State’s only black female DA announces resolution of decades-old cold case

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton, California’s only black DA, recently joined state Attorney General Rob Bonta and acting Richmond Police Chief Louie Tirona to announce that they identified the man who killed 28-year-old Meekiah Wadley in 1999.

In an emotional press conference, a representative from the three agencies said Jerry Lee Henderson murdered the Contra Costa Community College student in her Richmond home.

Chief Tirona said Henderson died 11 days after the murder. He was identified through DNA left at the scene.

“I know it’s been 22 long years since this heinous crime was committed, and justice doesn’t always come quickly,” Becton said at a news conference last week. “Today’s announcement is a major testament to the determination of our law enforcement partners, medical examiners and investigators who have continued to work on this case for more than 20 years and who n have never given up the search for truth.”

Investigators solved the murder using California’s family DNA tracing program.

Becton, who is on the ballot for the June 7 primary election, joins former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and Sacramento County District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert as California prosecutors who used this technique.

Becton, 70, was in the fourth year of a 22-year run as a Contra Costa Superior Court judge at the time of Wadley’s death.

In September 2017, the County Board of Supervisors named her the 25th district attorney for Contra Costa, the first African-American woman to hold the position. In June 2018, the San Francisco State University and Golden Gate University School of Law graduate was elected to a full term.

Becton said his priority is to protect the streets of Contra Costa County from dangerous and violent criminals. She says she is committed to protecting communities from crimes that threaten health, well-being and livelihoods, and to protecting older people from financial abuse. She is also committed to delivering positive outcomes for young people.

Becton wants to serve the 1.1 million residents of Contra Costa for another four years. To “effect change” and ensure a “fair” justice system, she said in an interview with California Black Media (CBM).

“What I’ve come to realize, even if it seems like a short time some days, we’ve done a lot. But the truth is there is so much more work to do,” she said.

“It’s really, in terms of building lasting change that’s going to last, is a blueprint. It’s just not something that’s going to happen in the short term. I am running for re-election to continue the important work we have begun.

Becton scrapped juvenile court fees that severely affected low-income families of color, created the Reimagine Youth Justice Task Force to uncover alternatives to juvenile justice, and established “Clean Slate Day” to enable former offenders to expunge their criminal records.

Additionally, Becton established the first human trafficking unit to combat the sex trade, tackled racial disparities, advanced youth justice by establishing the first diversion program of the county and held law enforcement and officials accountable.

In April 2021, Becton announced intentional homicide and felony assault with a semi-automatic firearm, and unreasonable force charges against Danville Police Officer and Deputy Andrew Hall in the 2018 Laudemer Arboleda shooting.

Becton said the cop killed Arboleda, who allegedly drove at six miles an hour, “without a lawful excuse for justification.” Becton won a conviction in that case.

In October 2021, Hall, who is white, was found guilty by a jury of assault with a firearm and sentenced to six years in prison on March 4.

Six weeks before Hall was charged with killing Arboleda, shooting him 10 times, he fatally shot a homeless, mentally ill black man. Hall’s murder of Tyrell Wilson is still under investigation.

“Deputy Hall’s actions were not only a crime, but they tarnished the badge and damaged the reputation of all good police officers who work hard for our community,” Becton said in a statement.

Months after a jury convicted a former Minnesota police officer of the murder of George Floyd. It was the first time a Contra Costa police officer had been charged and convicted in a police-involved shooting.

Becton is being criticized for easing the court’s burden by not prosecuting all low-level non-violent crimes, including offenders arrested with small amounts of drugs that fall on her desk in an effort to reduce the ‘footprint’ of mass incarceration.

“It’s kind of interesting now that I have a landmark conviction from an officer in Contra Costa County. But I would say, on balance, we respect each other. I have 25 law enforcement agencies in 19 cities I work with,” Becton told CBM. “It’s strong opposition from the sheriff who may not like the fact that one of his own got convicted. But I am not discouraged by this. This will not prevent me from collaborating with these agencies when it is important to make their voice heard.

As district attorney, Becton heads a district attorney’s office of approximately 200 attorneys, investigators, and staff.

Becton was raised in East Oakland by her self-employed beautician mother and aircraft mechanic father. Her journey to becoming a lawyer, judge and elected official was inspired by a civil rights movement that she personally witnessed in the late 1950s and 1960s.

“My commitment is to keep our community safe, but also to make it a fair system for everyone. That’s my priority,” Becton said. “I emphasized that not only are our traditional justice partners at the table, but community members are also at the table. They (all) help us solve problems.

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