Oakland man gets 15 years to life for murdering girlfriend

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU and wires) -- An ex-felon was sentenced Friday to 15 years in state prison for his second-degree murder conviction for brutally beating his girlfriend to death near Lake Merritt in Oakland three years ago.

Prosecutor Laura Passaglia said 33-year-old Tsega Tesfoy Tsegay's death on July 31, 2012, was the culmination of four years of abuse at the hands of 29-year-old Dominic Daniel.

Passaglia told jurors in her closing argument in the case that even though he had been drinking at the time he killed Tsegay he knew exactly what he was doing.

Passaglia said Daniel's blood-alcohol content was 0.14 percent when he was tested several hours after Tsegay was found suffering from major head trauma in the 1500 block of Lakeside Drive, near the Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill at about 6:10 a.m. on July 31, 2012, shortly before she was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital.

She said Daniel's blood alcohol content may have been as high as 0.20 percent when he attacked Tsegay but witnesses said he didn't appear to be under the influence of alcohol because he didn't smell of alcohol and didn't stumble.

Tsegay, on the other hand, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.38 and was too drunk to defend herself and probably couldn't even stand up straight, said Passaglia, who sought a first-degree murder verdict.

But Daniel's attorney, Ted Johnson, said Daniel should only be convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter because he had an honest if unreasonable belief that he was in danger and needed to use deadly force against Tsegay.

Johnson said he believes Tsegay struck Daniel first and Daniel wasn't thinking clearly when he reacted because he was intoxicated. Johnson also alleged that there was another side to Tsegay when she got drunk.

Jurors struck a middle ground and convicted Tsegay of second-degree murder in a verdict reached in late April.

Tsegay lived with Daniel at her father's apartment at 1445 Harrison St. near Lake Merritt. Tsegay's father testified that he had kicked Daniel and Tsegay out of his apartment the night before her death after an argument.

Tsegay died from multiple blunt force injuries to her body as well as significant internal injuries, Passaglia said, including hemorrhaging in her neck consistent with strangulation.

Johnson said the fatal confrontation occurred after Tsegay disclosed to Daniel that she had been unfaithful to him while he was in jail on a false imprisonment conviction for a prior incident in which she had been the victim.

But Passaglia said there's no evidence that Daniel acted in the heat of passion and was so upset about Tsegay's revelation that he lost control of himself.

In addition to the false imprisonment conviction, Daniel has prior convictions for driving a stolen car and for being an accessory after the fact to a crime.

Tsegay's older sister said in a letter that Passaglia read aloud in court today that Tsegay's death is "an incredible loss for the family" and she wanted Daniel to get the toughest sentence allowed under the law.

The sister said Tsegay, who was from Ethiopia and worked as a caregiver for a blind man, "was kind and well-loved."

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon, who presided over Daniel's trial and sentenced him, said, "This is a particularly sad case," noting that a police officer who testified in the trial said Tsegay was "a friendly, smiling person" who was well-liked by officers who ran into her on the street.

"She's certainly missed by many people," Reardon said.