An Oakland man traded jail garbs for a suit during his murder trial. But the shoes contained heroin and pot, police say

OAKLAND — The trial of a local resident who was convicted of murder despite arguing self-defense contained an unexpected surprise the public never learned of: he allegedly attempted to smuggle heroin and cannabis into the jail through his trial suit.

Trial outfits are standard for folks who go before a jury, because it’s considered prejudicial for jurors to see a defendant in a jail jumpsuit and chains. But according to Alameda County Sheriff’s investigators, 35-year-old Bryan Colston’s suit served a dual purpose.

During Colston’s March 2023 trial, a woman who was testifying on Colston’s behalf that day brought a suit and shoes to Colston’s lawyer for Colston to wear for court. When deputies searched the outfit, they reportedly discovered that the shoes contained hollowed out compartments containing 12 grams of heroin and roughly three grams of cannabis, authorities said.

Later, investigators reviewed his jail calls and discovered evidence he’d conspired with the woman and several other Santa Rita Jail inmates to acquire and smuggle in the drugs. No one has been charged in connection with the alleged attempt, court records show.

But Colston’s lack of charges in this investigation is kind of a moot point; in December he was formally sentenced to 25 years to life for the first-degree murder of 23-year-old Bomani Busby. Colston argued during trial that he shot Busby in self-defense after Colston and his friends saw him “reaching” for a weapon, according to court records.

Busby was shot and killed around 11 p.m. on Oct. 9, 2019 after Colston and his group of friends bumped into Busby sleeping in a vehicle on the 800 block of 77th Avenue in East Oakland. Colston’s friend was in the area looking for a mechanic to fix a squeaky wheel when a person in their group, Brandon Harper, recognized Busby as someone he had a problem with, prosecutors said.

Several of Colston’s friends allegedly joined in the beating. Video surveillance of the shooting shows Colston then produce a gun, instruct his friends to get out of the way and fire into the car.

Colston and his friends were charged. The others accepted plea deals and little-to-no jail time for manslaughter or accessory charges. Only Colston took his case to trial and was convicted and sentenced to life, court records show.

At his sentencing hearing, Colston’s lawyer said that Colston wants to “stay local” and not be transferred to state prison. A judge denied the request, but so far Colston’s gotten his wish; he remains in Santa Rita Jail pending transfer to the state prison system, records show.

He was also ordered to pay $10,000 in victim restitution.

The trial contained an unexpected wrinkle brought about by revelations involving an Oakland homicide detective, Phong Tran, who worked on the case. Tran was charged with perjury and bribery for allegedly pressuring a witness in another homicide case to implicate a man in a road rage shooting. Before Colston was sentenced, Judge Kevin Murphy denied a defense motion for a new trial before sentencing Colston to life.

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