A judge today declared a mistrial in the case of a San Francisco couple accused of murder in connection with the 2007 death of their housemate.
Richard Carelli, now 39, was charged with murder and Michele Pinkerton, also 39, was charged as an accessory to murder in the Dec. 22, 2007, death of 49-year-old Leonard Milo Hoskins.
Jurors this morning found Carelli not guilty of first-degree murder but failed to agree on whether to convict him of a lesser charge. Because of the deadlock, jurors put off voting on Pinkerton’s accessory-to-murder charge.
Hoskins died after a confrontation that night with Carelli, another tenant, in the driveway of their Mission Terrace home, which continued inside the garage in-law unit that Carelli and Pinkerton were renting.
Police found Hoskins’ body weeks later inside Carelli’s van.
Carelli and Pinkerton were arrested in Mexico in April 2008.
Prosecutors argued that Carelli, who along with Pinkerton had a history of methamphetamine abuse, was angry about being evicted from the home and in part blamed Hoskins. The two were trying to sober up and worried an eviction would hurt their chances of regaining custody of their young daughter.
In the driveway, Carelli hit Hoskins in the head with a board and dragged him into the couple’s garage in-law unit, and fatally smothered him with a pillow, prosecutors argued.
Defense attorneys claimed it was mutual combat, and that Hoskins died of a heart attack brought on by a pre-existing medical condition his own methamphetamine use, as well as adrenaline from the fight.
Testimony during the trial by a male neighbor who witnessed the confrontation from across the street appeared to verify the prosecution’s account, but defense attorneys assailed the witness’ credibility and said he was friendly with Hoskins.
Jurors in the case deliberated for eight days before informing Judge Carol Yaggy this morning that they couldn’t reach any further agreement, other than that Carelli was innocent of first-degree murder.
The six-man, six-woman jury split on whether to convict Carelli of second-degree murder, with five in favor of guilt, five in favor of innocence, and two undecided.
The not-guilty verdict on the first-degree murder charge means Carelli can’t be retried on that charge. The district attorney’s office has not yet said whether it will retry him on a lesser charge.
Yaggy ordered Carelli and Pinkerton back to court Aug. 24 to set a date for a possible retrial in the case. The pair remains in custody, Carelli in lieu of $5 million bail and Pinkerton $1 million.
Prosecutor Pam Pecora-Hansen said after today’s hearing that it was “premature” to discuss on what charges the pair would be retried.
The case was complicated from the beginning 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 San Francisco in late January, and were not arrested until April, in Baja, Mexico.
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.”
Carelli admitted on the stand during the trial that neither he nor Pinkerton called police after Hoskins died, but claimed that was because 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 the country, about there having been a fight.
“These people did not commit murder, one day we will prove it. I know that,” Pinkerton’s attorney Tony Tamburello said after today’s mistrial.
“It’s a tragic event, and there are no winners,” Tamburello said.
Two male jurors, who declined to give their names, said after today’s mistrial that they had been undecided about whether Carelli was guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.
“I feel he’s guilty of one of the charges,” one juror said.
“The jury was problematic,” he said. They “came to a decision early on, and weren’t going to budge,” he said.
The second juror agreed, saying some jurors “were too emotionally attached.”
“I didn’t have a jury that was willing to debate,” the first juror said. There was “a real reluctance to get into specifics,” he said.
Opinions among the jury about Carelli ranged from some leaning toward first-degree murder, to others arguing he was not guilty of anything, the jurors said.
“The trial really came down to…a difference between who believed (the neighbor’s) testimony and who didn’t believe all of it,” the first juror said.