Wednesday, August 6, 2014 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A homeless man who stabbed a bully who had beaten him bloody over a shelter bed was acquitted after a jury determined he acted in self-defense, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated less than two hours Tuesday before finding Gregory Ishengoma, 57, not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury and battery with serious bodily injury. Ishengoma faced up to seven years in prison if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Kevin Mitchell.
Ishengoma, who worked for 25 years as a merchant seaman before falling into homelessness, was arrested Jan. 8. Earlier that day, Ishengoma made a reservation to spend the night at a homeless shelter inside a Bayview church. Ishengoma arrived early to the shelter, and was the fourth person to check in.
As he settled onto a mat, a fellow homeless man approached him angrily. Though the man had not reserved a space, he claimed Ishengoma was sleeping in his preferred spot. When Ishengoma told the man to find another mat, the man attacked him, pummeling him in the face with his fists until he was bleeding from the nose and mouth. Security escorted both men from the shelter.
The pair began arguing in the street. When Ishengoma walked away, the man followed him. Ishengoma, frightened he would be beaten again, stabbed his attacker once in the abdomen.
Ishengoma cooperated with police, who released him the following day after declining to file charges. The man was transported to the hospital, where he would spend two months due to infection and other complications, resulting in a colostomy bag. When he was released, he was livid that police had not arrested Ishengoma and demanded something be done. Ishengoma was arrested May 8, after the man saw him at a shelter and called police.
During the weeklong trial, the injured man took the stand, testifying that Ishengoma “got his ass whupped” for taking the mat. The man appeared hostile on the stand, admitting he was an angry, short-tempered person who had committed violence against women and men alike.
“The complaining witness made it clear to the jurors that he was not a man who listened to reason,” Mitchell said. “As a result, Mr. Ishengoma had to resort to defending himself with a knife.”
The man also claimed he was at the church for a bible study session, though none of the regular bible study participants could confirm his presence. A witness for the prosecution provided statements that were inconsistent with her initial descriptions to police, and had trouble determining which jurors were male or female due to her poor vision. A police sergeant who took the stand admitted that he never wrote down that the complaining witness was carrying a box cutter in his backpack.
Ishengoma, who had been in jail for three months, was released Tuesday.
“Mr. Ishengoma, too poor to post $200,000 bail, had to pay with three months of his life before experiencing relief when the jury cleared his good name,” Mitchell said.
Adachi also applauded the verdict.
“Defending yourself is a right, not a crime. Mr. Ishengoma had been beaten bloody and followed down the street by his tormentor. He was understandably concerned for his life. Thanks to his public defender, the jury set him free,” Adachi said.