SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – A state appellate court has overturned the conviction and life sentence of a member of Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland for his role in the kidnapping and torture of two women seven years ago.
A three-member panel of the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said Friday that the evidence against 29-year-old Richard Lewis was “far from overwhelming” and that jurors were allowed to hear too much evidence about other crimes committed by bakery members, including the August 2007 murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey.
The panel, headed by Justice Peter Siggins, said evidence of the other crimes, in which Lewis was not involved, was “inflammatory” and resulted in guilt by association that prejudiced jurors against Lewis, who was a former football star at Mission High School in San Francisco.
In its 43-page ruling, the panel said Lewis “was convicted mainly on the basis of thinly corroborated testimony of accomplices who received substantial benefits for their testimony” and that “there was room for reasonable doubt that he was one of the masked men who perpetrated the crimes.”
The court concluded, “It is reasonably probable that the outcome would have been different if the evidence had been challenged.”
Lewis was convicted on April 7, 2010, of kidnapping, torture and carjacking for the abduction of a mother and daughter on May 17, 2007, in what prosecutors said was an attempt to get money to save the bakery, which was run by Yusuf Bey IV, from bankruptcy.
Prosecutor Chris Lamiero alleged at Lewis’ trial that Lewis, Bey IV and several other bakery associates kidnapped and tortured the victims to get them to reveal where a drug dealer they knew kept his money.
Lamiero said in his closing argument that Lewis cut the daughter with a knife and threatened her with a curling iron.
Lewis testified that he didn’t have anything to do with the crime, and he likely was at the bakery at the time it occurred.
Lewis’ trial attorney, Patrick Hetrick, told jurors that Lewis was framed by Bey’s half-brothers, Joshua Bey and Yusuf Bey V. Both pleaded guilty and received reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony.
Hetrick argued that the half-brothers’ testimony was not credible because they were only trying to save themselves by incriminating Lewis.
The appellate court agreed with Hetrick, saying, “There is no strong evidence of guilt (against Lewis) apart from the testimony of accomplices who benefited greatly from their participation in the prosecution case.”
However, the court faulted Hetrick for not doing more to prevent Lamiero from introducing evidence about other crimes committed by other bakery members, including the murder of Bailey.
Hetrick “had no tactical reason not to object to introduction of this irrelevant and inflammatory evidence,” the court said.
Yusuf Bey IV was convicted in 2011 of ordering Bailey and two other men to be killed in 2007, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Hetrick declined to comment today on the appellate court’s ruling and Lamiero wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The kidnapping and torture of the two women occurred just 15 days after a San Francisco jury acquitted Lewis of murder, attempted murder and robbery charges stemming from a March 1, 2005, fatal shooting in the city’s Sunset District.
© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.