FAIRFIELD — An East Palo Alto man who faced a pair of murder charges since shortly after a March 2012 drug deal went bad in the parking lot of the Parkway Gardens town homes took a plea deal Monday that will get him out of jail before Christmas.
Marcel Rutherford-Chew, 20, had faced the possibility of life in prison without possibility of parole. In a brief hearing, Solano County prosecutors dropped the murder and robbery charges, Rutherford-Chew pleaded no contest to a pair of involuntary manslaughter charges and Judge E. Bradley Nelson sentenced him to three years of time in county jail.
Rutherford-Chew, then 18, joined his cousin, Vedell Chew, 24, Bernard Knight, 18, and Darren Trahan, 23, in a trip to Fairfield on the afternoon of March 7, 2012. The four men met up with a local drug dealer at Parkway Gardens, who sold them a $10 bag of marijuana. When the group opted to buy more marijuana, they split up, with three of them waiting in the parking lot with a friend of the dealer, 21-year-old Blake Johnson.
The trio, including Rutherford-Chew, decided to rob Johnson, pulled guns on him and ripped a gold cross from a chain around his neck. Johnson pulled his own gun and a flurry of gunshots ended with Rutherford-Chew and Trahan driving off, leaving behind their dead companions in the parking lot where their bodies were stripped and robbed before police arrived.
Trahan and Johnson were arrested along with Rutherford-Chew, but prosecutors ended up only pursuing murder charges against Rutherford-Chew – using the legal theory that he had agreed to join in an armed robbery, which was inherently dangerous and possibly deadly.
A judge commenting last week on the weakness of the case against Rutherford-Chew told his defense attorney, Robert Warshawsky, that he would have been doing the prosecutor a favor by throwing out the case instead of letting it go to jury trial in January.
Judge Nelson pointed out that the dead men’s families were no longer communicating with prosecutors because they believed Rutherford-Chew was wrongly charged.
Johnson is scheduled to be in court in January. He faces a pair of felony weapons possession charges for an unrelated arrest with three others a few months after the Parkway Gardens murders.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.