Eight arrested on suspicion of intimidating a witness

A chaotic scene spilled out of a San Francisco courtroom Tuesday after a prosecutor accused a homicide suspect’s friends of intimidating the key eyewitness to a murder on a notoriously violent North Beach strip.

Charles Heard, 25, of San Francisco, is charged with fatally shooting Richard Barrett, 29, in the back outside a cluster of bars and nightclubs on Broadway at Kearny Street on Nov. 25, 2008. The homicide happened at about 1 a.m. and police said the fight may have been over a medallion shaped like the Flintstones cartoon character Bamm-Bamm.

A Texas woman who was in The City for a conference at the time said she was smoking outside a bar with a friend and saw the whole incident unfold. She flew to San Francisco for the preliminary trial and testified Tuesday.

She ducked when she heard the first of several gunshots, only looking up after they stopped.

“That’s when I saw him waving the gun around …” she said, describing Heard. “We met eyes. We met face.”

When Assistant District Attorney Mike Swart asked the witness to point out the killer in the courtroom, defense attorney Eric Safire motioned for Heard’s friends in the audience to stand up. About eight men stood up before the witness identified Heard as the killer.

“I told them to stand up,” Safire said outside the courtroom. “They didn’t intimidate anybody. I wanted it to be a fair identification.”

Swart called it witness intimidation, but Superior Court Judge Wallace Douglass did not instruct sheriff’s deputies to make any arrests. That’s when a number of San Francisco police officers in the courtroom started making arrests. As the scene moved outside into the hallway, police started handcuffing the men.

Eight people were arrested on suspicion of intimidating a witness, a felony, according to police spokeswoman Sgt. Lyn Tomioka. Police did not immediately release the names of those arrested and the District Attorney’s Office is still considering charges.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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