A San Francisco jury acquitted a Potrero Terrace woman of murder charges in the stabbing death of another woman last year, the Public Defender’s Office announced Tuesday.
After a nine-day trial, Maria Elena Burgos, 49, was found to have acted in self-defense when she stabbed Ernestine “Buttercup” Herron, 26, in the neck during a confrontation on a street in the housing projects where both women lived, according to the defense.
The Public Defender’s Office said Burgos could have been convicted of a lesser charge — such as second-degree murder, or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter — but ultimately was found not guilty.
“We had witnesses indicating that the defendant was the initial aggressor and stabbed an unarmed victim, but nonetheless we respect the jury’s decision,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman Alex Bastian said.
The defense said Herron had assaulted and robbed Burgos of money several days before the March 28, 2011 stabbing, adding that Herron had a reputation for starting fights and robbing others in the projects. Burgos was reportedly preyed on because she was new to the neighborhood. The day of the stabbing, Burgos had reportedly taken a kitchen knife outside with her for protection.
“Ms. Burgos thought she was going to be killed — and she might have been if she hadn’t had that knife,” Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris said.
Herron had approached Burgos, who asked for her money back, the defense said. Herron then reportedly punched Burgos several times before Burgos stabbed her.
During the trial, the chief toxicologist from the Medical Examiner’s Office testified that Herron was using crack cocaine at the time of the stabbing and that might have increased her strength and level of aggression.
Burgos, a housekeeper and home health care aide, had moved to Potrero Terrace with her then-17-year-old daughter three months before the stabbing after living in a shelter for domestic violence victims, according to the defense. Burgos’ estranged husband had been convicted in a domestic violence incident in 2005, the Public Defender’s Office said.