San Francisco, CA — A 29-year-old man on trial for burglarizing his former workplace was quickly acquitted after jurors learned that police failed to properly investigate the crime, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated only 25 minutes Wednesday afternoon before finding Matthew Thayer not guilty of burglary and petty theft. If convicted, the new father faced a year in jail, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jeffrey Jacobi.
“Jurors said that part of the time spent in deliberations was trying to figure out how much money was collectively wasted by bringing this extremely weak case to trial,” Jacobi said.
In the early morning hours of June 20, 2011, someone stole a $700 deposit from The Fog City Diner’s locked safe. Thayer, who had been terminated for non-theft reasons two weeks earlier, was phoned by a police inspector later that evening. Thayer cooperated with the inspector, answering all questions and offering to come into the police station if more information was needed. The inspector thanked Thayer, reassured him that he was not a suspect, and ended the call.
Thayer never heard about the incident again until a year later, when he was pulled over for a traffic infraction. Officers informed him he had a warrant for his arrest and he was booked into jail. Thayer, who had no history of theft, spent two days behind bars before making bail.
At the two day trial, the police inspector testified that three months after the incident a janitor had come forward to say he witnessed Thayer in the restaurant the morning of the burglary.
The inspector signed the arrest warrant without contacting Thayer again and did not investigate the matter further, she testified.
“The jurors were incredulous that the police inspector had not called a single person in the year that passed. She never questioned the employee who closed the restaurant the night before, nor did she properly question the manager who opened that morning,” Jacobi said.
Jacobi argued that the morning manager who called in the theft had motive and opportunity to commit the crime, presenting evidence of four other thefts at the restaurant while the man was in charge. The manager, who lived with Thayer and his wife at the time of the crime, was upset with the couple for planning to move out of the apartment, taking their furniture and appliances with them. The man, who did not have a checking account, frequently was late with his share of rent and bills, causing friction between the roommates.
The janitor also took the stand, saying he saw Thayer in the restaurant the morning of the theft. However, jurors found it difficult to rely on his testimony because he appeared confused and could not remember how to spell his own name, Jacobi said. The janitor also testified that the morning manager had called him to discuss the incident.
“It became clear that the morning manager saw the janitor as an easy target for manipulation and sought to influence his testimony,” Jacobi said.
Thayer’s wife testified that Thayer was home sleeping the morning in question, adding that he could not have left and come back without her knowledge. She was pregnant at the time, she testified, and woke frequently to use the restroom.
An employee who witnessed Thayer’s termination also took the stand, testifying that Thayer handed over his keys to the restaurant, reacted professionally and did not appear angry.
Adachi expressed relief that the jurors reached the right result in the case.
“This case should have never even been brought to trial. It was an extremely weak case that resulted in a terrible ordeal for an innocent man,” Adachi said. “Fortunately, the jury cleared his name and he can get on with his life.”