FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 22, 2021
CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office | Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org | (628)249-7946
SF Jury Acquits Elderly Man of Attempted Murder in Act of Self-Defense Against Ex-Wife
Jury hangs heavily towards innocence on other charges
SAN FRANCISCO – A San Francisco jury acquitted 81-year-old Damien Alvarez of attempted murder and all lesser included charges of the attempted murder allegations. The charges stemmed from an incident where he and his ex-wife struggled over a knife that he was trying to prevent her from stabbing him with. Mr. Alvarez faced numerous other charges related to the incident, and the jury hung heavily in favor of his innocence on all remaining counts. Deputy Public Defender Martina Avalos argued that police failed to investigate the Mr. Alvarez’s injuries, and that Mr. Alvarez had acted in reasonable self-defense against his live-in ex-wife whom the jury did not find credible due to multiple untruthful statements she made under oath.
“While this was a distressing incident for both parties, it is clear that Mr. Alvarez was not the aggressor in this situation. He and his family have long suffered various forms of physical, emotional and financial abuse at the hands of his ex-wife,” said Ms. Avalos. “To retry this matter would be futile and only exacerbate the conflict between the parties. Repeated efforts to obtain a conviction in this case would have a traumatic impact on Mr. Alvarez who would yet again face serious consequences despite being found credible by this jury.”
Mr. Alvarez, who has no criminal convictions, is a retired shopkeeper and longtime resident of the Mission District. He has two grown daughters from a previous marriage, both of whom testified on his behalf. One of his daughters testified that when she was a teenager, her father’s ex-wife had slashed her face with a key leaving a permanent scar. The defense called other character witnesses from the community who testified not only to Mr. Alvarez’s good nature, but also that they had witnessed his ex-wife’s behavior toward him become increasingly aggressive and occasionally violent. For many years, Mr. Alvarez has shared his home with his ex-wife, who is 19 years younger than him and whom he has known for nearly 30 years. However, due to the pending charges against him, he has not been able to return to his apartment.
It was at that apartment, on the evening of June 3, 2021, that Mr. Alvarez’s ex-wife shocked him by packing up all of his belongings and telling him he had to move out. Mr. Alvarez testified that she was being “verbally violent” toward him to the point that he retreated to his bedroom. When he came back into the living room, he saw that she had placed a large kitchen knife on the table next to her, so he tried to take it away for fear that she might attack him with it, which is when the struggle ensued.
When police arrived after midnight, both of them had blood on their clothes. The woman was transported to the hospital, but police handcuffed Mr. Alvarez, who was shoeless and in his pajamas, and sat him on the curb outside before taking him to jail. Police did not interview any neighbors nor did they order any forensic experts to collect blood samples from the apartment to see if some of the blood was his.
Mr. Alvarez was later charged with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, assault likely to cause great bodily injury, battery on a domestic partner and criminal threats.
The prosecution relied solely on the statements and testimony of the ex-wife, who made statements on the witness stand that were evasive and false – including multiple different accounts of what had happened the night of June 3rd; and at one point claiming that she had never been in an argument with Mr. Alavarez nor anyone in his family; and even admitted to fraud. She denied that she was actively suing him for 10 million dollars in civil court in an attempt to force Mr. Alvarez to sell the home he built and bought for his daughters before his marriage to the complaining witness.
After numerous setbacks, including losing three jurors, the jury deliberated for three days and returned a verdict of not guilty on attempted murder, not guilty on attempted manslaughter, and hung 7-5 in favor of innocence on the three assault charges.
“Jury trials are essentially the only opportunity to present a fuller picture of a situation than what’s written in a police report. That’s why it’s imperative for the SF Superior Court to make more courtrooms available for trials, so that our zealous defense teams can help people like Mr. Alvarez and his family fight back against these unfounded charges,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, who sued SF Superior Court in September to address the backlog of hundreds of cases that are past their trial deadline.
The defense team included Deputy Public Defenders Martina Avalos and Maria-Avalos Cruz, Investigator James Faulkner, Paralegal Margaret So, and Law Clerk Mengyu Yang.