FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Oct. 4, 2022
MEDIA CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office | PubDef-MediaRelations@sfgov.org | Jessie.Seyfer@sfgov.org | (628) 249-7946
SF Resident Who Acted in Defense of Friend in Mission District Fight Released After Acquittal and Mistrial
Prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to re-try the case against Nelson Hernandez-DeLeon.
SAN FRANCISCO – On Sept. 28, San Francisco prosecutors dropped all charges against 32-year-old Nelson Hernandez-DeLeon, who acted in defense of his friend during a fight outside a Mission District bar on Sept. 17, 2021. The dispute ended in the death of 34-year-old Omar Cureno. Deputy Public Defender Ilona Solomon led the defense team for Hernandez-DeLeon.
In a trial that began in March of this year, Hernandez-DeLeon faced a jury and was acquitted of first-degree murder. Jurors voted 10-2 to acquit him of second-degree murder, so a mistrial was declared. Prosecutors subsequently offered Hernandez-DeLeon a plea to a lesser charge, but he declined, given his innocence.
“Mr. Hernandez-DeLeon was out catching up with old friends that night. He was not intoxicated, and he certainly was not looking for a fight,” said Deputy Public Defender Solomon. “Mr. Cureno, according to his own friend, was extremely intoxicated, very angry, and looking for a fight when he approached my client. Mr. Cureno put brass knuckles on and accused Mr. Hernandez-DeLeon and his friend of laughing at him. Video evidence shows that Hernandez-DeLeon did not take out his work utility knife until after Mr. Cureno struck him three times in the head with brass knuckles. Mr. Hernandez-DeLeon tried to leave the fight twice, but went back solely to rescue his badly beaten friend and actually saved his friend’s life. Assistant District Attorney Justine Cephus did the right thing here by finally dismissing these charges.”
Hernandez-DeLeon spent over a year in jail. His Constitutionally mandated deadline for getting a speedy trial was in January 2022, but like more than 150 other San Franciscans, he was forced to languish in jail for months past that deadline because the Superior Court has refused to open enough courtrooms for trials. After the mistrial was declared in June, his deadline for a retrial was in August, yet he remained jailed until the remaining charges were dismissed last week.
Hernandez-DeLeon, who previously worked as a custodian for the city, is thrilled to be back with his family, Solomon said. The defense team also included Investigator Danielle Thompson and Paralegals Nathan Conn and Cheryl Tang.
“I want to thank our defense team for vigorously defending Mr. Hernandez-DeLeon. You are true warriors for our clients,” said elected San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “This is another case that demonstrates how critical it is for the San Francisco Superior Court to catch up with other jurisdictions and open more courts for trial.”
For more information about the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office efforts to end the trial backlog, click here.