Your Black Muslim Bakery member’s convictions overturned

Your Black Muslim Bakery member’s convictions overturned

By Bob Egelko | The San Francisco Chronicle

A state appeals court has overturned the convictions and life sentence of a member of the Your Black Muslim Bakery gang for kidnapping and torturing an Oakland woman in 2007, saying the jury may have been swayed by improper evidence about crimes by other bakery members, including the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey.

The prosecution’s case against Richard Lewiswas thin, based mostly on testimony by other bakery members in exchange for lighter sentences, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said Friday. The court said Lewis’ lawyer failed to object to “inflammatory” prosecution evidence about the Bailey murder and other crimes that were irrelevant to the case.

Prosecutor’s rhetoric

The prosecutor referred to the bakery’s headquarters as a “terrorist stronghold,” described Lewis and Bailey’s killer as “gangsters from San Francisco” and told the jury that after “you get guys like Lewis on the scene … Chauncey Bailey gets killed” along with two other men, Justice Peter Siggins said in the 3-0 ruling.

Noting that the Alameda County jury deliberated for two days before convicting Lewis in April 2010, Siggins said it was “not an open-and-shut case,” and it was “reasonably probable” the verdict would have been different if the evidence had been challenged.

The ruling, if it stands, entitles Lewis to a new trial. It does not affect the convictions of others, including the bakery’s leader, Yusuf Bey IV, who was sentenced to life without parole in 2011 for ordering the 2007 murders of Bailey and two other men. Bailey had written critically about Your Black Muslim Bakery, which portrayed itself as an Islamist self-help organization for African Americans but was implicated in many crimes.

Lewis was sentenced to life without parole for crimes against a mother and daughter in May 2007. Police said they were kidnapped by masked men in East Oakland and taken to an abandoned home, where the younger woman, a drug dealer, was clubbed in the head and threatened to be burned in her genitals unless she revealed where another dealer was keeping his money.

Joshua Bey and Yusuf Bey V, both half brothers of Yusuf Bey IV, testified for the prosecution and identified Lewis as one of the assailants. They later received prison sentences of 10 and three years, respectively. Yusuf Bey IV was also charged with the kidnapping, but prosecutors dismissed the charge after his murder sentence.

Lewis, who had joined the bakery two weeks before the kidnapping, was the sole defense witness and denied guilt.

Room for doubt

The appeals court said there was enough potentially incriminating evidence to send the case to the jury, including a tape-recorded phone conversation from jail in which Lewis said prosecutors “may have more” evidence against him than an inconclusive DNA test, and a rifle and mask found in his room at the bakery that supported one of the witness’ statements.

But Siggins said Lewis was convicted “mainly on the basis of thinly corroborated testimony of accomplices who received substantial benefits in exchange for their testimony,” and there was “room for reasonable doubt” that he was one of the kidnappers.

The ruling can be viewed here:

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:



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