Three years ago next month, gunfire interrupted a romantic morning at one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions.
As couples kissed in cars parked along Christmas Tree Point Road, prosecutors say an erratic man “indiscriminately” started to shoot at a group of revelers partying on Valentine’s Day at the scenic Twin Peaks lookout.
But as the double murder trial of 29-year-old Richard Contreras began Tuesday, the defense told a different story, of a man who opened fire in self-defense after being knocked to the ground in a fight.
“He didn’t have the gun to shoot and kill anyone,” said Kleigh Hathaway, an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office representing Contreras. “He had the gun to protect himself. And guess what? He did.”
The 2016 shooting killed 21-year-old Julio Peraza and 19-year-old Rene Mora. Eric Morales, 18, suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach but survived.
The killings marked the first in a succession of high-profile crimes at the Twin Peaks lookout that led to city officials installing more security cameras and boosting uniformed police patrols at the tourist spot.
Particularly in response to the fatal shooting of a 71-year-old photographer at the lookout in July 2017, Supervisor Norman Yee pushed through legislation to pay for 16 new security cameras that have since been installed there.
“I haven’t heard of any major incidents since,” Yee said Tuesday. “Even the car break-in piece, which was rampant up there, has really reduced to almost nothing.”
In the courtroom, Contreras sat with the defense team wearing a light purple button-down shirt and his long hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Hathaway summed up the case as “a really unfortunate, random meeting of a pack of people from Santa Rosa and Mr. Contreras.”
The victims drove into San Francisco from Santa Rosa with a group of 11 friends around midnight. Their paths collided with Contreras at around 2 a.m. after he left a bar in the Mission with two women who drove him to the lookout.
Assistant District Attorney Adam Maldonado said Contreras shouted profanities at strangers from the backseat of the car on the way.
Contreras was on a third date with one of the women, Rosa Macias, who would later become a key witness in the case.
At the lookout, Maldonado said Macias saw him stand on a small concrete wall and pull out the pistol unprovoked.
“When she saw him pointing it at other human beings, she got out of there,” Maldonado said.
When Macias turned around, Contreras had been knocked to the ground, according to Maldonado.
Macias then heard “pop, pop, pop” as she drove away with the other woman, Maldonado said.
But the defense disputed those events.
Hathaway said testosterone started to fly when Contreras came into contact with the group of highly intoxicated friends, many of whom have criminal records.
The defense says one of the homicide victims, Mora, punched Contreras before the shooting.
Hathaway went on to suggest that there may have even been more than one shooter once bullets began to fly, which the prosecution disputed.
Slivers of what happened next are captured on grainy video from two surveillance cameras pointed at infrastructure at the lookout.
One video played in court showed a man point a gun through the window of a vehicle.
Contreras allegedly carjacked a Yukon Denali from a couple at the lookout at gunpoint before speeding away from the scene.
Meanwhile, 911 calls filtered in to dispatch.
Maldanado played a recording of one woman pleading with a dispatcher for help while putting pressure on the wound of the victim who survived.
“Eric, no!” the woman screamed. “Eric!”
Police arrested Contreras at an apartment in Richmond days later, after Macias identified him as a suspect. The vehicle was found nearby.
In the time between the shooting and arrest, Maldonado said Contreras had told Macias not to cooperate with police and that he planned to flee to Mexico.
Outside the courtroom, Paulette Rivas told reporters that the death of her brother, Mora, has been “hard to deal with.”
Rivas said she hopes that Contreras “pays for what he did.”
Contreras is being held at County Jail on various felony charges including attempted murder, carjacking and possession of a firearm by a felon.
He is expected to take the stand during the trial.
John Muir, Sherman and Clarendon elementary schools are in different parts of San Francisco but they have one important thing…
San Francisco may have missed last year’s target for a reduction in reported bike thefts, but the numbers are rolling…
Residents who say the annual Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival can be heard as far as three miles away…
The Lick-Wilmerding Tigers boys' basketball team was in for a rough battle on Saturday night against top-seeded Branson in the…
Recently, for a friend’s birthday gift, I phoned a local Sonoma County winery, selected a few favorite wines and had…