Victim in tenant rights attorney homicide case had criminal record

Two tenant rights workers pleaded not guilty to murder charges Tuesday in a case that centers on whether the defendants were the victims — or aggressors — in an apparent robbery in Mid-Market that turned fatal.

Carlos Argueta, 31, is accused of fatally stabbing James “Rick” Thomas, 61, during an altercation over a backpack Sept. 3 near the corner of Sixth and Market streets.

Co-defendant Pascal Krummenacher, 21, a former intern for the Eviction Defense Collaborative, was out drinking with Argueta the night of the stabbing. Argueta is a staff attorney for the same organization.

In a motion filed by the District Attorney’s Office Sept. 18, prosecutors revealed Thomas had been arrested and convicted on charges of receiving stolen property, petty theft with a prior and on two occasions second-degree burglary, between 2004 and 2006. He was also arrested and convicted on narcotics-related charges in 2005 and 2008.

The motion was filed by prosecutors asking that the Public Defender’s Office be pulled off the case, citing a conflict of interest.

Deputy Public Defender Roberto Evangelista, who represented Argueta for the first weeks of the case, has since been replaced by colleague Peter Santina after prosecutors learned Evangelista had represented Thomas in past.

Argueta has a prior misdemeanor DUI conviction, while Krummenacher has no criminal history, according to attorneys.

Defense attorneys claim Thomas was stabbed in self-defense. Argueta and Krummenacher were allegedly confronted by Thomas and three other men when leaving the Showdown bar near Sixth and Market streets.

Surveillance footage reviewed by the San Francisco Examiner appeared to show Thomas and Argueta struggle over a messenger bag at the southwest end of Sixth and Market streets.

While the defense claims the bag was Argueta’s, prosecutors believe otherwise.
A witness told police the bag belonged to Thomas and was allegedly taken from his cart by Argueta, according to documents obtained by the Examiner.

After Argueta was pushed up against a car, the altercation continued around the corner onto Market Street. The footage appears to show Argueta without his bag and Thomas with a bag in hand.

At some point, Krummenacher appears to be thrown to the ground and surrounded by some of the other men. His glasses are apparently knocked off.

At another, Thomas appears to have swung a bag at Argueta. An unidentified man also appears to have raised a cane at Argueta.

The group then returned to Sixth Street, where an unrecorded fight broke out on the corner. Witnesses told police Thomas and Argueta grabbed each other’s throats and strangled one another while bystanders attempted to break up the fight.

The fight moved south on Sixth Street, where Argueta allegedly stabbed Thomas near the front of Tu Lan Vietnamese restaurant.

Argueta was pulled inside the restaurant by a bystander and sat on a chair waiting until police arrived and detained him, defense attorneys said. A drunken Krummenacher caught a BART train and later turned himself over to police.

In court Tuesday, Argueta and Krummenacher were greeted by about 30 supporters. Some of Thomas’ relatives were also in court.

While Argueta has not been able to afford bail, Krummenacher was released on $1 million bail and is scheduled to return to work next week providing legal services at a nonprofit in The City, his attorney Lewis Romero said.

The defendants are scheduled to appear in court again Oct. 16.

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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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