San Francisco, CA — Following a trial that hinged on the sole testimony of a convicted felon, a jury on Wednesday afternoon found a San Francisco man not guilty of a bizarre attempted robbery, residential burglary and assault.
Motel resident Willie Smith, 42, was accused of pushing his way into a neighbor’s room, spraying the man with air freshener, eating his Snickers bar and threatening to urinate on him.
After a nine day trial, a jury acquitted Smith of four felony charges and eight lesser included charges, including attempted robbery, residential burglary, elder abuse and false imprisonment of an elder. The jury, which deliberated one day, hung on two counts of misdemeanor elder abuse. A mistrial was declared on the two misdemeanor charges and Smith will be released from San Francisco County Jail today, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michelle Tong.
The attempted robbery and residential burglary charges each represent “strikes.” If convicted of all counts, Smith faced up to 10 years in state prison.
Smith was arrested March 22, 2010 in his room at the Kean Hotel in the 1000 block of Mission Street. Neighbor Gordon Gantz, 73, told police that Smith had knocked on his door and pushed his way in when Gantz opened it. Gantz said Smith pushed him once in the chest and slapped his face while telling him he needed money. The men had been friendly before the incident, visiting each other’s rooms and Gantz occasionally giving cash to Smith. When Gantz told Smith he didn’t have any money, Smith allegedly took a Snickers bar off his table and began eating it. Though the door was open throughout the incident, Gantz said he felt trapped in his room. Gantz suffered no injuries in the incident.
Gantz told an investigator that at one point during the struggle, Smith pretended he was going to urinate on him and sprayed him with air freshener.
At trial, jurors simply didn’t believe Gantz, a felon with multiple convictions for making false bomb threats, Tong said.
“His credibility was already shaky and then he lied on the stand,” Tong said.
Gantz’s truthfulness was called into question during the trial over his use of racial epithets. Gantz testified he never used racist language. Two former neighbors, called to the stand by Tong, testified they frequently heard Gantz use slurs against black residents of the motel. One resident testified to being on the receiving end of the abuse. In her closing statement, Assistant District Attorney Shay Matthews conceded her star witness was a racist. Gantz is white and Smith is black.
Additionally, police never visited the crime scene and Gantz was the sole witness, Tong said.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the case was overcharged by the District Attorney’s office.
“Proving these serious charges rested on a single witness with a history of lying,” he said. “Fortunately, in this case, the jurors were able to reach the right result after witnesses raised serious questions about Mr. Gantz’s truthfulness.”