A jury in Alameda County today returned guilty verdicts on charges of murder and manslaughter against two men accused in a New Year's Eve 2019 laptop robbery that ended in the robbery victim's death.
Many Bay Area residents still remember the tragic death of 34-year-old Shuo Zeng on December 31, 2019, which occurred when Zeng chased a man out of the Montclair Village Starbucks as his laptop was being stolen. Zeng, a research scientist and engineer at Aspera — an IBM company based in Emeryville — was working on his computer, and as a hobbyist photographer, he may have had irreplaceable photo files on it that he didn't want to lose. December 31 was also his birthday, and he had plans to celebrate with friends and ring in the new year that night.
Zeng was run over by the getaway car driven by 24-year-old Byron Reed. 20-year-old Kejuan Wiggins grabbed his laptop and ran to the vehicle, and was accused of kicking Zeng off of Reed's BMW as Zeng tried to cling onto it as they drove off. Zeng fell and the car ran him over.
On Wednesday, as the East Bay Times reports, a jury convicted Reed of second-degree murder, and convicted Wiggins of voluntary manslaughter.
Both men were also convicted of robbery. Reed faces up to 15 years in prison, and Wiggins up to 12 years, and both will be sentenced in January.
23-year-old Javon Lee, who served as lookout for the robbery, pleaded no contest to robbery charges and he is awaiting sentencing.
Both Reed and Lee had previous robbery convictions in San Francisco from 2017.
Prosecutors had sought first-degree murder convictions against both Wiggins and Reed, and the jury too an extra day to deliberate on Wiggins' conviction, deciding on involuntary manslaughter after six total days of deliberations.
The case shocked the Bay Area because it exemplified the violence that sometimes accompanies petty property crime that has been running rampant for years. A makeshift memorial for Zeng sprang up on the windows of the Starbucks in the early days of last year, with post-it notes mourning him surrounding his photograph.
Prosecutors successfully argued both that Reed was aware that Zeng was chasing them and grabbing onto the BMW, and that both suspects had used violence to prevent Zeng from trying to get his laptop back. They also submitted evidence that Wiggins, Reed, and Lee had exchanged text messages about committing crimes around the Bay Area, and were discussing alternatives to breaking into cars, because they lacked the proper tools.
Zeng's death, sadly, echoed a similar one that had occurred in Oakland two years earlier. In that case, 40-year-old musician Dave Deporis was working on music on his laptop outside a Temescal cafe when a thief snatched his computer and ran to waiting car. Deporis ran after the car and caught onto it, and was subsequently dragged to his death. Police described a person of interest in that case, but the thief was never located or charged.