. 20, 2009 on El Capitan Drive, which sent shock waves through a community where violent crime is rare.

"I'm just overwhelmed," said Fuchs' mother, Karen Williams-Harmon, outside the Contra Costa Superior Court room after the jury's verdict. "I'm so glad that there's a little bit of closure to this."

Holding a black-and-white picture of her grinning son wearing a backward baseball cap, Williams-Harmon said it has been tough to deal with over three years of trips to court hearings and what seemed like delays in the case.

"There's been a lot of patience and understanding that Rylan's time would come," she said.

Henderson added: "I'm happy for the family, but it does little to make up for their loss."

The jury took just 40 minutes Monday to arrive at a guilty verdict.


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Jury foreman Steve Headen said he and his 11 peers were "all on the same page" as soon as they started deliberating.

"It was pretty much cut and (dried). After hearing all the testimony and evidence, there was nothing that left a question," he said.

Bell testified that he was smoking marijuana near Fuchs' house the night of the killing and heard the gunshot but that he had no part in the shooting or robbery. He said he suspects Fuchs was shot by Aaron Marks, Fuchs' former schoolmate and Bell's friend, who was killed in Oakland last year.

Fuchs was a small-time marijuana dealer who was set up to be robbed that night by Marks and Bell, Henderson said. Fuchs climbed out of his bedroom window to sell 4 ounces of the drug to Marks, not knowing that Marks had a crew of other young men lurking in the darkness.

"The sad part of all this is that (Bell) has a mother and father, too, who are going to be losing a son, and it was all about a little bit of weed. Life should have more value than that," said Ronald Harmon, Fuchs' stepfather.

Henderson said during the trial that once Bell emerged with a gun, Fuchs tried to retreat before Bell shot him in the neck. Bell later confessed as much to his girlfriend and a male friend, according to the prosecutor.

Deputy public defender Kirk Athanasiou argued that the prosecution's case relied on inaccurate statements that Bell's friend and girlfriend made while under pressure by police.

There were many inconsistencies in Bell's testimony, Headen, the jury foreman, said.

"It was one lie after another," he said.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 21 in Martinez.

Staff writer Malaika Fraley contributed to this story. Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.