Tenant rights attorney denied reduced bail in homicide case

Video footage appearing to show Carlos Argueta with his messenger bag and Pascal Krummenacher with his brown backpack the night of Sept 3., 2015, when James "Rick" Thomas was fatally stabbed. Both men have since been charged with murder. (Courtesy photo).

Despite the outpouring of support for a tenant rights attorney charged with murder in the killing of a 61-year-old man, a judge denied the defense’s request Friday to reduce the attorney’s bail from $2 million to less than half of that.

Carlos Argueta, a 31-year-old staff attorney for the Eviction Defense Collaborative, allegedly stabbed James “Rick” Thomas to death while intoxicated last month on Sixth Street, just south of Market Street.

His co-defendant in the case, Pascal Krummenacher, 21, was an intern with the EDC and out drinking with Argueta the night of the fatal stabbing. He’s also charged with murder.

In San Francisco Superior Court on Friday, Deputy Public Defender Peter Santina requested that Judge Harry Dorfman lower Argueta’s bail to $707,000.

“Argueta is an attorney, he has served the public interest and public good his entire life,” Santina said, arguing his client has “zero history of violence” and is not a public safety risk.

Argueta would not flee when out on bail, Satina argued, saying more than 40 people, including friends, family and coworkers, have agreed to contribute to the bail amount. Argueta wouldn’t run out on them, Santina said.

“Letter after letter, person after person has come forward to tell the court that Mr. Argueta is not a violent person, [he] is in fact the most peaceful person they’ve ever met,” Santina said.

Assistant District Attorney John Ullom listened to Santina’s arguments, then fired back that lowering bail should not be based on what Argueta is like as a person but what he allegedly did — killed a man.

“This is not a referendum of Mr. Argueta’s character,” Ullom said. “This is a question of public safety and what we have here is an allegation of murder.”

Ullom focused in on the fatal stabbing, saying Argueta is “an individual, while intoxicated, who stabbed an individual to death” while on probation for an alcohol related offence. Argueta has previously been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Right before Dorfman sided with the prosecution, he offered Santina a chance to make his case once more. “I think if we’re being really honest… to say that there’s a future public safety risk to me is completely baseless,” Santina said.

“There are as I see it strong conflicting issues and interests here,” said Dorfman. Expressing uncertainty about what actually happened the night of the stabbing, Dorfman said it allegedly came down to “Argueta somehow obtained a knife and used the knife apparently while under the influence of alcohol to kill James Thomas.”

“There will be disputes about, step by step, what led up to the death of Mr. Thomas,” Dorfman said. He then decided to deny the motion to reduce bail.

Argueta and Krummenacher will appear in court again Monday, where a date for the preliminary hearing will be scheduled. Both men pleaded not guilty to murder, second-degree robbery and receiving stolen property. Argueta also pleaded not guilty to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

If there is a trial, it will likely center on whether the defendants were the aggressors or victims in an attempted robbery that turned into the fatal stabbing.

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Video still appearing to show Carlos Argueta waving a knife within moments of allegedly stabbing James Thomas on Sixth and Market streets Sept. 3, 2015 (Courtesy photo).

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