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Plea deals announced in killing where Baby Yoda doll and AC Transit bus provided key evidence

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Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price’s office announced a series of plea deals this week in the grisly killing of a man whose body was found bound and gagged with ratchet straps, duct tape and something that resembled a dog leash.

Just weeks before the beginning of jury selection, Steven Hanna pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the September 2021 strangulation of Benjamin Hemmann, 37. Prosecutors also agreed to drop murder and kidnapping charges against two other men — Kevin Woodruff and Bryan Wu — in exchange for no contest pleas tied to allegations that the men either helped break into Hemmann’s house, or robbed him shortly before his death.

Hanna, who also goes by the name Richardo Onteveros, faces 15 years to life in prison when he’s sentenced on June 26.

Woodruff faces a potential six-year, eight-month prison term when he’s sentenced July 2 on charges of committing a home invasion robbery in concert and possession of stolen property. Wu faces six years in prison on a charge of first-degree residential burglary, the district attorney’s office said. He’s scheduled to be sentenced June 26.

A day after the deals became public, Hemmann’s sister slammed Price’s office for being too lenient on the three men, particularly in light of prosecutors’ decision to toss all the kidnapping charges in the case. She said simply: “That is not justice.”

“My brother did not remove himself from his home, tie himself up with rachet straps and put a dog leash around his own neck,” said Laurie Henson, 48. The three defendants, she said, “should be held accountable for that.”

“These lenient sentences seem to be a trait under Pamela Price,” added Henson, who warned that the district attorney “cannot let these monsters walk back into society.”

The plea deals signal the end to a winding case that investigators claimed to crack using surveillance footage from an AC Transit bus, the presence of a Baby Yoda doll on the alleged killers’ pickup and a key witness who professed to have “great hearing.”

Hanna, Woodruff and Wu were arrested in spring 2022 and charged with murder after investigators claimed the trio took Hemmann to Skyline Boulevard in Oakland and tied him up. That’s when, investigators said, Hanna drove the man to Redwood Road in Castro Valley, strangled him and disposed of his body.

The investigation into Hemmann’s death nearly stalled multiple times. Yet detectives caught a key break in the case: The discovery of video footage from an AC Transit bus that captured a Toyota Tacoma on the road where Hemmann’s body was found. Affixed to its grill was a small Baby Yoda doll.

Months after the killing, investigators found the doll — along with three cellphones and black ratchet straps — inside the truck after Hanna allegedly led police officers on a long chase in the pickup, according to court documents. Hanna later told investigators he acted entirely alone, and that he had killed Hemmann “how you kill any (expletive) dog,” a detective said at an evidentiary hearing.

Still, investigators also arrested Woodruff and Wu, citing text messages, GPS logs and other evidence that appeared to tie the men to the killing. Detectives also pointed to statements from Woodruff’s wife, who said the two men bound and gagged Hemmann in broad daylight as joggers and motorists obliviously passed by, according to court records. She didn’t see much that day, despite being in the pickup herself. Rather, she said she knew what happened because of her “great hearing,” according to court documents.

The woman, Mashonna Yvonne Whittle, later recanted her statement, blaming it on her “mental illness” and “intimidation” by Alameda County Sheriff’s investigators.

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