The murder case against a 19-year-old man accused of killing his six-year-old cousin is heading to trial after a judge ruled Thursday there was “significant evidence” showing he admitted to taking part in the shooting.
James Harbor was arrested in January after authorities identified him as one of three shooters who unleashed a hail of bullets on a crowd of people last Fourth of July, killing Jace Young and injuring a 39-year-old man.
The shooting shook San Francisco’s Black community and led to calls for action from local leaders, prompting police to offer a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the killing.
On Thursday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Stephen Murphy found there was enough evidence for Harbor to stand trial on all five felony charges filed by the District Attorney’s Office, including murder and attempted murder. Murphy also ruled that Harbor be held without the option of bail.
“I appreciate the fact that Mr. Harbor has a family and a one-year-old daughter,” Murphy said. “But in truth he should have thought of that before he armed himself on July 4, went with associates and shot into a crowd of people which did show a reckless and conscious disregard for human life.”
The rulings came at the end of a days-long preliminary hearing that began last month and centered around testimony from the lead investigator in the case, homicide Sgt. Timothy Kiely, and the victim’s father, Jason Young.
Investigators built their case based on extensive surveillance footage from a dozen or more security cameras that captured the Hunters Point area that night, as well as a pair of rap music videos recorded before the shooting.
But the key piece of evidence that influenced the ruling turned out to be a secretly taped phone call between the victim’s father, Jason, and Harbor in which the defendant allegedly confessed to the shooting.
While the substance of the call is in dispute because Harbor used slang, Harbor allegedly admitted to being in the area with three associates, described the different guns they used and said “I cocked my shit back and I let off, boom.”
“I find the pre-text phone call to be very significant evidence of Mr. Harbor’s admission that he shot if not several times at least once, and that his associates shot as well since he shared bullets with them,” Murphy said.
Harbor was present in the courtroom wearing shackles and orange jail garb. He has pleaded not guilty and is facing a possible sentence of up to life in prison.
His defense attorney with the Public Defender’s Office, Max Breecker, said he was concerned that Harbor would not be able to spend time with his family and care for his daughter while awaiting trial.
“I am very disappointed with the court’s ruling, but I look forward to proving Mr. Harbor’s innocence,” Breecker told the San Francisco Examiner.
Breecker had argued in court that Harbor should be released on an ankle monitor, because he was out of custody for the months without incident between the time of the shooting and his arrest in January.
Breecker said Harbor had intellectual and cognitive issues that are likely to play a role in any future trial, and that his client was enrolled in special education classes as a student.
But Assistant District Attorney Ryan King said Harbor doesn’t “deserve any credit” for not causing any problems while out of custody because he was “in hiding.” King argued Harbor was a threat to public safety.
“He literally and figuratively took hundreds of steps, armed himself to go shoot into a crowd of people and then run away,” King said in court.
Jace was killed while celebrating the Fourth of July with his family and a crowd of people outside 11 Whitfield Court.
Kiely testified that security footage showed Jace’s sister helping him hold a Roman candle when a bullet struck his right armpit and exited his left shoulder. Jace flinched and bent over in pain before running away, while the other victim was struck in the toe and back as he ran away.
The boy was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Police identified Harbor and some of his alleged co-conspirators in part through music videos that were being recorded at a block party outside a community center at 1065 Oakdale Ave. that night.
The videos, posted online by local rappers Lil Lar and Sonnie Bang, show young men dancing beneath the fireworks, flashing stacks of cash and pointing guns at the camera. Police showed the videos to witnesses who picked out Harbor and at least two of the others, who have not been charged.
“I had people review the video footage which is generally a more close up and clearer video where they were able to look at it and because they know people and they see it, they were able to point them out,” Kiely testified.
Police then appear to have matched the videos to surveillance footage that allegedly showed Harbor and the others changing their clothes and leaving the area on foot. Investigators followed the group on video to the corner of La Salle Avenue and Ingalls Street, where Harbor and two others are alleged to have opened fire.
Dash cam footage from a passing security vehicle captured muzzle flashes in the darkness, and one of the alleged co-conspirators tumbling to the ground while fleeing the scene. Police later recovered a .45 caliber pistol by a planter box near where the person fell, but the DNA evidence did not match Harbor, according to Breecker.
King said footage from that night showed Harbor shooting at Jace and the other victim while wearing a gray sweater. Harbor allegedly put on the sweater shortly before and then burned it afterward.
Harbor and Jace are not biological cousins but are considered family because their mothers are close.
“If there’s anything we can agree on it’s how horrific and tragic this situation is,” Breecker said in court. “My client is being charged with killing his cousin. It has figuratively and literally split up two families.”
Harbor is due back in court April 22.