A San Mateo County Superior Court jury on Monday found a Brisbane man not guilty of sexually assaulting and killing a hiker on San Bruno Mountain in 1989, prosecutors said.
Gabriel Ray O’Neill, 48, was accused of killing Sheila Hatcher, a 27-year-old woman found dead on March 12, 1989, but was released from custody following the jury’s verdict Monday afternoon in a Redwood City courtroom.
“We were happy with the outcome of the case,” O’Neill’s defense attorney Geoff Carr said Tuesday.
O’Neill was in custody for nearly three years.
Two hikers found Hatcher dead in a ravine. She died from blunt force trauma to the head. When O’Neill’s DNA was found in Hatcher’s body, the case was reopened in 2013 at the request of the Hatcher’s family.
O’Neill was arrested in June 2014 and admitted to having sex with Hatcher, but his defense attorney Carr said that the sex was consensual.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said prosecutors at his office are disappointed with the jury’s decision.
Wagstaffe said he thought his prosecutors had sufficient evidence to convict O’Neill.
Two people, including O’Neill’s ex-wife, implicated him, but the jury did not believe his ex-wife, according to Wagstaffe and Carr.
She had motive to fabricate the truth, which she’s done in the past against her ex-husband, Carr said.
But Wagstaffe said he thought O’Neill’s ex-wife’s brother, who also implicated him, was believable.
The jury returned the not guilty verdict after four days of deliberations.
Wagstaffe said the case is closed. Another suspect in the case, another brother of O’Neill’s ex-wife, is believed to be somewhere in the mountains of Central America and has not been found.
His DNA was not at the scene, Wagstaffe said.