Jury Acquits Man In Mistaken Identity Case

San Francisco, CA – A man who faced life in prison over a 2007 robbery and shooting has been found not guilty by a San Francisco jury, Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.

Jury members deliberated less than two days before acquitting San Francisco resident Tauilo Junior Matau, 32, of second degree robbery with intentional discharge of a firearm. The charge and accompanying allegation carry a sentence of life in prison. The jury reached its verdict Monday afternoon.

Jury members deadlocked 7-5 in favor of acquittal on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon. The Court declared a mistrial on those charges.

Matau was accused of shooting 42-year-old Robert Dorton in the shin following an argument outside the Sunnydale housing projects on Feb. 23, 2007. Dorton told police the gunman also took cash, which Dorton offered as a bribe not to shoot him.

During the weeklong trial, Deputy Public Defender Carmen Aguirre argued that police ignored a physical description and timeline that exonerated Matau and failed to provide that evidence to the defense until after the victim died of dehydration in January, 2010.

Dorton had described his attacker as a stocky, short-haired Samoan man, 5 feet 9 inches tall with a distinctive forehead. Matau is 5 feet 6 inches tall, 300 pounds with long hair and an unremarkable forehead, Aguirre said.

Instead, the description fit Matau’s brother, who was arrested nearby on unrelated charges four days after the shooting. He was armed with a 9-millimeter gun — the same type of weapon used in the attack.  Police were aware of this development when they showed Dorton a single photo lineup, one that included Matau’s image but not his brother’s, Aguirre said.

“This was a case of a tainted identification and failure of the police to properly investigate,” Aguirre said. “Police decided that Mr. Matau committed this crime and worked backward from there, ignoring evidence that pointed to another suspect.”

Dorton was also drinking the morning that he was shot, and was on his way to the liquor store when he suffered the injury.  Following Dorton’s death, police tested the gun found in Matau’s brother’s possession and determined it was the weapon used in the shooting.

Adachi said the case highlights the need to challenge initial assumptions.

“If this information had never come to light, Mr. Matau would have been spending life in prison for a crime he did not commit,” Adachi said.