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'Nut Case' trial set to begin
San Francisco Chronicle


February 06, 2006

Sunny Thach had just helped his wife carry their laundry inside when he remembered one more bag of baby clothes still in the car and went to retrieve it.

He was shot dead in his front yard minutes later, begging for his life as his wife and toddler looked on, by robbers who took $31. His slaying, police say, capped a bloody 10-week crime spree in late 2002 and early 2003 that included five slayings and scores of robberies throughout Oakland, Calif., by six alleged killers who called themselves the Nut Cases.




The deaths came during a year that saw homicides increase by 30 percent in Oakland, and were committed by men motivated largely by the thrill of killing, roaming the city looking for victims and joking that they were single-handedly driving up the tally, police said.

The man police said pulled the trigger in most of the crimes, Demarcus Ralls, 21, is to go on trial Tuesday. If convicted of Thach's killing, Ralls could become the youngest person on California's Death Row and one of the youngest sentenced to death since the state resumed capital punishment in 1977.

"This small gang of thugs drove up Oakland's violent crime rate by themselves," Mayor Jerry Brown said at the time of the arrest. "These arrests probably saved some lives and made Oakland a much safer place."

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner has issued a gag order in the case, barring police, prosecutors and Ralls' attorney from commenting. But court documents and the suspects' own statements to police show the Nut Cases were driven by little more than the thrill of killing and the bravado of boasting to friends about what they'd done.

Ralls nonchalantly described to police investigators his role in the deaths of five people and the robbing of at least 23 others as the Nut Cases terrorized Oakland for 10 weeks ending in their arrest in January 2003, police said.

The suspects told police they would spend their time getting high and playing the violent video game "Grand Theft Auto III" - which rewards players for committing crimes - and then would act out what they'd done when they grew bored with the game.

Ralls, who turned 18 during the crime spree, is charged with five murders, two attempted murders, and 18 of the robberies. His five co-defendants are expected to be tried later this year.

Horner rejected an effort by Ralls' attorney, Deborah Levy, to suppress his incriminating statement to police, which includes references to shooting Thach.

Reached by phone, a woman who identified herself as Ralls' mother declined to comment. Several weeks after his arrest, Deborah Colbert, the aunt of three of the alleged killers, defended the young men she helped raise.

"The things they say about them are too bizarre to be true," she said at the time. "They are not Nut Case killers. They don't rob people. They never have."

All of the Nut Case defendants are related except for Leon "Twan" Wiley, 28, the man police call the ringleader. They include Ralls' half-brothers, Joe Ralls, 29, and Jhomari Sutton, 23; their cousin, Deonte "Oink" Donald, 20; and their sister-in-law, 28-year-old Aminah Dorsey-Colbert.

Wiley and Joe Ralls face the death penalty. The other three face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.


Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service,

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Ketchikan, Alaska