OAKLAND — Asmerom Gebreselassie and his brother Tewodros will spend the rest of their lives in prison after a jury decided Tuesday both successfully planned and carried out the killings of their sister-in-law, her mother and her brother on Thanksgiving Day 2006. After deliberating for about seven days, the jury of 10 women and two men found the Gebreselassie brothers guilty of all 14 charges filed against them, including killing three people, kidnapping a 2-year-old nephew and attempting to kill one other person. The jury also found that both were guilty of two special circumstance crimes: killing multiple people and killing during the course of a kidnapping. As a result, the Gebreselassie brothers will be sentenced in August to life in prison without the possibility of parole. “For what they did, they deserve this,” said Merhawi Mehari, who witnessed the Gebreselassie brothers gun down his sister, mother and brother during a Thanksgiving Day dinner. “I’m happy but I also have loss. It’s painful, I will never get my family back.” Asmerom Gebreselassie, 47, and his brother Tewodros, 43, were accused of killing their sister-in-law, Winta Mehari, 28, her mother, Regbe Bahrengasi, 50, and her brother, Yonas Mehari, 17, in what a prosecutor said was revenge for the Gebreselassie brothers’ mistaken belief that the Mehari family killed their younger brother and Winta Mehari’s husband, Abraham, in March 2006. While Asmerom Gebreselassie was accused of being the shooter, his brother Tewodros was accused of helping Asmerom Gebreselassie with the murders by letting him into the Mehari apartment where the murders took place and kidnapping the then-2-year-old son of Winta and Abraham.
Abraham Gebreselassie, 42, died suddenly in March 2006 and his cause of death was never positively determined. While the Alameda County coroner could not determine the cause of death, a private pathologist hired by the Gebreselassie family said it appeared to be an unexplainable natural death.
But Asmerom Gebreselassie refused to believe his brother could suddenly die. He became convinced that Winta Mehari and her family killed him to gain access to a $500,000 life insurance policy and to hide a supposed revelation by Abraham Gebreselassie that one of the Mehari brothers was gay.
Asmerom Gebreselassie said during five days of bombastic testimony that he never intended to kill the Mehari family but instead went to their apartment on Thanksgiving to discuss his suspicions that they killed his brother and to tell them that he knew one of their family members was gay.
Once inside the apartment, Asmerom Gebreselassie said, two Mehari family members pulled out guns and
Asmerom Gebreselassie said he responded by firing seven shots toward various Mehari family members.
But deputy district attorney Joni Leventis told the jury in closing arguments that Asmerom Gebreselassie could not be trusted and pointed to evidence showing that only two guns were recovered from the scene of the murders, both of which were connected to Asmerom Gebreselassie.
Leventis also used cellphone records to show that Tewodros Gebreselassie had called another brother shortly before the killings, which Leventis said was the signal for Asmerom to come to the apartment.