SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – A former attorney for a tenancy advocacy group was acquitted Tuesday of murder in a 2015 fatal stabbing of a street vendor in downtown San Francisco.
A jury found Carlos Argueta, 35, not guilty of murder in the Sept. 3, 2015, slaying of James Thomas, 61, near Market and Sixth streets. Argueta also faced a robbery charge, but that charge was dismissed mid-trial.
Upon hearing the verdict, Argueta, who remained free on bail during the trial, broke down in tears.
Outside of court, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who represented Argueta during the trial, said surveillance video shown during the trial helped prove to jurors the stabbing was accidental.
“Video evidence is extremely important otherwise it’s he said she said,” Adachi said. “This is a situation where Carlos did everything he could to deescalate the situation.”
Tuesday’s verdict closes the case on a three-year legal battle for Argueta. In 2016, a judge dismissed charges against Argueta and his co-defendant Pascal Krummenacher. However in 2017, a grand jury recharged Argueta but not Krummenacher.
“There’s just so many emotions, but I guess I’m glad I have my life back now after three years. I thought I had it back when it was dismissed the first time,” Argueta said outside of court. “I’m not sure what my next step is going to be but I don’t want to stop practicing law. I want to keep helping people.”
According to prosecutor Adam Maldonado, the stabbing occurred after Krummenacher and Argueta, both heavily intoxicated, left the now-closed Showdown Bar on Sixth Street. The pair was celebrating Krummenacher’s completion of his internship with the Eviction Defense Collaborative, where Argueta worked as an attorney.
Immediately after leaving the bar, Krummenacher allegedly mistakenly took a red bag from Thomas. Thomas, a complete stranger to the pair, was selling items on the sidewalk. When Thomas confronted Krummenacher about the stolen bag, a fight quickly ensued between Thomas, Thomas’ friends, Krummenacher and Argueta.
Although Thomas was able to retrieve his bag at one point during the melee, the fight continued and at another point, Krummenacher grabbed the bag away from Thomas and disappeared.
According to Adachi, Argueta armed himself with a 3.5-inch butterfly knife for self-defense. Although the fight appeared to have ended, Argueta stayed at the scene to look for his own bag, which had disappeared during the scuffle.
Thomas, however, then punched Argueta, striking him in the ear.
In a knee-jerk reaction, Argueta pushed Thomas away with the knife in his hand, ultimately stabbing him. The knife grazed his lung and punctured his heart, according to Maldonado.
After the stabbing, several bystanders confronted Argueta, but Argueta retreated into a nearby restaurant and waited for police.
Thomas was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where he died from his injuries.
Krummenacher, a law student who was visiting from Switzerland, did not appear at the trial.
In the months leading up to the trial, Adachi filed a motion to disqualify Judge Ethan Schulman from the case alleging that in previous cases Schulman had expressed bias against Latinos, exhibited racial insensitivity and showed a preference for the prosecution.
Although the motion to dismiss Schulman was dismissed, Judge Samuel Feng presided over the new trial.
Adachi also filed a motion to dismiss Argueta’s charges altogether, alleging prosecutorial misconduct by prosecutor Andrew Ganz. Ganz had been accused of six counts of misconduct connected to an unrelated 2012 murder case he worked on as a Solano County prosecutor. Ganz was found culpable of four of the six counts of misconduct, but the motion to dismiss the charges against Argueta was denied.
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