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Oakland’s progressive DA slapped down over triple murder plea deal

A woman looks at the camera from behind a computer monitor.
Pamela Price, the newly elected Alameda County District Attorney, in Oakland, California on Tuesday February 28, 2023. DA Price is a former civil rights attorney who is implementing changes within the criminal justice system in Alameda County. | Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images | Source: Getty Images

A judge gave Alameda County’s new chief prosecutor a clear rebuke by rejecting a controversial plea deal her office extended to a man accused of killing three people a month after his 18th birthday.

Reflecting the progressive agenda of District Attorney Pamela Price and seized upon by critics calling for her ouster, the offer amounted to this: Prosecutors would drop three murder charges against Delonzo Logwood for the 2008 killings if he pleads no contest to a single charge of manslaughter.

But the court shot it down Thursday, letting the murder counts stand.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Mark McCannon, who issued the ruling, said he lost sleep over the plea bargain he derided as having little to no merit. With the lead prosecutor suddenly quitting and the new attorney unfamiliar with the the case, there was no one in court Thursday to argue otherwise. 

The judge noted, too, that the DA failed to present a case for its own plea bargain. 

“I usually do not get involved in plea deals,” McCannon said. “A jury should decide if he is guilty or innocent. I am not here to do what is popular, but to do what is right.” 

Logwood, 32, has been locked up in state prison since 2009 for his convictions of armed robbery and assault with a weapon. 

The three murder charges he’s now fighting stem from a trio of killings in Oakland 15 years ago involving a murder-for-hire, a carjacking and an effort to silence a witness. The prosecution built much of the case against Logwood on the account of a cooperative witness and recorded jail phone calls. 

Thursday’s ruling comes as prosecutors continue to resign from the Price administration, including the lawyer on the Logwood case who was absent from the hearing. Meanwhile, families of the victims are joining the chorus to recall Price, which would shut the door on a reform project just barely underway—just as it was for San Francisco’s reformist DA Chesa Boudin.

It’s hard to avoid comparing Price to Boudin. Both took office just as public support for their brand of criminal justice reform began to wane and fears about crime began to rise. Voters recalled Boudin, clearing the way for Brooke Jenkins and a return to the “tough on crime” philosophy traditionally espoused by top prosecutors. 

It remains to be seen if a similar fate awaits Price—or if she manages to chart a course around the political fallout that brought an early end to Boudin’s term across the bay.  

Price and her office declined The Standard’s request for comment in court Thursday and gave the judge no rationale for the plea offer because the new attorney in the prosecutor’s chair needed to get up to speed after his predecessor’s abrupt resignation.

Pamela Price, in her office after arriving home from a long day at the office in Oakland, California on Tuesday February 28, 2023. | Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

But the rationale was explained after the fact in a prepared statement posted to the DA’s website.

“When we reviewed the case, we felt that the trauma inflicted on the survivors, the defendant and his family, the court system and my staff by my predecessor’s failure to promptly resolve the case was unacceptable,” it read. “We are very disappointed that Judge McCannon did not accept the plea bargain previously agreed upon by my office and defense counsel.”

One of Logwood’s attorneys said she’s disappointed but unsurprised by the ruling.

“This was a just plea,” Linda Fullerton said. 

But others applauded the ruling. 

A letter penned by relatives of two of the victims and read in court by their advocate conveyed clear disdain for the plea deal.

“If this man gets out and kills again,” it read, “the blood will be on your hands, DA Price.”

Logwood, who appeared in court, was described by his second attorney David Briggs as a young man from an unstable home who’s now trying to walk the straight path.

Logwood grew up with his mother cycling in and out of prison, Briggs said. So Logwood often went along with his older brother, who acted as courier for their mother, the lawyer continued. Logwood’s formal education ended in seventh grade when he dropped out of school and fell into drug-dealing and crime. 

Briggs also said the case against his client was riddled with issues and that the plea deal offered a just resolution. 

After Briggs concluded his argument to the judge, Logwood offered a mea culpa in a last-ditch effort to convince the judge to accept the plea deal.

“I want to apologize for my conduct,” Logwood said. “I also want to apologize for all the destruction I’ve caused.” 

Judge McCannon was apparently unmoved, pointing out how the defendant neglected to say why he’s apologizing.

“You think that an apology will make all of this better?” the judge asked. “You’ve said that you’re sorry, but what are you sorry for?”

Logwood is expected back in court April 5 to set a date for his trial.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at