A mistrial was declared Tuesday in the criminal trial of a man accused of leading Fresno police on a high-speed chase after his half-brother’s funeral in July this year.
Jurors told Superior Court Judge Kimberly Gaab that they were hopelessly deadlocked, 7-5, to find Marcus Anthony Becote not guilty of a felony charge of evading police with a wanton disregard for public safety.
Because the jury’s vote was not unanimous, Gaab declared a mistrial, giving the prosecution the opportunity to retry Becote.
The case had a bizarre set of facts because two people arrested with the 27-year-old Becote were his half-brothers, Willie and Denzel Ford. The Ford brothers were killed in a gunfight with a gang member about three months after the high-speed chase.
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On July 21, police said, Becote went to Cherished Memories Memorial Chapel on Tulare Avenue near First Street to pay his respects to his 17-year-old half-brother, Benzo Ford, who was shot to death in southwest Fresno.
Prosecutor Andrew Janz told jurors that police had the funeral under surveillance because one of the mourners, Willie Ford, was a wanted fugitive and a suspect in multiple shootings.
Janz said an undercover detective with binoculars saw Becote drive up to the chapel in a burgundy Chevrolet Tahoe. After the service ended, the detective saw Becote get behind the wheel of the Tahoe and saw Willie Ford, 19, get in the back seat. Denzel Ford, 18, and Anthony Littlejohn, 19, also got into the Tahoe.
The detective then saw the Tahoe leave.
The chase began when uniformed officers in marked patrol cars tried to pull over the Tahoe to arrest Willie Ford.
The eight-minute police pursuit, captured by a police video camera, ended at the funeral home with Willie Ford behind the wheel and Becote in the back seat with Denzel Ford and Littlejohn.
Janz contends that during the police pursuit, Becote jumped into the back of the Tahoe and let Willie Ford drive. The switch happened when the Tahoe slowed and drifted to the right when no one had control of the steering wheel, he told the jury.
But defense attorney Pauline Seiler pointed out that Becote is about 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds and that switching seats in a moving car during a police pursuit would have been nearly impossible. “It may happen in the movies, but not in real life,” she said.
Seiler also said police could not see who was driving because the Tahoe has dark, tinted windows. She also said the police officer who testified that he believed Becote jumped into the back seat to let Willie Ford drive never expressed his belief on the videotape during the chase or in his police report.
“Willie Ford was a wanted felon and had a motive to drive away,” Seiler argued.
Jurors weren’t told about the deaths of Willie and Denzel Ford; both were killed in a gunfight with a gang member outside a northwest Fresno apartment on Oct. 1. Police have arrested 19-year-old Domenek Leonard Greenberry on two counts of murder; he is awaiting trial.
Jurors also weren’t told that Becote has a prior felony conviction of possession of a machine gun. Police had the Tahoe under surveillance because officers believed they would find an assault rifle inside the vehicle. But none was found, Seiler told the jury.