OAKLAND -- An 18-year-old Oakland man was sentenced Thursday to 25 years to life in prison for being one of three gunman who fired into a crowd of people and killed a toddler in West Oakland in 2011.
Authorities say Frederick Coleman Jr. was a 16-year-old junior gang member when on Nov. 28, 2011 he and veteran gang member Dionte Houff, 33, and Houston Nathaniel III, 24, opened fire on a large group of adults and children as part of a decades-old feud between rival gangs out of two Oakland housing projects.
Hiram Lawrence Jr., 23 months old, died from a gunshot wound to the head that he suffered while he was in his father's arms, huddled behind a taco truck. His father and five other people were wounded in the shooting and subsequent gunbattle.
Coleman was charged as an adult in state court and pleaded guilty in January to first-degree murder. Houff and Nathaniel are pending trial in federal court for Hiram's death, racketeering and numerous other felony charges.
The people fired upon were gathered for the filming of a rap video that disrespected the housing project claimed by the defendants' gang, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing last year.
Defense attorney Richard Foxall said it is unclear who fired the fatal shot. He characterized his client as a child who participated in the shooting under duress by elder gang members but wanted to take responsibility for his actions to spare Hiram's family the pain of a trial.
Coleman personally apologized to Hiram's family in court Thursday.
Annette Jointer, the slain baby's great-aunt, took offense when Foxall suggested in court that the child's family might be feeling vengeful over the attack. She said she submitted to the court a victim impact statement expressing her family's pain over Hiram's death, but she was forbidden from reading at the sentencing by Judge Paul Delucchi.
"I don't feel vengeance. I feel sorry for the defendant and his family," Jointer said. "A child was murdered, and I don't think we should make excuses."
Jointer said Hiram's parents are still really hurting over the boy's death and didn't want to come to court Thursday since they knew their presence would have no impact on Coleman's sentence.
"They can't move with their lives because when everything happens it opens up old wounds," she said.
Jointer said that federal prosecutors have yet to tell her family whether they are going to seek the death penalty against Houff and Nathaniel. The U.S. Attorney's Office did not respond for a request for comment Thursday.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.