Tuesday, December 6, 2016 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco—A San Francisco resident charged with fatally punching a man following an argument in line at Peet’s Coffee has been acquitted of all charges, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Thursday afternoon acquitted Mario Forchelli, 38, of involuntary manslaughter, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, and an additional great bodily injury enhancement in the death of Marc Garcia, 60.
Forchelli, who had no history of violence, faced more than six years in prison if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Herman Holland.
The Oct. 1, 2015 incident occurred at 7:30 a.m., as Forchelli waited in line behind Garcia at the busy Van Ness Avenue coffee shop. When the barista told Garcia his coffee would take time to brew and to step aside for the next customer, Garcia appeared irritated and refused to budge.
After saying “excuse me” several times to Garcia, Forchelli maneuvered around him and ordered from the corner of the counter, according to the barista’s testimony and surveillance video. Angered that Forchelli squeezed past him, Garcia began jabbing the younger man in the back of the neck with his finger. Forchelli finished his order and walked away.
When both men were attempting to leave the shop, Garcia quickly walked ahead of Forchelli, opened the door slightly, wedged his body inside the small space and taunted Forchelli by asking him if he had enough room. Surveillance footage showed Forchelli turning his body sideways to squeeze past Garcia. Seconds later, Garcia is seen motioning to Forchelli. Both men put their coffee cups down. Garcia is seen walking quickly toward Forchelli before they disappear from the frame.
On the stand, an emotional Forchelli testified that he struck Garcia once in self-defense after Garcia hit him again outside.
Garcia, who struck his head on the pavement, died later that night. Forchelli was unaware of the death until more than a month later, when police put stills from the surveillance footage on social media in an effort to find their suspect. When Forchelli’s coworkers noticed the resemblance and alerted Forchelli, he quickly contacted police and cooperated fully with the investigation.
He was arrested Nov. 19, 2015.
During the trial, the medical examiner testified there was no evidence of any trauma to the front of Garcia’s face, bolstering Holland’s argument that Garcia’s fall was caused primarily by losing his balance rather than the force of the blow.
Holland said Forchelli has been haunted by the incident and feels heartbroken over Garcia’s death.
“It’s clear it is something that will stay with him forever,” Holland said. “However, it’s not a crime to protect yourself, even when tragedy results. He tried to walk away and eventually it became unsafe to do so.”
Adachi said the law is clear when it comes to self-defense.
“People are allowed to use reasonable force to defend themselves if they believe they are in danger. While this case had tragic results, Mr. Forchelli took reasonable measures. Thanks to his public defender and jury, this tragedy was not compounded by an unjust conviction.”