Jurors are deliberating today in the case of a San Francisco couple accused of murder in connection with the 2007 death of their housemate, whose body was found in their van weeks later.
Richard Carelli, 39, is charged with murder, and Michele Pinkerton, also 39, is charged as an accessory to murder in the Dec. 22, 2007, death of 49-year-old Leonard Milo Hoskins.
Hoskins died after a confrontation with Carelli, another tenant, in the driveway of their Mission Terrace home.
A neighbor across the street told police he saw Carelli yell at Hoskins and then hit him in the head with a wooden stick and pull him into the garage, where he said he heard the sound of a metal pipe hitting bone. He later saw a bloodied Carelli emerge from the garage and assumed Hoskins had won the fight, he said.
The case was complicated by delays in recovering Hoskins’ body, which was found wrapped in a sleeping bag, blankets, towels and a pillow, with duct tape wound around his head and a laundry bag cinched over it, inside Carelli’s van.
The van had been impounded as part of a missing persons investigation that began in January, but Hoskins’ body wasn’t discovered inside until Feb. 1, when police opened the van in an impound yard.
Carelli and Pinkerton left for Baja, Mex., in late January, and were not arrested until April.
Partly because of the decomposition of the body, the medical examiner in the case could only rule the cause of Hoskins’ death “probable asphyxia with blunt-force trauma.”
Prosecutor Pam Pecora-Hansen told jurors in her closing argument Tuesday that after striking Hoskins in the head with the stick, Carelli dragged him into the garage and eventually smothered him with a pillow.
Carelli’s attorney, Rebecca Young, claimed the incident was mutual combat, and that it was Hoskins who brought Carelli into the garage and, once inside, hit him on the head with a metal pipe.
While Carelli was trying to pin Hoskins down, Hoskins suffered a fatal heart attack, Young argued.
A tearful Carelli admitted on the stand during the trial that neither he nor Pinkerton called police after Hoskins died, but claimed he had panicked. He could not explain why he wrapped up the body and hid it in the van, nor why he lied to police who interviewed him in January before they left about there having been a fight.
Pecora-Hansen said this was evidence of “consciousness of guilt.”
Attorneys also disagreed on the motive for the confrontation.
Pecora-Hansen said Carelli was angry because the landlord was trying to evict him and Pinkerton. She said Carelli blamed Hoskins in part, and provoked the fight.
An eviction would have jeopardized the couple’s chances to regain custody of their young daughter, who had been removed due to the couple’s previous criminal history–including felony convictions for grand theft, possession of stolen property and forgery–and methamphetamine abuse, Pecora-Hansen said.
Though it was never proven that Carelli had been on drugs at the time of the murder, the medical examiner determined that Hoskins had methamphetamine in his system when he died.
Young said the medical examiner also found evidence Hoskins may have had cardiac arrhythmia, and could not rule out a sudden heart attack. Young argued that the heart attack was precipitated by drugs and adrenaline from the fight.
Young claimed the landlord conspired to “set up” Carelli that night by having Hoskins incite a confrontation in order to have Carelli arrested and force an eviction.