A 26-year-old Oakland man accused in the 2007 slaying of another man outside a San Francisco nightclub was acquitted of murder today as jurors said there was not enough evidence police had arrested the actual gunman.
Kenoye Stroman was arrested in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2007, following the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Ronald Jacques, of San Francisco, outside Jillian’s at Fourth and Mission streets. He had been in a colorful limousine decorated with racing stripes that was seen fleeing the shooting and was pulled over by police in Oakland.
A Glock 9 mm used in the killing was found hidden in a compartment in the limo, according to prosecutors.
Defense attorneys argued that another man in the limo had been the actual shooter, and after five days of deliberation, the jury early this afternoon found Stroman not guilty.
Stroman hugged his attorney and his family wept in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
“It was a tragedy for everybody,” Stroman’s attorney, Peter Fitzpatrick, said outside the courtroom. “I’m sorry the (Jacques) family lost their son, but convicting the wrong person does not make the tragedy go away.”
“Although it’s disappointing, I respect the jury’s decision,” prosecutor Harry Dorfman said following the verdict. “But Mr. Jacques’ family is very disappointed.”
Dorfman had argued that two eyewitnesses to the shooting–which took place during a drunken brawl outside the club and was triggered by a woman being inappropriately touched–identified Stroman as the gunman at a police lineup.
Their testimony during the trial, however, was not as certain.
“The reality of what happened is, it was a chaotic situation…a man gets shot to death on the sidewalk in front of the club, and at trial, there were many witnesses and there were conflicts in the testimony,” Dorfman said. “And the jury apparently decided that the conflicts in the testimony raised a reasonable doubt.”
During the trial, the prosecution’s primary witness testified she lied at a preliminary hearing in the case, during which she refused to identify Stroman and said she was frightened to appear in court. At the initial police lineup, the woman had told officers Stroman was “definitely” the shooter.
“I am convinced Mr. Stroman is the killer,” Dorfman said today. He said the identification by the two eyewitnesses after the killing had been “a good faith, accurate identification.”
A defense eyewitness, however, a female security guard who witnessed the fight from across the street, testified that she believed the shooter was lighter skinned, heavier, and wore different clothing than Stroman.
Fitzpatrick said the description she provided resembled another man in the limo.
That man was given immunity for his testimony at Stroman’s trial.
Fitzpatrick said that police had told the man to change his story about where he had been standing when the shooting occurred–a claim Dorfman disputed.
Another problem related to missing bags of gunshot residue evidence, according to Fitzpatrick.
Gunshot residue was found on both Stroman and the heavier-set man, but evidence bags for samples taken from the five other men in the limo turned up missing.
Police testified that some of the men had peed on the bags containing the gunshot residue evidence and that the bags had later been thrown away, Fitzpatrick said.
Dorfman said the paper bags are only used to preserve gunshot residue evidence collected from the suspects’ hands. All the men were tested, and only Stroman and the heavier man were positive, he said.
The gunshot residue evidence question was “a red herring,” Dorfman said.
Fitzpatrick had argued to the jury that the case was rampant with police corruption, while Dorfman dismissed the claim as “offensive” and “foolish.”
“There was missing evidence, there were tampered witnesses, and the witnesses (the prosecution) brought in perjured themselves,” Fitzpatrick said today.
Fitzpatrick said that Dorfman had done an excellent job, but that police had arrested the wrong man and had botched the investigation.
“SFPD needs to become professional and credible in their investigations,” said Fitzpatrick. “Otherwise juries will continue to throw out these cases.”
Jury foreperson Donna Logan said outside the courtroom, “The prosecution did not prove their case definitively.”
Logan acknowledged it had been “a complex case” and that the scene of the shooting had been chaotic, but cited the “consistency” of the eyewitnesses as a main factor in the jury’s decision.
“If you weighed all the different pieces of evidence, they still never collectively” amounted to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, Logan said.
Other jurors said witness testimony about Stroman’s good character also played a part.
Fitzpatrick said Stroman had no prior criminal record and had been “a hanger-on” with a group out for a birthday celebration that night.
“He has no reputation for violence or anything,” he said.
After the sentence was read and the jury had left the courtroom, trial Judge Teri Jackson told Stroman “not to allow a situation like this to ever happen again.”
“If you can, make an impact on someone’s life,” she said. “Please make a difference. You’ve been given another chance.”
“Thank you, your honor,” said Stroman. He was expected to be released from custody today.