Defense attorneys called on witnesses Monday to paint a sympathetic portrait of convicted double-murderer Christopher Evans, hoping to convince a jury to save the Oakland native from capital punishment. Starting their defense case of the penalty phase of Evans’ trial, attorneys William DuBois and Alex Selvin called on a series of relatives and neighborhood friends to describe Evans as “fun-loving,” “well-mannered,” and a “very caring father.”
The same jury convicted Evans this summer for the 2001 East Oakland murders of Tina Rose and Tommy Lee Brown. On April 27 of that year, Evans got into an altercation with Rose’s brother, Derrick, outside Rose’s Teez Hair Design beauty shop near the corner of 85th Avenue and International Boulevard. After Evans approached Rose’s brother and checked his pockets publicly, like a police officer would, the two argued until Rose came outside to calm the situation. But the brother would subsequently return to the scene and knock Evans unconscious with a single punch, a blow that Evans’ attorneys have said gave their client a grade-three concussion. Shortly afterwards, an armed and angry Evans stormed into the salon. When Brown tried to intervene, Evans shot him twice. One bullet ripped through Brown’s femoral artery, causing him to bleed to death. Tina Rose then tried to flee her salon, but died just outside the front door after being shot once by Evans in the back of the head.
This July, jurors convicted Evans of first-degree murder for the death of Rose and second-degree murder for Brown’s death. Even if spared the death penalty in this phase of the trial, Evans faces a minimum sentence of life in prison.
Alternately crying, somberly reflecting, and clutching the air, on Monday Evans’ mother Pamela Woodson testified for over an hour, detailing the chaotic and tough life her son was born into. Woodson testified she was a “teenager going skating every night” when she met Evans’ father, who left in her in 1973, “eighteen and pregnant with a man who wants to have nothing to do with me or the baby.”
Evans only met his father on a couple of occasions, and even then, Woodson testified, “he didn’t come by as a father. He came by as a visitor.”
Woodson’s struggles continued after her son’s birth when the pair moved to 23rd Avenue, in an area nicknamed the “Murder Dubs,” which, she testified, felt like a “world away” from the deeper East Oakland neighborhood near 85th Avenue where most of her family lived. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” Woodson said from the stand. “I’d never had a child before.”
After another failed relationship with a man she met at the corner store near her house in the new neighborhood, Woodson and Evans eventually moved back closer to her family on 85th Avenue. But when Evans was fourteen, tragedy struck the family when a house fire killed Woodson’s sister and uncle, Ed Evans. Woodson said that she had long considered her uncle to be a father figure and did not learn he was not actually her biological father until she was eighteen and applying for welfare. With his own father long since out of the picture, Woodson testified, her young son looked up to the older Evans as a father figure, as well, and the loss was devastating to him.
Before the deadly fire, Woodson testified, her son always at least tried to “put his best foot forward,” but afterward “went his own way” and “didn’t care about work, school, anything.”
Making matters worse were Evans’ academic struggles, which had plagued him from an early age—Woodson testified that her son didn’t learn the alphabet until 5th or 6th grade. “He just couldn’t comprehend,” Woodson testified repeatedly. At age sixteen, according to Oakland Unified School District documents presented by DuBois, Evans functioned academically at a first grade level. Shortly thereafter, he dropped out of high school and began selling drugs in the East Oakland neighborhood where he grew up.
Cross-examining Woodson, Deputy District Attorney Michael Nieto asked her if she recalled her son having been in custody for beating a woman in 1994, and of his OUSD-reported history of behavioral problems in school that went along with his academic struggles. Woodson denied knowledge of both.
During her time on the witness stand, Woodson also read aloud, sobbing at times, from a letter in which Evans’ grandmother begged for his life. “Help him. He needs treatment,” she said.
She also offered a personal message to the families of the victims. “This is only meant for the family and friends of Tina Rose and Tommy Brown,” Woodson said looking at Tina Rose’s mother, Mary Rose, who watched from the wood-paneled courtroom’s third row of seating. “I apologize for my family and I. We all apologize from the bottom of our heart. I should have said this earlier, but I do apologize and I hope someday you will accept it.”
Mary Rose looked on impassively, with face drawn and cloaked in a hooded black leather jacket.
The defense’s final witness to take the stand Monday was local 85th Avenue business owner Belle Ward-Johnson who testified to having known Christopher Evans since he was “around eight years-old” when she would feed him hot link sandwiches almost daily from her restaurant. In imploring judge and jury to forego capital punishment against Evans, Ward-Johnson—who also knew victim Tina Rose—pointed to the culture of violence that pervades East Oakland.
“The death penalty is also on the streets for these kids,” she said from the witness stand. “It’s imposed daily.”