After nearly two months, dozens of witnesses' testimony, jurors begin deliberations in gang, murder trial

Dec. 1—A nearly two-month murder trial during which attorneys played wiretapped phone calls of alleged West Side Crips gang members and questioned scores of witnesses drew to a close Wednesday as jurors began deliberations.

"This is a tough case to wade through," Deputy District Attorney John Allen said Tuesday during his closing argument, which lasted almost three hours. "There is a lot of evidence."

He implored jurors to use common sense to find Kenton McDaniel and Tymere Ross guilty of first-degree murder in the 2017 shooting death of Hardeep Singh, conspiracy, attempted robbery and burglary and participating in a street gang.

Defense attorneys for each defendant argued the police's assertion that Singh's death happened during a robbery gone wrong was incorrect because not enough evidence exists to connect their respective clients to the murder.

The day after Thanksgiving 2017, McDaniel, Ross, Tinamarie Hawthorne and a teenage boy drove to Singh's residence at the Cambridge Village Apartments in southwest Bakersfield because Singh requested prostitution services from Hawthrone, Allen said.

One person in the car confronted Singh when they arrived and he got shot in the face, Allen added. All four fled.

Hawthrone was charged with murder, conspiracy, participating in a street gang and accessory, but entered into a plea deal to testify against McDaniel and Ross. She pleaded no contest to an accessory charge and was sentenced Wednesday to time she's already served in jail and two years of probation in exchange for her honest testimony.

Every attorney acknowledged Hawthrone's testimony was skewed, but Allen referred to a phone charger found at the scene that shows McDaniel was 120 billion times more likely to have contributed the DNA profile left on the phone charger than another unrelated African American man, and an eyewitness saying the shooter was wearing a white T-shirt.

Snapchat videos show the teenage boy and Ross wearing black T-shirts the day of the murder, Allen added, which points to McDaniel being more likely of wearing the white T-shirt.

The defendants flashed gang signs in videos and pictures, while their friends also are connected to gang members or have been convicted as such, Allen said. That points to a pattern of behavior normal for gang members, who also commonly rob and murder people, he added.

It's also odd that three young men would accompany a prostitute on her "date" because it would be bad for business, the prosecutor said. Even more unusual was Hawthorne bringing her boyfriend, Ross, with her, Allen said. This all points to something more at play than a simple demand for a prostitute, he added.

Defense attorney Monica Bermudez, who represents Ross, said there is no evidence of planning a robbery prior to them arriving at Singh's apartment. The victim had valuables on this body such as jewelry and a wallet filled with cash when police arrived — that shows theft was never an intent, she noted.

During her interview with police, Hawthrone repeatedly denied they went to Singh to burglarize him, she added. It's not unusual that Ross would hang out with Hawthrone because this was during Thanksgiving break when friends gather, Bermudez said.

Photos of Ross flashing gang signs and proving his friends are in gangs make a broad assumption that he carries out crimes and murders, she noted.

"His life isn't just a gang," Bermudez said. "He was a kid, a teenager."

Defense attorney Elliott Magnus also sowed doubt about Hawthorne's evidence and McDaniel's DNA profile. Hawthorne could have been eligible for the death penalty, but got her other cases waived and was entered into the witness protection program by agreeing to testify, Magnus said.

Excluding Hawthorne's testimony, only cell phone pings and McDaniel's DNA profile on the phone charger place him at the scene. Magnus said it's unclear how and when the DNA got onto the charger — did McDaniel sneeze and those particles landed on it? The DNA profile didn't exclude a female as well, he added, which suggests it could belong to Hawthorne.

Magnus added the murder weapon didn't have McDaniel's DNA on it and only showed the teenage boy's DNA profile. It's more reasonable to assume the boy shot Singh, he said.

But prosecutor Allen said Hawthorne told police prior to any plea deals being struck that McDaniel left the car with a gun and he was the one who told her Singh had a knife on him.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @_ishanidesai on Twitter.