A Santa Rosa man facing charges of money laundering and possession of marijuana for sale testified Monday that he feared for his life when he and his brother-in-law were pistol-whipped and bound with duct tape in a home-invasion robbery earlier this year.
Devon Watt said at a preliminary hearing for Tiare Berkely, 35, of Vallejo that he walked in the door of his home off West Third Street March 3 to find blood splattered on his bar stools. He didn't know it at the time, but two masked men had already beaten and bound his brother-in-law, Radcliff Smith, and were waiting for him around the corner.
As he reached for a towel to clean the blood, he said a voice told him, "Don't move." He turned to face a man pointing a pistol at him and another wielding a machete, he said.
At that moment, Watt said he believed the men must have killed Smith, who he called "Cliffy," and that he was next.
"I was begging them for my life," said Watt. "I was begging them not to kill me."
But instead of killing Watt, one of the men smacked him in the forehead with the gun, knocking him to the ground. They took his wallet and bound him with duct tape before running upstairs, where they had bound and gagged Smith.
Watt said he heard struggle.
"I thought, 'Maybe he's not dead,'<TH>" he said. "<TH>'Maybe he's trying to fight.'<TH>"
Watt testified he broke free as the two men ran out the front door. He got into his car and chased their burgundy Nissan SUV down the road, memorizing the license plate number with a "666" ending.
Detectives later traced the car to a woman in Sausalito, who said she hadn't seen the vehicle since weeks earlier when she asked her son, Tiare Berkely, to pick it up for her at an airport. Berkely was arrested April 17 as he got into the SUV outside his girlfriend's Vallejo apartment.
The two-time convicted felon was charged with robbery, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and false imprisonment. At the end of a three-hour preliminary hearing, Judge Gary Medvigy found there was sufficient evidence for Berkely to be tried on all charges.
Watt and his brother-in-law testified that they were seriously injured in the attack. Both were treated for head wounds from being hit with the semi-automatic pistol.
Smith said he saw the same SUV pull into his driveway the week earlier. He identified Berkely as the driver who told him he had the wrong house.
The day of the robbery, Smith testified he was cooking and watching TV when the two men burst in. They hit him and kicked his ribs as he struggled with them, he said.
He said the assailants kept asking, "Where's the money?"
The case was buttressed by other evidence, including records of cell phone calls made by Berkely's phone the day of the robbery from within a mile of Watt's house. Also, police surveillance cameras trained on Watt's house recorded Berkley's car there March 3. Santa Rosa police Detective Robert Reynolds didn't say why cameras were there. Watt is charged with about two dozen counts of tax evasion, money laundering and drug charges from a pending 2012 case.