Some homicide witnesses come forward out of conscience. Others are compelled.
The latter was on display in court Tuesday when a Bayview man admitted to participating in the 2009 robbery of a Louisiana man who was then fatally shot, and testified against his alleged cohorts.
The witness — a young man whom The San Francisco Examiner is not identifying out of concerns for his safety — testified at the preliminary hearing of four suspected gang members: three men and one woman. Prosecutors have accused them of conspiring to lure three men to the Alice Griffith housing project, also known as Double Rock, to rob them. One of the victims, Michael Bailey, 26, a Baton Rouge college student, put up a fight and was shot dead in the street.
As with many crimes in tough neighborhoods, where so-called “snitching” is sometimes considered a crime punishable by death, it took prosecutors guaranteeing the witness that he would not be charged to get him to testify.
“If I didn’t, there’d be a lot hanging over my head right now, a lot of time,” the man told prosecutor Eric Fleming.
Still, the witness said he now fears for his life.
“Nobody would want to be in this position,” he said. “A lot can happen to you. You can be here one day, and gone the next. That’s just how the game goes. When you tell on somebody, it’s going to come back at you.”
Prosecutors have charged William Jones, 23; Lance Molina, 25; Maurice Lige, 19; and Arieal Kittles, 23, with murder. They allege that Kittles met the victims at a nightclub, said she had lost her car keys, and asked for a ride home. After the victims arrived in the projects, prosecutors said several men swarmed the victims and then Jones shot Bailey. A fifth suspect has been charged as an accessory.
The witness, speaking on the stand in a low murmur with his head down, admitted he was armed with a gun at the robbery scene and ready to jump into the fray. He testified about seeing Kittles emerge from the victims’ car. “She walked past us,” he said. “She said, ‘They have chains and wallets and phones.’”
He then testified that he saw Jones fire two shots at Bailey. “It ended up being a tussle with a gun,” he said. “And he shot it.”
The witness and the other suspects then walked to his house and went through the victims’ stolen belongings, he said.
Under cross-examination by Jones’ attorney Mark Iverson, the witness said he lied to police inspectors during 2009 interviews about his involvement in the crime. Outside court, Iverson questioned the man’s credibility as a witness.
A judge will determine if the suspects should stand trial at the conclusion of the hearing in early January.