WATCH the ‘remarkable hearing’ Now a defendant is accused in the murder case where a Baby Yoda doll and an AC Transit bus provided key evidence
A key witness in the case of a San Leandro man who was found bound, gagged and choked — apparently with a dog leash — has now joined the list of murder suspects in the brutal 2021 slaying.
Mashona Yvonne Whittle, 35, was charged Nov. 3 with murder and kidnapping in connection with robbery in the September 2021 death of Benjamin Hyman, 37, who was found bound with duct tape and gagged with cloth off Redwood Road in Castro Valley.
She joins three other people also imprisoned in Hyman’s killing — including her husband — in a case that investigators allegedly solved using surveillance footage from an AC Transit bus, the presence of a Baby Yoda doll and Whittle’s own described “remarkable hearing.” According to court documents.
Whittle remained held without bail at Santa Rita Jail on Wednesday. She also faces felony charges of first-degree residential burglary and identity theft.
Until recently, Whittle was merely a significant witness in the prosecution’s case against her husband, Kevin Woodruff, and two other men, Brian Waugh and Stephen Hanna, also known as Richard Ontiveros.
The men were arrested in the spring of 2022 and charged with murder after investigators said the trio took Hyman to Skyline Boulevard in Oakland and tied him up before Hanna drove the man to Redwood Road in Castro Valley, strangled him and disposed of his body.
The months-long investigation into Hyman’s death was nearly halted more than once. However, one notable development in the case came with the discovery of video footage from an AC Transit bus that allegedly took over a Toyota Tacoma on the road where Hyman’s body was found. A baby Yoda doll is glued to the grill.
Months after the killing, investigators found the doll — along with three cellphones and black tapes — inside the truck after Hanna led police officers on a long chase in the truck, according to court documents. Hanna later told investigators that he acted entirely alone, and that he killed Hyman “how you kill any (expletive) dog,” a detective said at an earlier evidentiary hearing.
Court documents show that authorities suspect Whittle was in the same car as some of her co-defendants on the day Hyman was bound and gagged in broad daylight while joggers and motorists drove by obliviously. She allegedly told investigators that she went to sleep in the car early that morning and woke up to Wu threatening Hyman in the back seat, saying “Do you think I’m going to shoot you? Do you think I’m going to shoot you?” You know I will.”
She saw nothing but heard the duct tape tearing and Heyman whimper as he was bound and gagged, according to court papers.
But she later retracted her statement, blaming it on her mental illness and “intimidation” by Alameda County sheriff’s investigators.
Investigators said they later found numerous photos of credit cards, checks and other personal documents belonging to Hyman and his father on Whittle’s cell phone, according to court documents. Police also alleged that motorcycles and other valuables were taken from Heyman’s home and stored at Whittle’s home.
At a hearing Tuesday, defense attorneys representing the men criticized Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Nathan Feldman’s handling of the case and his decision to charge Whittle.
Woodruff’s attorney, Ernie Castillo, said Feldman made a “dirty move” by charging a witness who became uncooperative. Castillo added that the decision amounts to a “classic situation of coercion.”
Wu’s lawyer, Annie Bellis, accused the prosecution of lying, and said, “This deception cannot be tolerated.”
Much of her criticism focuses on the fact that a trial date for the three men set for Tuesday never came to fruition. Instead, Feldman asked for the charges against Woodruff and Wu to be dropped after he had already refiled murder charges against them with Whittle added as a co-defendant. Hanna’s accusations remained unchanged.
Bellis alleged that Feldman surreptitiously planned to avoid the men’s trial this month, despite repeatedly assuring the court that he was prepared to present the case to a jury.
“Earl Warren is rolling in his grave,” Bales said, referring to Alameda County’s most famous prosecutor, who served in the 1920s and became chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Judge Delia Trevino acknowledged that Feldman had acted “less honorably” than she would have liked, and personally apologized to Woodruff for the prosecutor’s actions, saying “I was not aware of what the prosecution had planned.” However, it agreed with Feldman’s moves, noting that his charging decisions in the case are permissible under the law.
Feldman, as well as a spokesman for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment.