In the darkness of a predawn October morning in North Highlands, a cab driver drove out to an apartment building to pick up a fare that came with a gun.
It was supposed to be James Walker's last pickup of the night. "As it turned out," Deputy District Attorney Kevin Greene told told three Sacramento Superior Court juries Tuesday, "that was the last one of his life."
Prosecutors say Jermaine John Campbell, 21, Jonathan Steven Hudson, 20, and Antoine Lee Taylor, 22, met Walker at the Hillsdale Village Apartments in North Highlands. They say the three planned a 3:13 a.m. robbery on Oct. 18, 2010, that turned fatal when one of them pulled a .32-caliber pistol and shot Walker, 54, twice, in a scramble for whatever they could get from the Yellow Cab Co. driver.
When the robbery was done, "They're hungry," Greene said in his opening statement about the three defendants. "So after they leave, they go to a 7-Eleven. They buy snacks like nothing ever happened."
Authorities arrested Campbell the next day in North Sacramento. They said they retrieved a pistol Campbell tossed just before he took off on foot in a failed effort to get away. Ballistics tests matched the gun to the bullets that killed Walker, Greene said.
During an interrogation conducted by sheriff's detectives, Campbell admitted to taking part in the robbery. But Campbell's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender David Lynch, told jurors they'll need some corroboration before they can convict his client.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Lynch said, "all they have is my client's confession." If anybody in Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan's courtroom thought they heard wrong, Lynch assured them they did not. "Yes," he said, "that is what I'm saying."
The "confession," Lynch said, was only a "story" Campbell told detectives hoping "it would get him out of the trouble he was into."
Lynch told his jury his client "is not very smart," that he carries an IQ of only 75 "low dull," the lawyer said, in the jargon of psychologists.
The attorney said he plans to call an expert on false confessions, University of Nevada psychology professor Deborah Davis. She will testify that even ordinary adults of average intelligence can resort to false confessions when they're under pressure from police.
"What you think is common sense what you would assume, namely, that somebody would not admit to a crime, a robbery, unless in fact they had committed that crime she will tell you that assumption, that common sense, just doesn't apply," Lynch said.
In his opening, Greene never identified the gunman in the shooting in the 5100 block of Hillsdale Avenue. The prosecutor said "they grabbed what they could" in the robbery and "they shot" Walker and ran away.
A witness who testified Tuesday said three men whom authorities identified as the defendants showed up at her apartment shortly before the murder. She said one of them flashed the gun and showed off a bulletproof vest and that she heard them call for a cab.
William White, the lawyer representing Hudson, said his client had no idea there was going to be a robbery that night. Hudson, White said, grew up "a fat kid" nicknamed "Pork Chop" by his mother, and became "a guy who wants to belong."
Shortly before the robbery, Hudson met up with Campbell, who, according to White, was more streetwise. Hudson "kind of looks up to him," White said.
When Walker drove up, Hudson went down from the apartment building to meet the cabbie, White said. Hudson took the front seat and talked with Walker about church and other things, according to White. Then, White said, the other two came along and the next thing Hudson knew the robbery was on.
Hudson told detectives somebody pulled him out of the front seat, then, "I heard some shots and I ran," according to White.
Taylor's lawyer, Michael Bowman, said, "You will hear no evidence that Mr. Taylor possessed a gun. You'll hear no evidence that Mr. Taylor ever called for a taxicab. You'll hear no evidence that he participated in any way, shape or form in any plan to rob anybody. You'll hear no evidence, that he took anything or he received anything in the course of any robbery, because there is no evidence."
Before the defense lawyers told their juries what they thought the evidence would show, Greene said, "You're going to hear a lot of lies in this case. You're going to hear a lot of excuses. When it's all said and done, there will be one thing and one thing only, and that will be first-degree murder."