A judge dismissed a robbery charge Wednesday against a tenants’ rights lawyer on trial for fatally stabbing a 61-year-old man at Sixth and Market streets in 2015, according to Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng dismissed the charge against 34-year-old Carlos Argueta just one day before jurors are expected to hear closing arguments in the murder trial.
“This case has been going on a long time — three years,” said Adachi, who is representing Argueta. “Tomorrow is going to be quite a day.”
Adachi’s legal back-and-forth with the District Attorney’s office in the case, which has included disputed allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and judicial racism, has repeatedly made headlines.
“There’s been a lot of noise surrounding this case but ultimately this has always been about the murder of an innocent man,” said Max Szabo, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office. “Now that’s what the jury will have the opportunity to decide.”
Jurors will now be asked to decide whether to convict Argueta of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter in connection with the stabbing of James “Rick” Thomas.
Prosecutor Adam Maldonado alleged Argueta robbed Thomas of a red backpack at knifepoint after a night of heavy drinking with coworkers from the nonprofit Eviction Defense Collaborative where he worked at the time.
Maldonado said Argueta then charged Thomas with the knife and pierced his heart. Thomas dropped to one knee before collapsing and bleeding out on the street outside the Tu Lan Vietnamese restaurant.
But Adachi painted a different picture of the incident. He said Argueta pulled out the knife in self-defense, and stabbed Thomas accidentally.
He argued Argueta was acting to protect himself and a young intern he worked with, after Thomas and several other men became angry when the intoxicated intern grabbed a backpack from Thomas’ shopping cart that he mistakenly believed was his.
Adachi said Argueta reflexively stabbed Thomas when the older man punched him in the head.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations Monday morning.