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Twins to Be Freed in Slaying of Berkeley Officer

June 19, 2004|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Alameda County prosecutors opted not to file charges Friday against 53-year-old twins arrested earlier in the week in connection with the 1970 slaying of a Berkeley police officer.

Joyce Gaskin and Joy Hall, 53-year-old Oakland residents, were scheduled to be arraigned as accessories to the crime. But the district attorney did not file charges, citing insufficient evidence. Instead, the women -- a day-care center operator and a teacher -- were to be released from the jail that bears the name of slain Officer Ronald Tsukamoto. They had been held since Tuesday on $250,000 bail.

Berkeley Police Lt. Russell Lopes, who revived the 34-year-old murder investigation two years ago, had expressed confidence that sufficient evidence existed to prove that Gaskin and Hall were after-the-fact accessories "then and now" to the unprovoked slaying of Tsukamoto.

A source close to the case said the women were girlfriends of the men believed to have committed the killing.

But Gaskin's attorney, Michael Thorman, said the three-year statute of limitations on the crime of accessory had expired long ago. Proving that the women continued to act as accessories to the crime by withholding information -- as Lopes has alleged -- would be difficult because authorities must show that the information was withheld "with the intent to conceal the crime instead of just trying to keep your own name out of the case," Thorman said.

Furthermore, police have yet to charge any of the people whom Gaskin and Hall allegedly assisted -- another factor that would complicate prosecution, he said.

The decision not to file charges comes on the heels of a similar incident late last month. Berkeley police arrested Don Juan Graphenreed, 54, who was allegedly a participant and accomplice in the murder. But citing insufficient evidence, they returned him to a Fresno jail where he faces charges in an unrelated case.

Authorities say they believe Graphenreed drove the getaway car and that two other men participated -- as the gunman and the lookout. All are believed to have been associates or members of the militant Black Panther Party, but Lopes has said that police do not believe the murder was ordered by party higher-ups.

Berkeley police spokesman Joe Okies declined to comment on the decision not to charge the twins, other than to say it was made independently by the district attorney and that a thorough and comprehensive investigation into Tsukamoto's death is ongoing.

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