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Closing Arguments Set to Begin in Homicide Trial of Former Basketball Players

A question posed by a juror prompts the judge and attorneys to do their own deliberating

Defendants Ali Mohammed, left, and Lavell White sit in a Santa Maria courtroom Friday. The former Allan Hancock College basketball players are on trial for murder, robbery and burglary. Click to view larger
Defendants Ali Mohammed, left, and Lavell White sit in a Santa Maria courtroom Friday. The former Allan Hancock College basketball players are on trial for murder, robbery and burglary. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Maria Superior Court jurors are scheduled to begin hearing closing arguments on Tuesday afternoon in the trial of two former Allan Hancock College basketball players facing murder and other charges.

Judge James Voysey told the panel set to decide the fate of Ali Mohammed and Lavell White that legal matters delayed plans to start closing arguments Friday.

The two defendants have been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Terence Richardson, 23, of Santa Maria while he sat in the passenger seat of a vehicle driven by Ryan DePalma, who showed up to sell marijuana to the athletes.

Prosecutors alleged that the shooting occurred as Mohammed, 22, and White, 25, attempted to rob DePalma.

In addition to murder, the pair have been charged with two counts of robbery and four counts of burglary after they were accused of breaking into residences. They also face a number of the special allegations and a special circumstance in connection with the killing.

Mohammed reportedly wielded the gun fired once at Richardson, who had two bullet holes because of the way he was seated in the vehicle.

The charges and allegations against the defendants, along with multiple uncharged accomplices, made the preparation of jury instructions more complicated and lengthier to deliver Friday. The attorneys and the judge also discussed a question from a juror that prompted a debate about whether the man should be dismissed from the panel. The question, which Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Savrnoch called “quite shocking,” asked whether the murder charge could be dismissed if there was no evidence of death.

During the prosecution’s case, jurors saw pictures of the homicide victim from the autopsy as well as his bloody clothes along with testimony from Dr. Manuel Montez, forensic pathologist, about the cause and manner of death. A security guard at Marian Regional Medical Center also noted seeing DePalma’s car arrive with Richardson sprawled on the front passenger seat.

Judges repeatedly advise trial jurors not to form an opinion about a case until they begin deliberations after closing arguments.

Savrnoch said the juror at this point should have no opinion, and called it concerning that the man appeared to already have made up his mind. Defense attorney Michael Scott, who represents White, said it would be improper to quiz the juror or dismiss him.

“I don’t think we reached a point where that is required or necessary,” he said.

Mohammed’s defense attorney, Lori Pedego, agreed, calling it highly unusual to quiz a juror who asked a question.

“I just think we need to find out more if he’s made up his mind,” Savrnoch said.

However, Judge Voysey said the matter most likely would play out in deliberations as the 12 jurors begin discussions behind closed doors, and he declined to inquire into the juror’s thinking process at this point.

Jury selection began in February, followed by testimony starting in March. 

Since Voysey has other court cases to handle all day Monday and Tuesday morning, the trial is scheduled to resume at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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