As the trial of the alleged murderer of a San Francisco police officer drew to a close Tuesday, a courtroom full of off-duty officers filed out to exchange hugs and handshakes with the family of the late Isaac Espinoza and his former partner, Barry Parker.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” said San Francisco Police Officers Association vice-president Kevin Martin, speaking for officers who watched the nearly two-month trial.
Defendant David Hill’s lawyer, Martin Sabelli, indicated throughout the trial irregularities in Parker’s account of Espinoza’s death. That rankled the officers watching the trial.
“It’s difficult to hear a fellow officer’s credibility impeached. At some points you want to get up and scream,” Martin said. “As difficult as this was, it’s almost a relief because it’s the end.”
Hill, 23, is accused of gunning down Espinoza, 29, after the plainclothes officer from the Bayview Station tried to stop him as Hill walked on Newhall Avenue near Newcomb Avenue on April 10, 2004. Hill faces a murder charge as well as attempted murder and assault charges for allegedly wounding Parker with a gunshot to the ankle.
At the beginning of the trial, Judge Carol Yaggy ordered that no more than five uniformed officers could be in the courtroom at any time. Yaggy said she did not want the jury intimidated by a room full of uniformed officers. She also banned buttons and T-shirts referring to the case. Officers in street clothes have attended the trial almost every day, however.
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court decided in an unrelated case Monday that buttons may be worn in court, no spectators wore buttons or any other indicia Tuesday. “We wanted to stay focused on the task at hand and let the case speak for itself,” Martin said.
Standing in the hallway outside the courtroom, Martin indicated a group of officers who had participated in the investigation and the trial. “This will change the course of some people’s lives,” he said, but the experience also created a “bond that will never be broken” among the officers involved.
On Tuesday, Martin said officers had expressed disappointment on not seeing members of the department’s command staff at the trial. The union has previously criticized Chief Heather Fong for not being visible in her support for the rank and file.
The union previously clashed with then-newly elected District Attorney Kamala Harris in the early stages of Hill’s prosecution. Harris, who campaigned on a platform opposing capital punishment, refused to seek the death penalty for Hill. The union appealed to state Attorney General Bill Lockyer to take over the prosecution, but Lockyer refused, saying Harris did not abuse her discretion.
Since that initial clash, the union has supported Hill’s prosecution. Martin said Assistant District Attorney Harry Dorfman put the “best foot forward that the DA’s office had to offer.”
The seven-woman, five-man jury heard judicial instructions during the last hours of open court Tuesday. They are expected to begin deliberating today.
Espinoza’s attorney: Give defendant ‘justice he deserves’
Attorneys fired their final salvos in the murder trial of David Hill on Tuesday, each presenting a very different explanation of the same basic facts.
Hill’s lawyer, Martin Sabelli, who has argued that Hill gunned down 29-year-old plainclothes officer Isaac Espinoza in a misguided act of self-defense, finished his closing argument by characterizing Espinoza’s death as a “tragedy, but not a crime.”
Sabelli has argued that Hill gunned down Espinoza and injured his partner, Barry Parker, in acase of mistaken identity. Hill, who has pleaded guilty to being a member of a gang, was in hostile gang territory and mistook the two plainclothes officers for rival gangsters, according to his defense.
But prosecutor Harry Dorfman said Hill knew the officers were police, and that his behavior was not covered by self-defense. “The law does not say anything about a ‘reasonable’ gang member or, ‘if you’re a gang member here’s what you get to do,’” Dorfman said in his rebuttal to Sabelli’s closing argument.
Sabelli has spent nearly two months attempting to demonstrate that Hill was in the area of Newcomb and Newhall avenues on April 11, 2004, because it was the closest place to his girlfriend’s house to buy marijuana. He was carrying an AK-47, Sabelli argued, for protection as he walked through the territory of a gang sympathetic to Big Block, the rival of Hill’s gang, Westmob.
But prosecutors painted a different picture. They said Hill was in the area to carry out an assassination on rival gangster Ronnie “Uda” Allen, whom they say Hill believed was responsible for killing Westmob member DeAndre Dow in February 2004. Allen was shot to death Dec. 11, 2004.
During the trial and in his closing arguments, Sabelli attacked the credibility of the prosecution’s key witness, Barry Parker. On Tuesday, Sabelli projected onto a screen several pages of notes indicating where in court transcripts jurors could find examples of inconsistencies in Parker’s testimony.
But Dorfman said Parker’s inconsistencies were proof that he is acting in good faith by identifying Hill. “The defense mounts such an attack because the defense wants you to think Barry Parker is a hard liar,” Dorfman said. But the fact that Parker only identified Hill to investigators with 70 percent certainty at first, and the fact that he has not tried to “boost” the story before going to trial, show that he is earnest, Dorfman said.
At the end of his rebuttal, Dorfman told jurors that Espinoza, Parker and Hill, “are the three people who need justice. Give each of them the justice he deserves.”