Judge announces mistrial in case of 50-cent robbery

Jurors deliberating the fate of a homeless man on trial for a 50-cent robbery announced they were hopelessly deadlocked Friday, prompting the judge in the case to declare a mistrial.

The jurors were split 8-4 in favor of acquitting 42-year-old Stephen Paul Quiles, who claims he was simply panhandling when he asked a man for beer money in a South San Francisco laundromat Jan. 7.

The victim, Ernie Dicicco, said Quiles had moments earlier flashed a gun, which authorities later learned was a toy. Quiles maintains he took the toy gun out of his pocket momentarily while rooting through his pockets for change.

After getting the two quarters, Quiles shook the man’s hand and left the Chestnut Cleaners on Chestnut Avenue and El Camino Real. Police arrested him a short time later sipping, his beer in the same laundromat. Quiles was charged with felony robbery and faced five years in prison.

Following the mistrial, Quiles’ attorney Eric Liberman said he was surprised his client wasn’t exonerated.

“What I’m honestly standing here wondering is how four people could think this guy is guilty and how conservative San Mateo County really is. But I concede I’m not standing at my most objective place right at this moment,” he said.

Liberman said he believes the victim was frightened by Quiles, who was drinking and talking to himself in the laundromat, and feltthreatened by his strange behavior. But it was never Quiles’ intention to scare or rob him, he said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said prosecutors will now decide whether to retry the case, to try to negotiate a plea bargain or drop the charges. The decision will be made by Thursday, he said.

It remains unlikely, however, that the case will be retried.

“Obviously we don’t want to be naïve here. Two-thirds of the jury voted not guilty,” Wagstaffe said.

Following the mistrial, jurors declined to speak with attorneys about their decision.

Wagstaffe said prosecutors did not regret the decision to try the case.

“The one thing we know for sure is our victim isn’t lying. He’s a good, honest man who was victimized. The real issue was whether it was the defendant’s intent to rob him,” he said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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