OAKLAND -- Prosecutors on Monday dismissed a murder charge against a five-time convicted felon who was accused of beating his aunt to death in East Oakland last November, stating that tests showed that she died from a heart attack, not from his attack on her.
Christian Hall, 45, was charged with murder after he admitted to Oakland police that he slapped and pushed his aunt, 59-year-old Melinda Thomas, in the 1900 block of 26th Avenue at about 6 p.m. on Nov. 22.
However, Hall said, "He was just playing with her as he always did" and "did not intentionally mean to kill Thomas," according to a probable cause statement by Officer Jason Andersen.
Police said investigators believe the assault occurred after Hall and Thomas got into a verbal dispute.
Thomas was taken to a local hospital after the attack but was pronounced dead about 45 minutes later.
Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Joseph Goethals said today that extensive testing by pathologist Dr. Thomas Rogers recently determined that Thomas' cause of death was a heart attack that she suffered shortly after Hall attacked her but the assault itself didn't cause her death.
Goethals said Rogers carefully watched a surveillance video that police said showed Hall pushing Thomas, punching her in the face and dragging her against her will to look for signs that he inflicted trauma on her that caused her to have the heart attack.
But Goethals said that in Rogers' medical opinion the assault didn't cause her death.
At a brief hearing in Alameda County Superior Court today, Hall, who was dressed in blue jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor assault charge and the murder charge against him was dismissed.
Judge Paul Delucchi then sentenced Hall, who was released from custody recently after Thomas' autopsy was completed, to three years' probation.
According to prosecutors, Hall has five prior convictions: two for offering to sell a controlled substance and one each for possession for sale of cocaine base, making criminal threats and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
However, at the prosecution's request, Delucchi dismissed Hall's prior convictions for sentencing purposes.
Goethals said, "I think we got this case right because the result was in line with Dr. Rogers' opinion."
Hall's attorney, Kellin Cooper, said, "I think the case was resolved appropriately given the results of the autopsy."
Cooper said, "We're pleased that a proper investigation was done to get the appropriate result and that Mr. Hall was able to get out of custody and can resume his life."
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