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Judge OKs New Charge in Murder Case Against Ex-Hancock College Athletes

Inclusion of special circumstance makes defendants eligible for life in prison without parole if convicted

Attorney Michael Scott, right, sits next to his client, Lavell White, in a Santa Maria courtroom on Monday. White and co-defendant Ali Mohammed are charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Terence Richardson. A judge on Monday allowed the addition of a special circumstance in the case, which could make the pair eligible for life in prison without possiblity of parole if convicted. Click to view larger
Attorney Michael Scott, right, sits next to his client, Lavell White, in a Santa Maria courtroom on Monday. White and co-defendant Ali Mohammed are charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Terence Richardson. A judge on Monday allowed the addition of a special circumstance in the case, which could make the pair eligible for life in prison without possiblity of parole if convicted. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge on Monday agreed to add a special circumstance to the murder charges faced by two former Allan Hancock College basketball players following a fatal shooting.

Judge James Voysey ruled in favor of Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Savrnoch’s motion seeking to include a special circumstance that the killing of Terence Richardson, 23, was committed during an attempted robbery in December 2014.

Defendants Ali Abdul Mohammed and Lavell Calvin White already face murder and burglary charges stemming from the shooting near Bradley Road and Jones Street.

The new charge comes months after a preliminary hearing and near the planned start of the trial.

In the months since the preliminary hearing, Savrnoch has taken over the case after the previous prosecutor was appointed San Luis Obispo County Superior Court commissioner.

Savrnoch argued that evidence presented during the preliminary hearing supported the special circumstance. 

Voysey agreed.

“The only thing a court cannot do is charge something that is not proved at preliminary hearing,” Voysey said. “In the court’s evaluation of the transcript, which I’ve read very carefully, there’s no doubt this was a drug rip-off, set up in advance by both the defendants.” Voysey said. “Mr. Mohammed put a gun to the victim’s head, and said, ‘Give me all you got.’

“And it turned south. There was resistance. There was a shooting. Somebody died,” the judge added, saying including the special circumstance is not a violation of the defendants’ due process or constitutional rights.

Defense attorneys — Michael Scott for White and Lori Pedego for Mohammed — argued against allowing the eleventh-hour addition of a special circumstance.

During the preliminary hearing, the defense attorneys did not have a chance to ask questions relevant to the special circumstance, Scott added.

“By granting this amendment, adding this charge that did not exist before, my client was denied his right to have a preliminary hearing on that,” Scott added. 

Scott, a longtime defense attorney, said this is the only time he can recall prosecutors seeking to add a special circumstance after the preliminary hearing.

Including a special circumstance means the defendants, if found guilty, will face a possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Scott said he intends to appeal the judge’s ruling allowing the special circumstance to be added. 

Additionally, defense attorneys are expected to file a motion seeking dismissal of the special circumstance. 

Near the end of the hearing Monday, both defendants denied the special circumstance, which will be included in their previous not-guilty pleas.

The defendants, who remain in custody of the Santa Barbara County Jail, were told to return to court Sept. 19.

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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