A former defendant in the south Sacramento barbershop shootout that claimed the life of Monique Nelson as she shielded her 2-year-old son from a wild exchange of bullets nearly four years ago took the witness stand Monday in Sacramento Superior Court.
Dominique Marcell Lott, 31, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last year and was sentenced to 21 years in prison. The punishment was a major improvement over the 57 years-to-life term Lott would have faced if he had been convicted of first-degree murder in the Dec. 14, 2010 conflagration that claimed the life of Nelson, 30, after she had Christmas photos taken with her toddler son, Jayden Butler-Nelson.
Lott was one of at least six men who had brought guns to Fly Cuts & Styles on Stockton Boulevard that day. Another was his friend, Marvion Barksdale, 20, who also was killed in the gunfight but was not named as a victim because the District Attorney’s Office considered him to be the person who instigated the shooting.
In delivering his testimony, Lott told a story that did not completely fit with the prosecution’s theory of the case. His account also swung decidedly against two of the accused, casting them as aggressors, at a trial in which all of the remaining defendants have claimed self-defense and have paired off against one another, pointing the finger.
On the witness stand before Judge Kevin J. McCormick, Lott said he was just waking up the day of the killing when he got a call at home from Barksdale, asking if he wanted to smoke some weed. Barksdale and his older cousin, Charles Barksdale, 33, another former defendant who took a manslaughter plea, came by to pick him up.
They were accompanied by a woman in the car, Lott testified. On their way to get cigar products to fashion themselves some marijuana “blunts,” Lott testified that Marvion Barksdale “told me we got to make a stop” first.
It happened to be at the barbershop. At the time, Marvion Barksdale was in a feud with a couple brothers named Mitchell – Louis, 22, and Lonnie, 27. Lott said he and Marvion Barksdale parked on the opposite side of Stockton Boulevard from Fly Cuts. The pair walked across the busy avenue and up a sidewalk at the strip mall, before coming up to the barbershop from the side, he said. Both carried 9 mm pistols, Lott testified, which he said was “part of life.”
“I always got a gun on me,” he said.
Just as they approached the Fly Cuts door, somebody else with a gun “jumped out on us and started shooting,” Lott testified. The man authorities identified as Louis Mitchell still was wearing his black barber’s smock. Lott said he fired back.
“I stopped and turned around and just started shooting,” Lott testified.
He said he emptied his pistol and ran back toward the car parked across the street. On the way, a bullet struck him in the right hip. When he reached the car, he said they found that Marvion Barksdale was more seriously injured. They rushed him to Kaiser Permanente, south Sacramento. Surveillance pictures showed Lott carrying his friend into the hospital, where Marvion Barksdale died.
Lott’s testimony veered from the prosecution’s narrative when he said he did not see Marvion with a gun in the seconds before the shooting. Investigators later found a 9 mm pistol they said belonged to the slain Barksdale in the parking lot almost directly in front of the barbershop. The gun was cocked and apparently had jammed, authorities said.
The witness also said he had innocent intentions in going to the barbershop. “I got out of the car to get my hair lined up,” Lott testified, about the trim to his mustache and beard he said he planned on getting. He said he had no idea they’d be confronting the Mitchells.
Deputy District Attorney Valerie Brown said the shootout was prompted by a simmering dispute between Marvion Barksdale and Louis Mitchell that began when Mitchell allegedly robbed a friend of Barksdale’s of his “gold grill” teeth decoration.
In her opening statement, Brown said Lott and the Barksdales showed up at the barbershop after a relay of phone calls from two other defendants still on trial.
One of them, Larry Dean Jones Jr., 32, was inside the barbershop carrying a .40-caliber pistol. The prosecutor said Jones got nervous when the Mitchells showed up for their haircuts with an AK-47 assault rifle and a Tec-9 semiautomatic handgun, as well as a .45-caliber pistol.
Jones put in a call from the barbershop to James Leo Carney III, 35, who called Marvion Barksdale, according to Brown, and then showed up with a .38-caliber pistol close to the barbershop at a liquor store on Stockton Boulevard and Lindale Drive.
When the shooting started, Carney also opened fire, and it was a bullet from his gun that killed Monique Nelson. Jones fired on the Mitchells from inside the barbershop while they shot back. Four other people were injured in the shooting.
Lott testified that he’d never even met Jones or Carney. He denied he was a gang member. He did claim membership in an Oakland neighborhood called “The Village,” an affiliation that he said is different from being in a street gang.
Defense attorneys Linda Parisi, representing Louis Mitchell, and Assistant Public Defender Amy Rogers, who represents Lonnie Mitchell, went hard after Lott.
They got him to admit he lied repeatedly to sheriff’s investigators at the outset of the investigation. They suggested in their questioning that the plan from the time the Barksdales picked him up was to launch an attack on the Mitchells at the barbershop.
They also strongly took issue with Lott’s testimony that Marvion Barksdale was still a few feet from the barbershop door when Louis Mitchell ran out outside and began firing. They have contended that Marvion Barksdale was in the doorway and on the offensive when the shooting broke out.