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Guilty Verdict In San Francisco Officer Death

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SFPD Officer Nick-Tomasito Birco was killed when a van struck his patrol car on July 26, 2006. (SFPD)

SFPD Officer Nick-Tomasito Birco was killed when a van struck his patrol car on July 26, 2006. (SFPD)

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — A San Francisco Superior Court jury on Thursday found a man who struck and killed a police officer during a car chase in 2006 guilty of first-degree murder.

Following a five-week trial and two days of deliberation, the jury Thursday afternoon convicted Steven Petrilli, 24, of San Francisco, of murder during the course of a robbery for the July 26, 2006, crash that left Officer Nick-Tomasito Birco dead.

With members of Birco’s family and the Police Department in attendance, Petrilli hung his head in his hand after the verdict was read. He now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Petrilli and two others were suspected of committing four robberies in a stolen van in San Francisco that night before leading police on a high-speed chase that ended at 1 a.m. at Cambridge and Felton streets, where Birco’s patrol car was struck.

The jury on Thursday additionally convicted Petrilli of conspiracy to commit robbery, four counts of robbery, evading police and gross vehicular manslaughter.

The two other men in the van, Carl Lather and Nicholas Smith, are awaiting trial for murder. Petrilli’s wife was also in the van at the time, but she was not charged in the case.

“This was justice for the families, the Police Department, and all the vulnerable victims they preyed on that night,” prosecutor Eric Fleming said following the verdict.

Birco’s father, Tomasito Birco, thanked jurors, the judge and Fleming, as well as police officers for their support.

“It’s been a long way, but finally justice was served after all these years,” he said.

Birco also had words for Petrilli.

“Mr. Petrilli, we forgive you, you are just human,” he said,

adding that he harbored no grudge or bitterness toward his family.

“We are all just victims in this case, because of circumstances,” Birco said.

Defense attorney Lisa Dewberry declined to comment.

Dewberry had argued that her client had mental and behavioral

problems, was manipulated by Smith and Lather into being the driver for the robberies, and fled police after Smith threatened him.

The defense also claimed that Birco, who had heart problems and was obese, might have died of a heart attack before his car was struck.

Birco had responded without his partner to assist in the chase and had been monitoring the police radio, but he did not radio in his position.

Petrilli blew through about 20 stop signs before his van struck Birco’s car in the intersection at 56 mph, according to Fleming. Birco was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later.

Following the verdict, jurors said they agreed with the prosecution’s version of events when quizzed by the prosecution and the defense about their decision.

Jurors said there was no evidence Petrilli had been threatened or that Birco’s heart problems caused his death.

They also said Birco had a right to be in the intersection and did not cause the crash.

The jurors were emphatic that Petrilli appeared to show no remorse about that night’s events in a video recording with the other suspects during a break in their interrogation by police.

Fleming had also played for jurors an audiotape of Petrilli’s jail calls to his wife, during which they joked and laughed about the chase.

“It was a mountain of evidence, of his guilt,” Fleming said Thursday.

Petrilli, who was on felony probation at the time, had fled police on prior occasions, Fleming said.

On the night of Birco’s death, police spotted the van at a McDonalds in the Bayview District near the site of the last robbery, and Petrilli jumped a curb and took off.

He then led police on a high-speed chase through San Francisco, Daly City and Colma, and then back to San Francisco.

The case returns to court Oct. 22 to set a date for sentencing.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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