Tuesday, July 2, 2013 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A man accused of fatally bludgeoning his partner of nearly 20 years was acquitted of murder following a jury trial, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors in the trial of Timothy Stewart, 48, deliberated just over a day before reaching their not guilty verdict Monday afternoon, according to Stewart’s attorneys, Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris and Deputy Public Defender Emily Dahm. Stewart was charged with first degree, premeditated murder in the death of his husband, 60-year-old psychiatric nurse Terry Rex Spray. He faced life in prison.
The acquittal brings to an end to Stewart’s nearly year-long legal saga following his husband’s death. Spray was found unconscious and bleeding from the head Aug. 3 in the garage of the couple’s Cathedral Hill apartment building. He died in the hospital Sept. 18 and police arrested Stewart for his murder Sept. 24. There was no history of discord between the men, longtime domestic partners who married in 2004 during a brief period of legal same sex marriage in San Francisco.
There was little evidence against Stewart, who spent weeks, distraught, at the bedside of his dying husband. A police investigation failed to turn up any blood, DNA or fingerprints linking Stewart to the crime. Bloody footprints left at the scene did not match Stewart’s shoes and a murder weapon was never found.
The state’s case hinged on surveillance footage that showed Stewart leaving the building through the garage at 7:07 a.m., approximately eight minutes before police estimate Spray was attacked. Immediately after Stewart exits, someone pushes the camera so the view of the garage is partially obscured. A man leaves 10 minutes later, but only the back of his head is visible. The man appears to be balding, while Stewart has a full head of hair. Spray can be seen entering the garage, but his injury was not captured on camera. He was found unconscious by a neighbor five hours later.
During the month-long trial, Harris and Dahm presented evidence showing that neighbors in the building had reported numerous trespassers and auto burglaries in the garage in the months and weeks leading up to the attack. The day of the incident, police found items stashed inside and outside the garage that were stolen in an auto break-in reported four blocks away.
The cause of Spray’s death was also questioned. While the current San Francisco medical examiner classified it as a homicide, a former San Francisco medical examiner testified for the defense that she could not rule out an accidental death. Spray suffered from a host of health problems, including diabetes-related neuropathy in his feet. His foot problems, which had required surgery, had contributed to a history of falls.
Within hours of finding Spray injured, police focused on Stewart as a suspect and failed to probe other possibilities, his public defenders argued. Police did not investigate crimes reported in the garage, nor did they interview a former psychiatric patient whose threats prompted Spray to take out a restraining order. Investigators pulled less than two hours of garage surveillance video before it automatically erased, and ignored Stewart’s pleas to get footage from the school across the street from the building.
A motive for the killing was never established. Prosecutors claimed Stewart killed Spray for his pension, despite the fact that Stewart had never inquired about its value in the 19 years he had been listed as a beneficiary. They insinuated that Stewart was also motivated by an on-again, off-again sexual relationship with a female friend. Longtime friends of Stewart and Spray testified that the men’s marriage was happy and evidence at trial suggested they had a loving, open relationship.
The woman in question testified that Stewart was acting normally when she picked him up the morning of the incident and he had no blood on his clothes or shoes.
Stewart, a commercial fisherman with no history of violence, had been in jail since his arrest and was unable to attend Spray’s memorial service. He was released Monday night.
Harris called the decision to charge Stewart for Spray’s death “terrifying and unbelievable.”
“Timothy Stewart is an innocent man who has been through a Kafkaesque nightmare. The police and prosecutors took everything from him – his freedom, his dignity, any chance he had to grieve for his life partner and best friend in a healthy way, or to give him a proper goodbye,” Harris said.
Dahm praised the jurors for their diligence.
“The jurors were meticulous in studying the evidence and asking the right questions. As a result, they righted a terrible wrong and gave Mr. Stewart a chance to recover,” she said.
The verdict was a triumph not only for Stewart, but for the justice system, Adachi said.
“In this country, we cannot take away somebody’s liberty without evidence. Mr. Stewart tragically lost his husband then suffered an unimaginable injustice at the hands of police and prosecutors. The last 11 months have been a nightmare for him. Thanks to the hard work of his public defenders and the courage of his jurors, he has been given back his freedom and his life,” Adachi said.