Trial nears end for homeless man accused of laundromat robbery

A homeless man, who claims he was simply panhandling at a South San Francisco laundromat in January, is staring down at five years in state prison for an alleged armed robbery of 50 cents to buy a bottle of beer.

After a full-blown felony trial in a Redwood City courtroom, jurors are deliberating the fate of 42-year-old Stephen Quiles, whose case hinges on whether he robbed his victim or simply begged for money.

Quiles, who has a long arrest history of misdemeanors and has been homeless for a decade, was relaxing on Jan. 7 with his beer in his favorite spot — aSouth San Francisco laundromat on Chestnut Street and El Camino Real.

“It was warm. He was finishing his beer and thinking about his next beer,” Quiles’ attorney Eric Liberman said.

Meanwhile, Ernie Dicicco walked in and began doing his laundry as Quiles fumbled through his pocket for beer money, Liberman said. Earlier in the day, Quiles had picked up a toy gun in a nearby park. While Dicicco loaded the washer, Quiles removed the toy briefly to count his change, then put it back into his pocket, the defense attorney said.

While that explanation was the matter of spirited argument during the day-and-a-half of testimony, nobody disputes what happens next. Quiles walked up to Dicicco and asked for 50 cents. When Dicicco complied, Quiles shook his hand and walked out.

Dicicco called 911, and police arrested Quiles a short time later as he was sipping his new beer back at the laundromat.

During Thursday’s closing arguments, however, Deputy District Attorney Sharon Cho told a much different story. As Quiles pulled the gun out of his pocket, he made eye contact with Dicicco, she said, and the homeless man’s face suddenly became serious. Dicicco was afraid for his life, she told the jury.

“He testified he was afraid he would get shot if he didn’t give him 50 cents,” she said, adding that the amount of money taken or the fact that the gun was a toy did not make the crime any less serious.

“Is the person who looks down the barrel of a fake gun any less victimized than someone looking down the barrel of a real gun?” she asked.

Liberman has questioned why felony charges were filed, much less a full trial conducted in the case.

tbarak@examiner.com

Just Posted

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

Glasses behind the bar at LUNA in the Mission District on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Glassware is just one of the many things restaurants have had trouble keeping in stock as supply chain problems ripple outward. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF restaurants face product shortages and skyrocketing costs

‘The supply chain crisis has impacted us in almost every way imaginable’

A Giants fans hangs his head in disbelief after the Dodgers won the NLDS in a controversial finish to a tight Game 5. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Giants dream season ends at the hands of the Dodgers, 2-1

A masterful game comes down to the bottom of the ninth, and San Francisco came up short

<strong>Workers with Urban Alchemy and the Downtown Streets Team clean at Seventh and Market streets on Oct. 12. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins> </strong>
<ins></ins>
Why is it so hard to keep San Francisco’s streets clean?

Some blame bureaucracy, others say it’s the residents’ fault

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — seen in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday — touted Congressional Democrats’ infrastructure bill in San Francisco on Thursday. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times)
Pelosi touts infrastructure bill as it nears finish line

Climate change, social safety net among major priorities of Democrats’ 10-year funding measure

Most Read