San Francisco, CA — A young man charged with two iPhone robberies was acquitted after a jury determined prosecutors overcharged the case, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors reached their verdict late Thursday afternoon after deliberating just over two days. Malcolm Graham, 21, was found not guilty of two felony counts of robbery, which would have counted as two “strikes” under California’s three strikes law, which imposes life sentences on habitual offenders. Jurors convicted Graham on a lesser charge of theft in connection with one of the incidents and hung 8-4 in favor of acquittal on a resisting arrest charge, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michelle Tong.
Graham’s family and supporters wept with relief as the verdict was read.
“This case was outrageously overcharged,” Tong said. “Mr. Graham stole a woman’s phone. He accepted responsibility from the time he was arrested. But he never used force or fear, which is essential for a robbery charge.”
Graham was arrested May 7 after plucking an iPhone from a Whole Foods shopper’s hand as she prepared to make a phone call outside the market on California and Franklin streets. Responding police officers tackled Graham, struck him with a radio and repeatedly punched him in the head, leaving him with an eye that was swollen shut and numerous cuts and bruises.
Graham’s co-defendant, Moses Legesse, was also charged with robbing the woman. Jurors hung in Legesse’s case.
During the six day trial, the shopper described Graham’s method for stealing her phone as “a clean swipe.”
Graham, a former football player for Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School, became dependant on pain pills after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and had stolen the phone to support his addiction, Tong said.
In the second robbery charge, Graham was accused of robbing a high school student of his iPhone four hours earlier on May 7. Jurors determined he did not commit the crime.
“The jurors were extremely responsible and thoughtful,” Tong said. “They listened to all the evidence and determined that prosecutors were trying to make a simple theft case into a robbery.”
The case illustrates a persistent problem with prosecutors routinely overcharging cases, Adachi said.
“The district attorney should charge only the crime shown by the evidence,” Adachi said. “Here, the jury agreed with our assessment that the charges were inflated.”