Defendant pleads not guilty in gay Oakland murder case

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 3, 2024
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The man accused of killing Oakland resident Curtis Marsh entered a not guilty plea to a homicide charge July 3 at Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland. Photo: John Ferrannini
The man accused of killing Oakland resident Curtis Marsh entered a not guilty plea to a homicide charge July 3 at Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland. Photo: John Ferrannini

A UC Berkeley employee charged in the killing of a gay Black man in Oakland last year pleaded not guilty to one count of homicide Wednesday. It followed a June preliminary hearing where an Alameda County judge ruled his case can proceed to trial.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, Superior Court Judge Rhonda Burgess ruled June 18 that the evidence in the case was compelling enough after two days of hearing from witnesses for the prosecution in Department 11 of the Rene C. Davidson Alameda County Courthouse near Oakland's Lake Merritt.

The defendant, Sweven Waterman, 39, of Oakland, had also pleaded not guilty last year after he was arrested and charged. The second arraignment was held following the decision in Waterman's preliminary hearing. He is still being held in custody at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. Waterman is on leave from his UC job.

At the July 3 hearing in Department 10, with Judge Kimberly Colwell presiding, Waterman also waived his right to a speedy trial within the next 60 days. He will be back in court August 23.

Waterman's attorney, David Briggs, told the B.A.R. after the hearing that the court date will be a "check in," meaning the parties will see how ready they are to move forward and set more dates.

Prosecutors accuse Waterman of killing Curtis Marsh, 53, also of Oakland. Marsh, who was also known as drag artist Touri Monroe, was a hair stylist and a Miss Gay Oakland emeritus who used to sing with the Oakland Gay Men's Chorus. Originally from Iowa, friends described him as fun, helpful, and active in his church.

Briggs has told the B.A.R. in past reports that Waterman did not know Marsh, as far as he knew. Neither side is contesting that Marsh was killed at his apartment on Vernon Street in the Adams Point neighborhood just before 8 a.m. March 4, 2023.

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Jake O'Malley conceded at the preliminary hearing June 17 that "we may never know what events transpired in that apartment." Nevertheless, he alleges that "for the purposes of today ... the defendant was in that apartment when Curtis was killed, and his DNA is on the weapon."

Three people testified at the hearing (spread over June 17 and 18), all called by the prosecution. The first to testify was Ariel Butler, one of the Oakland police officers who responded to Marsh's home the morning of March 4. The second was homicide detective Kyle Cardana, who said when he arrived he saw Marsh's body with stab wounds on the balcony of the apartment, as well as a "bent knife on the ground."

"At first glance ... there may have been some blood on the knife," he recalled.

Cardana said that as part of their investigation, police obtained a video showing a man arriving on a Lime scooter that morning after 5:17 a.m. The court viewed the video, and another taken after what is believed to be the time of the killing, showing a man leaving the apartment.

Police obtained a subpoena for financial records from Neutron Holdings Inc., which owns the scooters. It showed a scooter ride in Oakland that started at 5:10 a.m. March 4 and was updated after 5:17 as being paid for by Waterman, Cardana said. After being contacted by Oakland police, Waterman gave a swab of his saliva to the investigators.

The third to testify was Angela Freitas, a DNA evidence expert, who said Oakland police sent her office several samples, including four different swabs from the knife, as well as a swab of DNA from Waterman.

O'Malley asked what she'd discovered. There was DNA from four people on the knife, she said. One sample showed that it was 660 octillion times more likely DNA came from Waterman and three unknown individuals than if it was from four unknown individuals, she said.

"For reference, an octillion has 27 zeros," she added.

Other samples had similarly high probabilities of coming from Waterman, Freitas testified.

Briggs honed in on the fact that DNA from at least two other people, who were not Waterman or Marsh, was found on the knife, including one that Freitas determined to be from a male who could not be identified using the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, an FBI-run database of the DNA of convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons. Briggs also had Freitas concede it is possible water damage could compromise the reliability of the DNA evidence. (There had been a fire at the apartment the day of the killing responded to by the Oakland Fire Department.)

Briggs conceded last month that Burgess' ruling the case could move forward was a foregone conclusion "given the low standard of preliminary hearings" — though he also noted that "there are a lot of unanswered questions in this case."

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