The murder trial of an alleged San Francisco gang member accused of shooting another man after unsuccessfully trying to steal his jeweled necklace got underway Thursday morning with the prosecutor telling jurors the crime fit the suspect’s “business plan.”
Prosecutor Michael Swart told a San Francisco Superior Court jury during opening statements Thursday that accused murderer Charles Heard, 25, “specializes in certain types of armed robberies” and was known to target “men who wear large, ostentatious, expensive pieces of jewelry.”
Heard is accused of killing 29-year-old Richard Barrett in North Beach in the early morning of Nov. 25, 2008. Investigators believe he and another man had targeted Barrett, who was standing near Broadway and Kearny streets at about 1 a.m., because of Barrett’s distinctive jeweled necklace, depicting the Flinstones character Bamm-Bamm.
Heard, who was arrested last July while reporting to his parole officer, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted robbery, gun possession and participation in a criminal street gang.
Though the necklace was never actually taken, Swart said the modus operandi of the attempted robbery matched Heard’s “business plan.”
“According to the defendant, this trade was very lucrative for him,” Swart said.
He said Heard was caught on an FBI wiretap in July 2008 bragging about the money he would make from stealing expensive jewelry and cashing them in at pawn shops for between $15,000 and $25,000.
Heard, who goes by the street name “Cheese,” is believed by gang investigators to be a member of the Central Divis Players, based in The City’s Western Addition neighborhood.
Heard and another man, his “business partner,” Swart said, would stake out nightclubs looking for men wearing gaudy jewelry, and then try to isolate and rob them.
Barrett, a local drug dealer according to Swart, was hanging out on that North Beach street corner that evening when two men came up to him and asked for a cigarette. They then allegedly pushed him up against a wall and the men scuffled over the necklace.
When Barrett, a larger man, pushed them away and ran around the corner, Heard pulled a gun and shot him twice in the back, Swart said.
Barrett collapsed inside the nearby Fuse Bar and died.
Two eyewitnesses saw portions of the attack and heard the gunshots, according to Swart.
One, a Texas woman who had been visiting San Francisco on a business trip, testified at Heard’s preliminary court hearing last October that she was “100-percent certain” Heard was the shooter. She said she recalled the shooter having gold-capped teeth, as Heard did, and later identified him to police from a photo lineup.
The woman said she saw Heard point a gun at Barrett, ducked away because she feared for her own safety, and then heard two shots. When she looked back at Heard, she said the gun was still in his hand, their eyes met momentarily, and Heard ran off down Kearny Street.
In a controversial move during the woman’s preliminary hearing testimony, Heard’s attorney Eric Safire asked several men — reportedly associates of Heard — who were seated in the courtroom audience to stand up and face her on the stand. They flashed their own gold teeth at her.
Swart alleged that Safire was trying to intimidate a witness.
Safire said that he merely wanted the witness to see that there were others that matched her description of the shooter, but the woman did not recant her testimony.
She is expected to take the stand in the trial next week.
Another eyewitness, a homeless man who reportedly knew Barrett and also saw the attempted robbery and heard the gunshots, is expected to testify as well.
Swart said he plans to introduce evidence of a police chase of a gray Nissan sedan — owned by a friend of Heard and in Heard’s possession days before the killing — seen fleeing the scene that night.
Police lost track of the car, but it was later found abandoned in the Potrero Hill neighborhood.
Swart said Heard’s cell phone records show calls from North Beach before and after the attempted robbery and along the route of the fleeing Nissan.
Additional evidence includes video surveillance from nearby North Beach businesses showing two men that Swart says resemble the suspects.
Swart acknowledged to the jury that the quality of the video is poor, and that some of the eyewitness descriptions “weren’t always accurate.”
Safire declined to submit an opening statement to the jury.
“He tells a scary and interesting story,” Safire said of Swart during a break in the trial today. “But he’s not going to be able to prove it.”
Safire is asking the judge to allow him to introduce evidence from a “biometric” expert in facial recognition who claims that the person investigators believe is Heard in the video surveillance footage has to be a completely different person, based on an analysis of the facial structure.
The judge has not yet made a decision on whether to allow the testimony into evidence.