A Stanislaus County jury has found a Ceres man and his accomplice guilty for their roles in the senseless shooting of a single father from Turlock.
Devenae Damarea Price, 26, of Ceres was found guilty of second-degree murder in the April 23, 2016 shooting death of Falane Jones, 37. On Aug. 25 the jury also found true the criminal enhancements that Price used a firearm in the commission of the crime and was a felon in possession of a firearm.
Price's co-defendant Kevin Jerome Barnes, Jr. of Modesto was found guilty by the same jury of being an accessory after the fact.
The two will return to court on Sept. 18 for a trial before Judge Silveira on the validity of both Price and Barnes prior convictions, which qualify them for increased punishment under California's "Three Strikes" law. Price could be facing a sentence of 60 years to life and Barnes could get six years. Barnes is facing attempted murder charges in another case for a shooting that occurred in Empire in 2016.
Jones was with his uncle at the Villas Parkside Apartments at 381 W. Hawkeye Avenue near Donnelly Park in Turlock on the night of April 23. Shortly before 10 p.m., as Jones and his uncle were getting out of their car, Price drove up alongside them in a black car. Jones was struck four times in the face, neck and chest. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died from his injuries. Evidence included two spent .40 caliber casings on the ground near the victim.
Jones was a father to a nine-year-old girl and worked at a Tracy warehouse. His last Facebook post, added just a few hours before his death, talked about how much he loved his mother and father. Jones was not known to be involved with gangs or drugs. It is believed the murder was committed because Price had mistaken Jones for someone else, said Deputy District Attorney Jeff Manger.
Turlock Police investigators, led by Detective Tim Redd, were able to obtain witness statements that provided them with a description of the vehicle and the suspects. A search of the area was conducted in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, but the suspects were not located until a few days later in Alameda County.
An Alameda County Sheriff's deputy was attempting to stop a vehicle for a traffic violation in San Leandro when the driver, later identified as Price, sped away. The driver drove down a dead-end street and onto the front yard of a residence. A perimeter was established in the San Leandro neighborhood and Price, along with Kelley Trezvant of Modesto and Deandranae Campbell of Livingston were taken into custody. The third passenger was not located at that time.
Detectives uncovered information that Price obtained the Lexus from a dealership in Oakland just hours before the murder.
It was after the arrests that information began to develop about the homicide, leading the sheriff's department to contact Turlock Police Department investigators.
Two spent shell casings - a brass one and a silver - were found in the cowl area of the Lexus, referring to the space between the hood and the windshield. The shell casings matched two other shell casings recovered at the Turlock scene, according to court records.
Trezvant and Campbell were initially charged with being accessories after the fact, but the charges were later dismissed.
Barnes was apprehended May 1, 2016 when he was stopped by a San Francisco police officer for an unrelated matter. Barnes initially provided that agency with a false name, but during the course of their investigation, they determined Barnes was a wanted person by Turlock police.
Barnes admitted that he had been dropped off at the apartment complex just prior to the shooting. He said he was entering the apartment of his girlfriend when he heard the shots and got down on the ground. A short time later he was in the apartment when Jones' uncle came in and said his nephew had just been shot. At one point, according to testimony, Barnes yelled out that he didn't do it that it was Nate.
There has been an ongoing debate as to whether he said Nate or Nae, which the prosecution pointed out is a shortened version of Devenae.
While Price was in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail authorities intercepted a letter in which he instructs his mother to tell his friends how to answer certain questions when investigators came around. Specifically, he states that he and Barnes will say the same story about "Nate" and that his friends should say they never met a man named Nate in person and only talked to him on the phone. Both Price and Barnes have pointed to Nate, a Crip weed dealer from Stockton, as the real killer. Mangar, who prosecuted the case, told the jury "Nate" is a made-up person that the two have tried to pin the crime on.
Further investigation revealed that cell phone records of Price and Barnes indicated they were together on West Hawkeye Avenue in Turlock at the time of the murder.
After a seven-week trial the jury took close to a week for their deliberations and made their verdict after hearing an unusual closing argument from the defense.
Out of the presence of the jury defense attorney Robert Winston, who was representing Price, told the court that Price wanted him to include in his closing argument that Price was the victim of a "grand conspiracy" by law enforcement to set him up for a crime he didn't commit.
Winston told Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira that he was highly against the idea of putting this notion to the jury at the last minute and described it as a "destructive argument."
"Frankly, I'll sound like an idiot doing it," Winston said.
Despite his attorney thinking it was not in his best interest, Price was adamant that the theory be included in the closing argument. As instructed by his client, Winston included the notion of a "grand conspiracy" against his client, by telling the jury that the shell casings were taken by Turlock Police Department investigators and given to the Alameda County Sheriff's Department to plant on Price's vehicle. He also said Price was the only one given a gunshot residue test, and not the two women arrested with him. Winston said this was because the Alameda County Sheriff's Department had already been told who investigators wanted to blame the fatal shooting on.
"They cooperated with the charade," Winston said. He then reminded the jury that it was not the defense's job "to prove this theory."
Price was convicted of second-degree murder with use of a firearm and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Barnes was convicted of being an accessory to murder. Price is a parolee who had just been released from prison 35 days before he killed Jones. He had been serving a seven-year prison sentence for armed robbery out of Contra Costa County.
At the time of the killing, Barnes was on felony probation for a 2015 residential burglary committed in Sacramento County. Barnes was also out on bail pending trial for a 2016 attempted murder case where it is alleged that he shot someone on Yosemite Boulevard in Modesto after an argument inside the downtown courthouse.