Murder cases often fall apart when witnesses refuse to testify, many out of fear for their safety. The bravery of those who do come forward was highlighted in court Monday.
A former resident of Bayview’s Alice Griffith housing project nervously took the stand to describe an October 2009 conversation that she said she overheard outside her bathroom window between two men discussing their part in the robbery and fatal shooting of a Louisiana man.
“They was trying to jack the dude out of a chain or bracelet,” the woman testified she heard one man say. “The guy was fighting back … saying that he was going to hit one of them with a car. He had to pull out the banger and do him in.”
Michael Bailey, a 26-year-old electrical engineering student in Baton Rouge and a married father of three, had been visiting friends in the Bay Area. One night they went to a South of Market nightclub where they met a woman who said she had lost her keys and needed a ride home.
Prosecutors allege the woman lured Bailey and his friends to Alice Griffith, also known as Double Rock, an area notorious for gang violence. When they arrived, the men were swarmed by a group of other men and robbed, prosecutors said. Bailey resisted and was shot dead.
The woman, Arieal Kittles, 23, and three men — William Jones, 23; Lance Molina, 25; and Maurice Lige, 19 — are being held in Bailey’s slaying; another woman is accused as an accessory to murder. Their preliminary hearing is expected to conclude next week, after which a judge will rule whether there is probable cause to hold them for trial.
Monday’s witness said the projects were abuzz in the days following the murder, and she recognized the voices of Jones and Molina, whom she said she knew from the neighborhood. She then called police using a phony name in order to remain anonymous, she said.
“I felt that it should be told,” she said.
Prosecutors asked The San Francisco Examiner not to identify the witness out of concern for her safety. The District Attorney’s Office has provided witness relocation services.
“The successful prosecution of some of the most violent offenders would fall short without the courage and cooperation of members of our community,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement.
But Monday’s testimony also highlighted the potential pitfalls of eyewitness, or in this case, ear-witness accounts. The woman testified that she heard Molina claim responsibility for the shooting, when prosecutors have said they believe Jones was the shooter.
Under cross-examination, the woman repeatedly asserted, “I know what I heard.”
Prosecutors have said they intend to bring additional witnesses who will identify Jones as the shooter.