Monday, June 11, 2012 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A young man facing up to 17 years in prison for the armed robbery of a University of San Francisco student was found not guilty of all charges, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jury members deliberated for an hour Friday afternoon before acquitting Joshua Johnson, 20, of one count of robbery with use of a firearm and two counts of assault with a firearm, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Doug Welch.
“This was an outrageous case because police failed to follow up on numerous leads,” Welch said. “Because of that lack of follow-up, a young man with no connection to the robbery was arrested and put on trial.”
The May 25, 2010 robbery occurred on Golden Gate Avenue next to the USF campus. The victim, a then-19-year-old USF student, was confronted by two teenage boys in black hoodies and baggy jeans, who demanded his property. One of the teens pointed a gun at the victim, who handed over his phone, iPod Touch and backpack. When one of the victim’s three nearby friends tried to intervene, the robber pointed the gun at him as well.
Both assailants ran away and jumped into a Mitsubishi Outlander driven by a young woman. Friends of the victim gave chase in two cars, getting the license plate number before losing sight of the vehicle. Police tracked the Mitsubishi to an address in Union City that night and noted that the engine was warm. They interviewed the driver, a young woman who insisted she had been in Oakland, but did not arrest her nor impound the vehicle.
Meanwhile, one of the robbers, using the victim’s phone, accidentally dialed the victim’s friend as the friend waited at the police station. Both assailants’ voices could be heard on the voicemail, discussing the robbery and the contents of the stolen wallet, police noted in their report. However, officers chose not to record the voicemail as evidence, instead telling the friend to save it. It was automatically deleted after several weeks.
Eight days after the robbery, Johnson, then 18, was arrested at his high school in Vacaville. San Francisco detectives testified they found his name on a list of the driver’s associates provided by Union City police. He was subsequently picked out of a lineup by the victims. Police did not save the list of associates, Welch said.
During the weeklong trial, prosecutors could not prove any connection between the suspected driver and Johnson, despite having extensive cell phone records from both of them. An engineer from AT&T, using cell tower information, testified Johnson was using his phone in Vacaville at the time of the robberies. Johnson was not found with any of victim’s stolen property.
An eyewitness identification expert also testified to the numerous problems with the lineup. Johnson’s photo was a different size than the other five men in the lineup, and only he and one other suspect wore hooded sweatshirts similar to the men who robbed the student. The identifications were also unreliable due to the impact of trauma on memories and the frequent errors in cross-racial identification, the expert testified.
“The jury was extremely conscientious,” Welch said. “After the trial, they told me there were simply too many holes in the prosecution’s claims.”
Adachi said he was surprised the matter made it to court.
“There was no evidence to tie Mr. Johnson to this crime. On the other hand, there was copious evidence that he was in Vacaville the day of the robbery,” Adachi said.