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SF trio pleads not guilty to murder with a police officer’s stolen gun

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A friend of Abel Enrique Esquivel, Jr., a 23-year-old man who was shot and killed near 26th Street and South Van Ness Avenue Aug. 15, wears photos of her late friend around her neck while outside the Hall of Justice in San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, September 14, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Three young men accused of killing a man with a revolver stolen from a police officer’s vehicle pleaded not guilty Thursday to a series of felonies related to a spree of shootings and robberies in San Francisco.

Daniel Cruz, 18, Erick Garcia Pineda, 18, and 24-year-old Jesus Perez-Araujo appeared in court for their arraignment Thursday at the Hall of Justice. The trio stood alongside Spanish interpreters in orange jumpsuits as the family of the victim, 23-year-old Abel Enrique Esquivel, Jr., looked on.

The case has drawn attention to the epidemic of car break-ins in San Francisco because the murder weapon is a firearm stolen from the personal vehicle of a city police officer. This is the second time that a law enforcement officer’s stolen weapon has been used in a recent homicide in San Francisco.

SEE RELATED: SFPD officer’s gun stolen during car break-in, used in homicide

The case has also raised questions as to whether the officer, who the police union called a highly decorated veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, secured the revolver in accordance with local gun control law.

San Francisco law requires drivers to secure firearms in a lockbox attached to a vehicle or in the trunk of a car.

The criminal complaint against the trio obtained by the San Francisco Examiner identified the officer as Marvin Cabuntala.

The complaint claims that Garcia Pineda and Perez-Araujo stole the revolver and ammunition from his car.

Kwixuan Maloof, an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office who is representing Perez-Araujo, does not know whether the gun was secured but said “the fact that it was stolen out of a car probably means that it was not secure.”

SEE RELATED: SF’s plan to deter auto burglars from rental cars moves forward

“Guns stolen from vehicles put everybody in danger and nobody knows this better than the police,” Maloof said. “There’s information that a police officer had his gun stolen, and if that police officer did not secure his gun, he or she should be accountable.”

Prosecutors said that the trio shot and killed Esquivel during a robbery in the Mission District in the early morning hours of Aug. 15, just three days after the murder weapon was stolen. Garcia Pineda is charged with pulling the trigger.

The weapon is described as a silver .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver registered to the police officer.

“This is a spree over a week where there were separate, different violent offenses,” Assistant District Attorney Heather Trevisan said in court.

Alex Bastian, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, said the alleged crime spree included five robberies and three shootings.

The police union said Wednesday that the homicide was gang-related, but Bastian said “there aren’t any enhancements that indicate that this was gang activity.”

The defendants have been charged with theft of a gun, grand theft, murder, two counts of attempted murder and numerous counts of robbery. However, the defendants have not been charged with burglary.

“The charges and the allegations are very serious, and that’s why we asked the judge to deny bail for all the defendants,” Bastian told reporters.

The defendants are being held in County Jail without bail.

Esquivel’s family declined to comment.

The trio is expected to appear in court for another hearing Friday morning. Their preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 26 at 9 a.m.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the name of the police officer in question.

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