SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — It is not uncommon to see homicide cases delayed in going to trial, but in San Francisco, it appears that justice is getting delayed many more times than in other Bay Area counties.
There’s a saying that the wheels of justice turn slowly. But how slowly is too slow?
“I feel like it’s not going to happen,” said Sherry Baltodano. She and her daughter Maylina aren’t holding out much hope. “It’s a waste of emotions,” said Maylina.
It’s been four years since Baltodano’s son, Ronnie Goodman, was murdered in San Francisco’s Mission District.
After police released a surveillance video, two brothers – Javier and Luis Gutierrez – were charged in the homicide. But the trial keeps getting pushed back, over and over. “The assigned district attorney who is on the homicide team is in another jury trial at this point in time,” said Michael Swart, managing attorney for the San Francisco DA’s homicide unit.
Emotions boiled over outside the courtroom. The family says prosecutors just keep on coming up with excuses for why Ronnie’s murder case has dragged on for four years. “For me it’s anger,” said Sherry Baltodano. “I start reflecting back on how he was stabbed 37 times, he was tortured, he was tazed. So that really angers me.”
“It’s like opening up wounds, like having a Band-Aid and it just gets ripped off,” said Maylina Baltodano.
It turns out that in San Francisco, the Baltodanos are not alone. KPIX 5 compiled data from nine Bay Area counties and discovered most have few homicide cases that have been lingering in court for four years or more. San Francisco is the only exception: it has 21.
“I would have to concede we do have a lot of cases that are four years old, unfortunately,” said San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Teri Jackson.
Jackson says it’s because misdemeanor trials are clogging the court. “San Francisco tries at a rate of 19 times more than any county, more than any of the other 57 courts in the state, of misdemeanor trials,” she said.
Most homicide defendants waive their right to a speedy trial, but people accused of misdemeanors usually want to be tried within in 30-to-45 days. “That takes priority, even over a felony, over a homicide. That misdemeanor will be assigned out and if both parties have announced that they are ready in that homicide, it would trail until that misdemeanor no-time-waiver case was finished,” said Jackson.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón turned down our request for an interview. But in a statement his office also blamed the high number of misdemeanor trials. “This is an underhanded tactic engaged in by the Public Defender’s Office to age serious cases with the hopes that witnesses’ memories will fade.”
Public Defender Jeff Adachi took issue with that explanation. “The notion that the public defender’s office is going to try misdemeanor cases in order to age homicide cases is ridiculous,” said Adachi.
“Our clients make their decisions as to whether or not to proceed to trial we honor the decision by taking their case to trial. If the DA has concerns about misdemeanor cases clogging up the courts, they should either dismiss some of those cases, or not file as many misdemeanor cases and again focus on the more serious cases.”
Adachi added that, in his office, the average time to try a homicide case is two-to-three years. When cases go longer than that, it’s usually because private defense attorneys are involved, he said.
David Wise is one such attorney. He represents Javier Gutierrez, one of the defendants in the Ronnie Goodman murder case. “Any time it’s a homicide case these are the most complex cases that there are, the stakes are the highest, so everybody wants to make sure that there is not a mistake made, or a rush to judgment,” said Wise.
We ran into him at yet another court date to set a trial date. This time, he had vacation plans, and prosecutor John Roland was busy again with another trial. “There are very limited resources, both from the courts and from the defense counsel and from the DA,” said Roland.
The next trial date for Goodman – the third trial date so far – is now set for April, another five months away. “For me there is no justice at this point. We are talking about a life that means something to us,” said Maylina Baltodano.
“We have already been through so much, then to top it off by letting this just drag and drag. We want justice, and we want justice now,” said Sherry Baltodano.
The Gutierrez brothers are still in jail, awaiting trial. We reached out to their family, but they didn’t want to talk to us.
PENDING HOMICIDE TRIALS IN THE BAY AREA:
(as of September 2018)
San Francisco City and County
97 cases pending
21 cases 4+ years old
Santa Clara County:
81 cases pending
10 cases 4+ years old
54 cases pending
8 cases 4+ years old
Contra Costa County:
33 cases pending
7 cases 4+ years old
San Mateo County:
22 cases pending
5 cases 4+ years old
175 cases pending
2 cases 4+ years old
4 cases pending
1 4+ years old
18 cases pending
0 4+ years old
8 cases pending
0 4+ years old