Mother’s role complicates murder trial

The shooter – they’ve got him cold, the DA says. And he suggests the evidence is pretty strong on the two others who acted as strong-arms the night Fernando Vichez was shot dead, over a pocket full of cash his killers never found.

It’s the case against a mother who wheeled a truck full of teenagers, including her son, into the fatal late-night street stickup three years ago that is a little more complicated, Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Hightower told a jury Monday in his closing arguments.

Did Fitima Goodman know there was going to be a robbery? And did she intend to aid and abet her boyfriend, Jermaine Antonio Barnes, the accused gunman in the killing of Vichez, who was shot seven times in the back?

Hightower said the best insight into her state of mind was her silent response when her son, Zevante Goodman, asked her after the fact if she knew the robbery was going to happen. Hightower called such an “adoptive admission” crucial evidence for the jury to consider.

“The law says she admitted it,” Hightower said, offering the legal interpretation of Goodman’s silence in response to her son’s question.

Jeffrey Fletcher, the defense attorney who is representing Fitima Goodman, got only 25 minutes into his closing argument Monday before he ran out of time. He told the jury the DA had presented no evidence against his client during the trial. Fletcher is expected to address the issue of adoptive admission when the arguments resume Tuesday in front of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Raoul M. Thorbourne.

Fitima Goodman, now 39, was in a relationship with Barnes, 25, the June 15, 2010, night of the fatal robbery. Vichez, 50, an AmeriGas employee, was walking home at 1:42 in the morning when he was shot and killed on Howe Avenue a few blocks south of Marconi Avenue after he came out of the Casino Royale card room on Auburn Boulevard.

Vichez had $1,100 on him when he was slain, but Hightower said the robbers never got to the money because, amid the massive bloodshed that resulted from the shooting, they were reluctant to turn over his body and dig through his right front pocket where he had stuffed the cash. They did, however, steal his wallet and cellphone, the prosecutor said.

Along with Goodman and Barnes, defendants LaQuwon Warr, 21, and Alexander Marquis Lewis, 21, are facing special-circumstance allegations of murder during the course of a robbery. All are facing life terms in prison with no chance of parole if they are convicted.

Investigators said Warr and Lewis and a young woman named Chelsea Washington, 20, panhandled Vichez on a street near the casino, a few minutes before the shooting. Vichez gave gave them $5, but that the threesome saw his extensive roll of cash and contacted Barnes about the potential robbery victim, according to the prosecution. Barnes then got Fitima Goodman to drive, and they picked up her son and the three other youths to go looking for him.

Washington, a girlfriend that Jermaine Barnes kept on the side, and Zevante Goodman, 19, took deals to testify against the four defendants now on trial. Originally facing murder charges like the rest, Washington and Goodman pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery. They are facing six years each. Sentencing on both has been scheduled for Jan. 31.

In his closing argument, Hightower said that the day before the killing, Barnes sent text messages to Fitima Goodman saying “I’m on a killin spree 2day” and “I need doe (and) to kill to make me feel better.” A third text said “Im on a mission rite nw I’m mad and broke,” while a fourth, in reference to his nine-millimeter handgun, said “I got my 9 wit me.”

“He is leading the charge,” Hightower said, of Barnes.

Zevante Goodman, who testified he was never aware of the robbery, and Washington both identified Barnes as the person who shot and killed Vichez when the victim resisted the gunman’s demand for his cash. They also named Warr and Lewis as assisting Barnes in confronting Vichez as the victim walked south on Howe Avenue at Whippoorwill Lane.

Attorneys for Warr and Lewis are scheduled to deliver their closing arguments Tuesday.

Testifying in his own behalf, Barnes denied killing Vichez. His attorney, Frances Huey, argued Monday that Barnes asked Fitima Goodman to drive him and the others to find and confront Vichez because the victim had “disrespected” Chelsea Washington. “He went out to defend someone’s honor,” Huey said. “He thinks she needs help, and then a horrible thing happens.”

Hightower said that besides Fitima Goodman’s “adoptive admission,” her driving the night of the killing, in which she responded to directions from others in her vehicle in tracking down Vichez, was “consistent with following and stalking a victim.”

The prosecutor said Goodman drove past Vichez southbound on Howe, then made a turn on Whippoorwill and pulled around and parked while Vichez “wanders into the ambush that is being set.”

“Isn’t that a pretty good indication something is going to happen?” Hightower said.

Her son was a promising high school football player in Fresno with no criminal record at the time. Hightower said Fitima Goodman “dragged him into a robbery.”

Fletcher, the woman’s defense attorney, said his client acted under the duress of the “extremely charismatic” Barnes. “Nothing suggests that Ms. Goodman intended to assist in the robbery,” Fletcher argued. He said Goodman was “stunned” when she saw the robbery, and then the shooting, take place right in front of her and her son.

The lawyer blasted the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office for pursuing the case on Zevante Goodman, saying that prosecutors “manipulated” and “fooled” him into taking the second-degree robbery deal when it had no evidence on him.

“Why did Zevante get six years?” Fletcher asked the jury, his voice rising. “That question has never been answered.”

He said the son’s testimony is the main reason his mother is on trial.