OAKLAND -- Two alleged East Oakland gangsters must stand trial for murder in the 2011 drive-by shooting death of a 3-year-old boy on International Boulevard, a judge ruled Thursday.

After hearing almost three days' worth of evidence, including identifications from two men who were also shot, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon ruled a prosecutor had reached the low threshold of proof needed to bring Lawrence Denard, 28, and Willie Torrence, 24, before a jury on a charges of murder, attempted murder, shooting from a vehicle and a number of weapon and gang enhancements.

Reardon's ruling came despite arguments from Denard's attorney, Annie Beles, who asked the judge to release her client because the witness identification of him as the shooter in the case was questionable.

Denard is accused of being the shooter in the Aug. 8, 2011, killing. Torrence is accused of driving a gray Dodge Neon that numerous witnesses identified as the car used in the shooting on the busy 6400 block of International Boulevard.

Prosecutors allege that Denard and Torrence were targeting two men who lived on the opposite end of a housing project that stretches from 69th to 65th Avenue and is commonly referred to as the Village. Two sections of the housing project have had a feud since at least 1995, Oakland police Lt. Tony Jones said during the trial.

While the alleged targets of the pair's gunfire were wounded, a bullet fired from a gun Denard is accused of using hit 3-year-old Carlos Nava in the neck as he was being pushed by his mother in a small red plastic kids play car.


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Nava died at the scene of the shooting as he choked on his own blood, a witness said. His official cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head.

Oakland police focused on Denard and Torrance after speaking to the two men who were hit and a third man who asked to speak to police after he was arrested in another, unconnected case. The investigation eventually led to Desiree Taylor, Torrance's ex-girlfriend and mother of his now 3-year-old daughter, who told police she allowed Torrance to use her car on the day of the shooting.

In addition, the two men who were the targets of the shooting also made identifications, one of which Beles questioned.

Robert Hudson's identification of Denard as the shooter was at best questionable, Beles argued, because Hudson said he only made it after he saw news reports pointing blame at Denard.

Deputy district attorney Ben Beltramo, however, pointed out that Hudson had identified Denard in a photo lineup before Hudson left the hospital and before he ever had a chance to watch the news or talk with neighbors. Beltramo also pointed out that Hudson did not want to testify and feared for his life if he "snitched" on a gang member.

Meanwhile, the identification of Torrence by Jerome Williams was more concrete as Williams, who was also hit by gunfire, testified that he was certain Torrence drove the car. Williams said he decided to testify because he was angry at being shot at.

Reardon said the burden of proof in a preliminary hearing is relatively low and ruled that Hudson's identification met the threshold necessary to send Denard and Torrence to trial before a jury.

Reardon also said there was enough evidence to have both Denard and Torrence face allegations that the murder of Nava and attempted murders of Hudson and Williams were done to further the activities of the 69th Village gang. Police identified both defendants as members.

Beles argued otherwise, saying this was the first time police and prosecutors had alleged membership of that gang even though police said it had existed as far back as 1995.

The case against Denard and Torrence will continue next month with routine pretrial hearings. A date for a jury trial has not yet been set.