The attorney for a man charged in the 2008 killing of another man outside a nightclub in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood told a judge today he might have to withdraw from the case because of allegations of witness intimidation.
The statement by attorney Eric Safire came during a preliminary hearing in San Francisco Superior Court for his client, 25-year-old Charles Heard. The hearing will allow the judge to determine if there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.
Heard is charged with murder, robbery and weapons possession in connection with the Nov. 25 fatal shooting of 29-year-old Richard Barrett outside the Fuse bar near Broadway and Kearny streets at about 1 a.m.
Missing from Barrett was an elaborate jeweled necklace depicting the Flintstones baby character Bamm-Bamm. Police initially believed the pendant had been stolen but the district attorney's office is now investigating whether it was confiscated after the shooting by a bar patron who knew Barrett.
Witnesses described two suspects in the killing, but only Heard has been arrested. He was taken into custody in late July.
Heard has a prior conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, and was arrested for Barrett's murder while reporting to his parole officer.
The main witness in the case, a woman who is not being identified out of concern for her safety, identified Heard as the shooter on Tuesday and continued testifying on the witness stand today.
In the middle of her testimony Tuesday, Safire motioned to several men in the courtroom to stand up and face her.
Prosecutors alleged that this was clear witness intimidation, and police arrested the eight men outside the courtroom.
A district attorney's office spokesman said the eight are known gang members; prosecutors were still weighing charges this morning.
As the case resumed this morning, Safire asked to make a statement before Judge Wallace Douglass.
Safire admitted he “motioned them to stand up,” but claimed he merely wanted to witness to see that there are other people who match her description of the shooter.
The witness had described the shooter as having gold-capped teeth, and the men who stood in court reportedly flashed their own gold-capped teeth at her.
“There was no intent, of course, to intimidate the witness,” Safire said.
Safire today asked for assurances that he himself wouldn't be arrested for witness intimidation.
Douglass responded by saying, “I guess you'll have to withdraw, because I can't guarantee you won't be arrested.”
Swart was non-committal on any plans to have Safire arrested, pointing out that police make arrests, not the district attorney's office.
“In my opinion, this is just another delaying — gamesmanship on the part of Mr. Safire, to prevent this witness from giving her testimony,” Swart said.
The witness then resumed her testimony.
The woman said she saw two men approach Barrett from behind just before he was shot. She said she didn't get a good look at the second man, but was “100-percent certain” Heard was the gunman, and remembered him as having a gold-capped tooth or teeth.
After Barrett was shot, she went over to the Fuse bar, where a bartender was performing CPR on Barrett, who was lying just inside the door, she said.
“I actually stood on the corner and started to pray,” the woman said.
“I didn't know him, but I didn't want him to die,” she said.
The woman then waited for police to arrive and pointed out one of the bullet casings to officers, she said. She later picked Heard out of a photo lineup.
Safire declined to cross-examine the woman today.
“I don't want to get arrested,” he told reporters. “If I'm going to be subject to arrest, I can't cross-examine her.”
– Bay City News