A suspected gang member and parolee with a criminal history that includes arrests for grand theft and being a felon in possession of a gun was charged Thursday with murder in the drive-by shooting that killed 3-year-old Carlos Fernando Nava.
Lawrence C. Denard, 26, who could face life in prison, was charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder. Police say he shot at two rival gang members near 65th Avenue and International Boulevard on Monday afternoon but instead hit and killed Carlos, who was in a stroller with his family on the street.
The Alameda County District Attorney's Office wasted no time in filing charges against Denard, who also was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun and several enhancements for causing great bodily injury and using a gun. Denard's prior conviction for felony grand theft occurred in Alameda County on April 1, 2004, and another conviction for being a felon in possession of a gun occurred on Sept. 30, 2004.
Oakland police had made solving the boy's killing a top priority. The slaying caused outrage throughout the city and highlighted, once again, the violence overwhelming some neighborhoods in Oakland.
Police Chief Anthony Batts focused on that outrage during a news conference Thursday afternoon, calling on Oakland residents to stop the violence plaguing the community.
"Maybe the loss of Carlos and his innocence will wake this city up," Batts said. "This needs to be a catalyst for the city to change."
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said, "Any life lost to violence is a tragedy, but when it is a child, all of your grief and outrage is intensified."
Police uncovered "key evidence" in the case soon after the killing, based on witnesses and knowledge of a long-standing feud between gangs representing two different public housing projects in the neighborhood. The intended targets of the Monday shooting -- two men ages 37 and 27 -- were members of one of the gangs, and police interviewed several other members during their investigation.
Batts said Thursday that police still believe the case was a result of the feuding gangs, but added that, as police have flooded the streets since the killing, shootings have stopped.
"It shows you, if you have the resources, this can be a safe community," Batts said.
Police got a break in the case from witnesses and from one of the men who might have been Denard's target. That man identified the driver of a vehicle used in the shooting, and another witness identified Denard as the shooter, according to a probable cause arrest statement written by a police detective.
Using that information, court documents state, members of the Police Department's Gangs/Guns Intelligence Task Force determined that Denard was living in Pittsburg. On Tuesday, they raided Denard's home, finding both the suspect and "several pieces of evidence."
Lt. Brian Medeiros, head of the Police Department's homicide unit, said at the news conference that police had recovered two handguns but refused to say where those guns were found or whether they have undergone ballistics tests to see if they were used in the killing. Medeiros said investigators worked 72 hours straight trying to solve the crime and credited lead detectives Sgt. George Phillips and Sean Fleming for their tireless work.
After his arrest, Denard was interviewed by detectives but denied any involvement in the crime. Outside court at Denard's arraignment, a woman who identified herself as Denard's cousin said the 26-year-old is innocent. "They know they got the wrong person," she said. "(Denard) probably would have got out and jumped in front of the bullet for the young boy."
But Batts and O'Malley said they were confident Denard was the shooter. Both said police will continue to look for another suspect whom investigators believe drove the car Denard is accused of shooting from.
"This really rocked the community as well as all of us in law enforcement," O'Malley said. "It was a brazen and callous shooting. The defendant wantonly shot and killed this toddler in front of his family."