A man accused of killing a newspaper vendor in San Francisco in January should not be charged with murder because the death was accidental, his defense attorney said Monday.
Mark Anthony Cassell, 36, made his initial appearance in San Francisco Superior Court Monday afternoon to face murder charges for the alleged attack on 77-year-old San Francisco Chronicle vendor Dallas Ayers at 1 Post St. on Jan. 28.
According to the San Francisco District Attorney’s office spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman, Cassell walked up to Ayers and “without any provocation” allegedly picked up the victim and threw him onto the pavement.
Assistant District Attorney Harry Dorfman called the case “a random assault on the street” by a younger and larger man. Ayers was 5’11 inches tall. Cassell is 6’4 inches tall, the DA’s office points out.
Ayers was taken to a hospital after the incident and succumbed to his injuries, including a hip fracture on Feb. 21. The Medical Examiner’s office ruled the death a homicide.
But Cassell’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof, said his client did not deserve murder charges, arguing that witnesses said the suspect in the case picked up Ayers “in a laughing, joking manner” before accidentally dropping him.
Dorfman asked for Cassell to be held $1 million bail while Maloof requested that bail be reduced to $500,000. Judge Monica Wiley sided with the defense, ordering him held at the lower amount.
Cassell, who remains in custody, did not enter a plea and will return to court on Wednesday. At that time, according to Stillman, the prosecution plans to amend the complaint to add the additional count of elder abuse causing death.
He was arrested on March 13 after officers from the Police Department’s Tenderloin station recognized him from a department-wide bulletin.
Prosecutors initially declined last week to file murder charges against Cassell, who also had a bench warrant out for his arrest on methamphetamine possession and petty theft charges.
However, the district attorney’s office ended up filing the murder charges on Friday after receiving additional evidence from police.
Ayers had worked as a newspaper vendor for about 30 years and was on his midday break at the time of the attack, according to Dave Ellis from Teamsters Local 853, the union representing the vendors.
“Mr. Ayers was a hard-working elderly man who was well known by commuters of the Montgomery Bart and Muni Station.” District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement.
“His life was cut short because of the malicious and unprovoked assault by this defendant.”