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Crime & Justice

Hearing on Venice youth pastor's murder features police informant

Oscar Duncan was shot dead outside his Venice home in June 2012. A popular youth minister and mentor at the local Boys & Girls Club, Duncan, 23 when he died, is pictured here in his Venice High football uniform.
Oscar Duncan was shot dead outside his Venice home in June 2012. A popular youth minister and mentor at the local Boys & Girls Club, Duncan, 23 when he died, is pictured here in his Venice High football uniform.
Photo by Antonio Castelan via NBC LA

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A man and a woman accused of taking part in the murder of a youth pastor last summer faced their first witnesses in court Wednesday, as a preliminary hearing for the two began. 

Hopeton Parsley—the alleged shooter—and Nicole Sheran appeared in court Wednesday. Defendant Kevin Green has already had his preliminary hearing.

Testimony Wednesday centered on a key witness, James Mickels, also known as "Witit."

Prosecutors say Mickels, a member of the Playboy Gangster Crips, was Green's childhood friend and confidante. They say Green talked in detail with him about the shooting that claimed the life of Oscar Duncan. 

Mickels appeared in court dressed in a gray sweatshirt, with the hood pulled far over his face. Through hours of testimony, he deliberately faced away from Sheran and Parsley—never looking in their direction. 

"This is hard," he said repeatedly, while testifying that all three defendants told him in multiple conversations about what happened the night Duncan died. 

Prosecutors say Duncan, 23, had parked his car outside his Venice home after dinner with his fiance when another vehicle approached. In it, prosecutors say, were Parsley, Green, Sheran and a fourth unnamed gang member.

They say at least one cat-called Duncan's fiance, and Duncan approached the car. 

As he got close, someone in the car yelled, "Shoreline Crips." That, Mickels said, was "bait." The Venice Shoreline Crips and Playboy Gangsters are deadly rivals. Duncan had grown up in the area but was not a gang member—"an innocent victim," Mickels testified.

Mickels testified that when Duncan responded that he wasn't in a gang but knew some of the members, the man in the front passenger seat shot Duncan anyway. Mickels said that information came from conversations he had with Green and Parsley about the killing.

Mickels testified that he named the three suspects after LAPD detectives arrested him and told him they were going to charge him with Duncan's murder. He said he cooperated because he was afraid of going back to prison and leaving his young son. Mickels also testified that detectives told him about reward money—but he scoffed at that offert.

"I won't sell out for money, but I'll sell out for my son," Mickels said.

Defense attorneys questioned Mickels's credibility.

"Would you lie for your son?" asked Garfield Kramer, Parsley's attorney.

"I don't know. It depends on the situation," Mickels replied.

Kramer and Sheran's attorney, James Cooper, repeatedly alluded to Mickels' long interrogation with police and probed whether he might have ulterior motives for pegging the defendants.

Mickels also admitted that he spends a lot of time smoking marijuana, and may have been high when the alleged conversations with the defendants took place.

"I'm high right now," Mickels said. 

"You smoked weed this morning?" Kramer asked, somewhat incredulously.

"Yeah," Mickels said.

Testimony also featured LAPD Detective Dave Vinton, the lead investigator on the case. In what's likely a preview of more full testimony should the case proceed to trial, Vinton said that in collaboration with Green's parole officer, he back-traced Green's GPS monitoring anklet throughout the night of Duncan's death, pinpointing him near the homes of his co-defendants and the victim at telling times.

Deputy District Attorney Teresa Magno said evidence presented at trial would likely include additional GPS evidence, cell phone evidence, and additional witnesses. 

Sheran and Parsley's preliminary hearing is expected to conclude Thursday with the testimony of a gang expert.