A mother was walking back from her neighborhood market on International Boulevard with her two young sons, pushing the youngest in his stroller. Out of nowhere, gunshots. Carlos Nava, 3, was struck in the neck. He died on the sidewalk.

Someone is killed -- most often in a street shooting -- on average every three days in Oakland. Yet the Aug. 8, 2011, killing of a toddler in broad daylight stands out as one of the most horrific chapters in the city's long-running street shooting epidemic.

Nearly two years later, the two suspected gang members who have been charged with Carlos' murder are going to trial. On Thursday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon ruled that the prosecutors had met the low legal threshold to send to a jury the cases of Lawrence Denard, 28, and Willie Torrance, 24, both of whom have pleaded not guilty. According to authorities, the two were trying to kill rivals who were standing near 64th and International Boulevard. The Navas just happened to pass by when the suspects allegedly opened fire from a passing car.

I sat in on part of the preliminary hearing for Denard and Torrance, who have both pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder, among other felonies.


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Sitting in court during a homicide proceeding is always a surreal experience. Defendants accused of committing vicious acts smile and chat with their lawyers as though sitting shackled to a chair by the waist were the most normal thing in the world.

I listened to the testimony of the two men whom authorities say were the intended targets. Robert Hudson, 39, and Jerome Williams, 28, were shot but survived. According to police and the district attorney, Hudson had identified Denard as the man who shot him.

But in court, the defiant longtime career crack dealer who was arrested and forced to take the stand said that was a lie.

"They're trying to make me say that dude in the red shot me," Hudson said, referring to the defendant who was wearing an Alameda County jail prison jumpsuit.

So what about a police officer's assertion that he had picked Denard out of a photo lineup while he was in the hospital? The recording played in court the day before in which Hudson appeared to name "Laylow," Denard's nickname, as the shooter?

"Well, the news was saying it, everyone else was saying who did it, so (expletive) that's who did it," Hudson said.

I suspect Hudson did name Denard, based on some of the whoppers he told in court such as 1) "a gang is a group of people that gets together" and 2) the two groups prosecutors allege are behind no small amount of violence in East Oakland are not gangs. Yet you need look no further than the courtroom spectators to understand why he would now be singing a different tune.

Most people were there in support of the defendants. A number of them kept getting out of their seats and walking out -- only to re-enter a few minutes later.

They weren't doing anything illegal. But the disruptive behavior sure smacked of a not-so-subtle attempt to intimidate the witnesses that the prosecution said had identified the two as the shooter and driver of the car. They wanted to make sure the witnesses saw them.

I thought the judge would clear the courtroom, but he didn't.

It got so ridiculous that at the end of that day's proceedings, Reardon announced that the following day no one would be allowed to enter or leave once the proceedings got underway.

Williams testified that he had seen Torrance behind the wheel of the car.

He showed a four-inch scar running down the back of his head where he said he was grazed by a bullet in the shooting. Another went through his shoulder and lodged in his back where, he said, it remained for a year.

Williams said he gave the bullet to the police because, "I was pissed off, I was shot for nothing."

Was he angry that a child got shot as well?

"Yes, a little bit," he said.

How's that for remorse?

Williams said he was scared to testify because "there is paperwork on the street" detailing his role in the case that he saw on Instagram. He also said someone had called him a snitch.

I couldn't help but wonder how long he will keep talking.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/Tammerlin