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Former Alameda County sheriff’s deputy heading to trial on charges he murdered Dublin couple in 2022


Former Alameda County sheriff's deputy heading to trial on charges he murdered Dublin couple in 2022

A former Alameda County sheriff’s deputy on Friday was ordered to stand trial on murder charges in a double-murder case that has become a recent flashpoint in the debate over District Attorney Pamela Price’s approach to administering justice in the East Bay.

Devin Williams, 25, sat quietly while listening to the ruling from Alameda County Judge Paul Delucchi, who found that enough evidence existed for the former deputy to be tried on two counts of murder and numerous sentencing enhancements in the September 2022 killings of Benison and Maria Tran. Prosecutors say he gunned down the couple in front of their relatives using the same gun issued to him by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

Delucchi said it was “abundantly clear this is not a whodunnit,” and referenced text messages and other evidence collected from the house, including surveillance footage, from the night of the killings suggesting Williams knew exactly what he was doing when he made his way into the couple’s home.

“It clearly indicates that he is coming over there to take care of this, knowing full well there may be a confrontation, despite Ms. Tran asking him not to do so,” said Delucchi, in remarks from the bench. He specifically pointed to how Williams appeared to chamber a round in his handgun before confronting the couple. “He’s going into that house ready for business,” the judge said.

Price now faces a mid-April deadline to decide whether to once again pursue sentencing enhancements against Williams that her administration appeared to sour on just moments before the hearing began.

On Wednesday, one of her prosecutors unsuccessfully asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss all of the enhancements filed against Williams roughly 18 months ago, including two that could have prevented Williams from seeking parole, if convicted.

The last-minute gambit became another flashpoint this week in the debate over Price’s approach to reimagining the East Bay’s justice system, with the relatives of Benison and Maria Tran criticizing the move as a sign of Price being too lenient on crime. The couple’s relatives protested outside the courthouse this week with signs that read “PAMELA PRICE SOFT ON MURDERERS” and “Pamela Price Lets Murderers Go Free, Recall Her NOW!”

The case has also served as a test of Price’s priorities — pitting calls by organizers of a recall effort for harsher criminal penalties against longstanding campaign vows by Price to take a firmer stand against law enforcement officers accused of breaking the law.

On Friday, Delucchi said prosecutors failed to prove why Williams should face one particular high-level sentencing enhancement — called a special circumstances allegation — that accused Williams of killing Benison Tran to avoid being arrested.

But the judge said that enough evidence existed for Williams to face every other sentencing enhancement that prosecutors originally charged against him, including another special circumstances allegation that he murdered multiple people.

In making his ruling, Delucchi specifically noted that Price could still choose to keep those enhancements or toss them when Williams is arraigned again on April 15. The district attorney’s media team declined to comment after the ruling.

Prosecutors suspect Williams was still wearing his sheriff’s uniform the night of Sept. 6 when he ignored Maria Tran’s pleas to stay away from her house and instead made his way inside to confront the couple.

Speaking slowly and deliberately from the stand, a relative at the house that night, Dalton Tran, recalled waking to the sound of Benison Tran’s voice urging him to call 911. When Dalton Tran looked out of his bedroom, he found Williams holding a handgun outside of the couple’s bedroom, while Benison Tran rushed downstairs.

At one point, Williams appeared to be “visibly shaking,” and the deputy told Maria “you did this to me,” Dalton Tran testified. The deputy also allegedly voiced concern about Benison talking to the authorities.

When Benison came upstairs while on the phone with 911, Williams said “he’s talking to the cops,” and fired a round at Benison Tran, Dalton Tran testified. As Benison fell backwards, Maria Tran tried to break his fall, causing both to tumble to the bottom of the staircase.

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