One last high after a long night of partying two summers ago led two men to the South of Market’s Henry Hotel. By sunrise that early July morning, one was dead.
The shooting death of 18-year-old Daniel Beltran stemmed from an argument in the single-room occupancy hotel’s lobby between Beltran and his friend and the two men now on trial for Beltran’s murder.
The incident on July 22, 2014, was captured on surveillance cameras, and footage was played Tuesday as the murder trial of Darius York and Joseph Young opened in San Francisco Superior Court.
York is alleged to have shot and killed Beltran with a semi-automatic pistol, and Young was allegedly his accomplice. York, 36, has been charged with murder and assault in connection to Beltran’s death and assault for allegedly attacking Beltran’s friend, Roger Alarcon. Young, 35, faces multiple assault charges.
A jury must decide whether the defendants were in danger or simply wanted to punish two men who had come to buy cocaine.
“[York and Young] were the initial aggressors,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart told jurors. “They were the ones who brought a handgun to what should have been just an argument.”
But Deputy Public Defender Matthew Sotorosen, who is representing York, said surveillance videos failed to capture the threats Beltran and Alarcon allegedly uttered multiple times.
“At the heart of this case is that a person was trying to keep himself and his loved ones safe from harm,” Sotorosen said of York, who plans to take the stand during the trial. “He acted in lawful self-defense.”
Beltran and Alarcon had been drinking with three other people when they headed to the Henry Hotel around 5 a.m., according to Swart. The group was by no means in a mellow mood. In fact, video footage played in court showed their car spinning in large circles in the middle of 6th Street.
Beltran and Alarcon were headed to the Henry Hotel for one reason, according to Swart. “Where’s the only place in The City you can get cocaine and anything else you want? The Henry Hotel,” he said.
When Beltran and Alarcon entered, Gary Owens, who was working at the front desk, stopped the two men and demanded they pay him a fee, according to Swart.
An argument broke out, and Owens went inside to tell York.
Surveillance video showed York retrieve his pistol from a seventh floor room and head to the lobby with Young. Soon after, fists were flying, and Young had shoved Beltran outside. Meanwhile, York began pistol whipping Alarcon. York then fired a shot through a window.
Beltran, who was hit in the heart, then ran to Minna Street and collapsed. His friends called police and then took him by car to San Francisco General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Meanwhile, Young and Owens went about cleaning up the blood as York took his pistol upstairs.
Police arrived after someone called 911 and were led back to the Henry Hotel by a trail of blood. Owens told police a man had come into the SRO claiming he’d been beaten up and was afraid for his life, Swart said.
Despite Owens’ false statement, Swart said, police found a key piece of evidence that had not been cleaned up: a shell casing.
The case is set to return to court Wednesday morning.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.