An Alameda County Superior Court judge last week rejected a proposed plea agreement between prosecutors and the defense in the vehicular homicide case stemming from the high-speed crash that killed a longtime Livermore resident last year.
Defendant Sekou Abayomia Brandon, 20, of Oakley now continues to face murder and other charges for the February 2022 collision that ultimately killed 73-year-old Linda Woodward and injured her sister, rather than admitting to a lesser count of vehicular manslaughter and the high likelihood of a 2025 release date from custody.
Woodward's family, who openly opposed the plea bargain as too lenient of a sentence and launched a social media campaign to raise awareness before the deal was presented to a judge, was left feeling "shocked and thrilled" by what transpired at the courthouse in Dublin last Friday.
"I'm feeling really satisfied and kind of at peace, even though we don't know what will happen to him sentencing-wise, that at least the case is going to be heard by a judge and not just going straight through without my mom's story being heard," Woodward's daughter Stephanie Klino told the Weekly.
The Alameda County District Attorney's Office declined to comment on the unraveled plea deal, now that the criminal case remains active. Brandon's attorney, Anne Beles, did not respond to an inquiry submitted to her law firm.
Authorities allege Brandon, then 19, was speeding at nearly 65 mph while trying to elude law enforcement officers when the car he was driving smashed into an SUV driven by Woodward's sister Janet Garvin at the bottom of the North Livermore Avenue freeway ramp around 3 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2022. Woodward was critically injured and remained hospitalized until her death on April 15, 2022.
Woodward's family confirmed that the investigation revealed Brandon was out of custody with an ankle monitor, as a result of his reported involvement as a juvenile in a robbery turned homicide in Pleasanton in 2020, at the time of the crash in Livermore.
The defendant appeared set to accept the plea deal from prosecutors for vehicular manslaughter and eluding police causing injury in exchange for a sentence of seven years and eight months in custody, which would be halved and include credit for time already served, under state guidelines.
But Judge Barbara Dickinson met with the attorneys during last Friday's court appearance and informed them she would not sign off on the agreement, and the defense counsel later vocalized her displeasure during the open proceedings, according to Klino.
The case now advances to a preliminary hearing later this fall during which a judge will determine whether there is enough evidence to order Brandon to stand trial on all charges, which include felony counts of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, evading police causing death and evading police causing serious injury, along with 11 special allegations.
Brandon's original pleas of not guilty to all charges remain intact.