The shooting stopped and a man lay dead in the street. It was time to get away from this robbery as fast as they could, and Zevante Goodman, who’d been standing and watching, looked back at the driver of the getaway vehicle.
The wheelman, prosecutors say, was Zevante Goodman’s mother.
His eyes met his mom’s, but all Fitima Goodman could do was drop her head on the steering wheel, her son said, in an instant’s recognition that everything was about to change – in her life, and that of her teenage son, who once had a chance to play college football.
“She knew she’d gotten me into something she shouldn’t have,” Zevante Goodman testified in Sacramento Superior Court.
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Prosecutors offered her son, now 19, a deal under which he would serve six years behind bars. Zevante’s bill came due this week when he sat on a witness stand for two days to tell a jury what he knew about the shooting death of Fernando Vichez, 50, at 1:42 a.m. on June 15, 2010, while the victim was walking home from the Casino Royale card room on Auburn Boulevard with $1,100 in his pocket. Zevante’s mother and three others are charged with murder in the case.
The robbers never found Vichez’s cash. If they’re convicted in the murder that resulted from the bungled heist, they face life sentences with no parole. The trial resumes next week in front of Judge Raoul M. Thorbourne.
Zevante Goodman was only 16 when he got caught up in the killing on Howe Avenue a few blocks south of Marconi. He’d just finished his freshman year at McLane High School in Fresno, where his father lived, and had bounced back to Sacramento to stay with his mother.
With blood on the street, she hustled him down the valley, where the next fall Zevante started at safety for the McLane varsity as a sophomore. He made 37 tackles, intercepted two passes and returned one for a 62-yard touchdown. He also caught 17 passes on offense.
“He had a lot of raw talent,” former McLane High football coach Jeff Woods said of the 6-foot-1, 176-pounder. “He was a great kid, actually. He lived right around the corner from me. I’d pick him up to go to school. I’d tell him to be ready at 7:30, and he was there.”
Woods said Goodman received recruiting interest from Northern Arizona and Lewis & Clark.
“We’re an inner-city school, with a lot of poverty, and all the kids coming from rough home environments,” Woods said. “He was one of those kids we felt as coaches could make it out of here. He had the desire to do the right thing. He was an honest kid. There was never anything malicious or mean about him.”
Barely three weeks after McLane’s 2010 season ended, Sacramento sheriff’s detectives on Nov. 22 arrested Goodman in Fresno. The DA’s Office charged him with first-degree, special-circumstance murder. It carries a term of life without parole. Fifteen months later, prosecutors interviewed him, and he pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery in exchange for the six-year sentence and his testimony at trial.
Goodman laid it out for the jury Wednesday and Thursday, with his 39-year-old mother gazing at him from the counsel table. Once again, Fitima Goodman dropped her head, this time while her lawyer, Jeffrey Fletcher, elicited testimony from her son about the shooting and the next day’s aftermath.
Zevante testified he never could get her to talk about it, so the two of them “just kind of moved on.”
The young witness absorbed harder looks from the man sitting two seats over from his mom. Jermaine Antonio Barnes has been identified by authorities as Vichez’s shooter. Also on trial are LaQuwon Warr, now 21, and Alexander Marquis Lewis, also 21.
At age 25, Barnes is considerably younger that Zevante’s mother, but the witness told the DA’s Office in his Feb. 28, 2012, interview that the two of them were living together when he returned to Sacramento after his freshman year in Fresno. Zevante said he mainly knew Barnes as a guy who hung around the house on Connie Drive and played PS3 and smoked weed all day. He said Barnes always had a gun, too.
The night of the killing, Zevante said, he was home on Connie Drive and became upset when he learned his girlfriend was pregnant with his child. Lewis, a friend, was over that night. So was Warr, a nephew of Barnes. A young woman named Chelsea Washington also was there. Goodman identified her as a girlfriend Barnes kept on the side, to his mother’s displeasure.
When he got off the phone with his own girlfriend, Zevante said he left to take a walk to process the pregnancy news. He said Washington, Lewis and Warr joined him.
“They were trying to jolly me up,” Goodman said under questioning from Lewis’ lawyer, Jon Lippsmeyer.
Zevante said the four of them walked to Auburn Boulevard when he decided to go home and change shoes. Back on Connie Drive, he said he saw his mother was asleep and Barnes was watching TV.
According to testimony at trial, while Zevante was gone, the other three panhandled Fernando Vichez, who had just left the Casino Royale on Auburn Boulevard. Vichez gave them $5, according to Washington, who also pleaded guilty to robbery. She said Vichez pulled the bill out of a thick wad of cash. She said they then called Jermaine Barnes to alert him to a possible robbery mark.
Walking back to meet up with his friends, Zevante said by the time he reached them on Marconi about four minutes later, his mother and Barnes drove up in her truck. She rubbed sleep out of her eyes and said they were going to the store, he said. The others joined them and they all piled into the vehicle. He said he put on his headphones, kept the volume cranked and closed his eyes.
Next thing he knew, his mother was driving southbound on Howe. He said they turned right on Whippoorwill Lane, made a U-turn and parked. Lewis and Warr hid behind trash cans and Barnes snuck behind a tree, waiting for Vichez. Zevante said he stood in front of the truck and watched while the three jumped Vichez, who fought back until Barnes shot him dead.
“I look back at my mom, and she looks – makes eye contact, but all she can do is put her head back in the steering wheel,” Zevante Goodman said in his interview with the DA. “I was trying to read her face, ’cause I know my mom, whether or not, to know, if she knows, like she did somethin’ wrong.”
Zevante said he knows the look in his mom’s eye, justas she knows the look in his. He said he knew that she knew what she had done.
“She had messed up,” Zevante testified. “She knew I’d seen it.”