Trial by Liar

The snitches mumbled, stumbled, equivocated, and perjured themselves The jury found Bernard Temple -- the man prosecutors believed to be a bloodthirsty assassin for drug dealers -- not guilty of murder.

They can, in the parlance of the ghetto, get played.
For all these reasons, Bernard Temple was acquitted. The jury wasn't hung. The decision wasn't close. No, 12 people agreed that Temple was not guilty of the murders that the FBI, the cops, and the prosecutors crawled down into the gutter of Bayview-Hunters Point to try to prove. Once there, they lost sight of what they were doing, the deals and corners they were cutting, in order to take down what they thought was a big target. Those decisions came back and hurt them in court, blasting their case into nasty little shards of vague and mumbled and contradictory and perjured testimony. And because they made those decisions and those deals, a man the cops and the prosecutors still believe was one of the most bloodthirsty gangbangers to ever come out of Bayview-Hunters Point is now, officially and forevermore, judged to be innocent of the only two murders he has ever been charged with.

And in San Francisco's worst ghetto, the thought that law enforcement could be a credible and successful tool for improving the quality of neighborhood life has been, officially and probably for a very long time, shown to be a pipe dream. A crack pipe dream.

Bernard Temple was charged with killing two gangbangers, Walter "Waldo" Mullins (1988) and Jacky Williams (1991). Both men had what proved to be a fatal habit of robbing crack dealers. Informants told the FBI that dealers pooled their money and hired Temple to kill Mullins in 1988 and Williams in 1991. FBI informants also alleged that Temple killed numerous other people on orders from dealers, according to documents released to the defense in the Temple trial.

An eyewitness fingered Temple immediately after the Mullins murder, and he was arrested. The witness' father was shot a few days later for no apparent reason -- it wasn't a robbery -- and the witness then refused to testify. Temple was released from jail a short time later. He wasn't considered a suspect in the months after the Williams slaying.

But the cops continued to watch Temple. They eventually came to believe he was a major player in the drug trade and crack-related turf wars in Bayview-Hunters Point. They also heard he was a paid assassin who called himself the "Soul-Jacker" out of an apparent belief that he stole the souls -- that he literally assumed the spiritual power -- of those he killed.

But no charges were brought until a three-time loser and longtime snitch named Kel Magee placed a call from Fresno Jail to a San Francisco police officer in 1994.

A reprobate crack dealer and wife-beater, Magee found himself staring at a long stretch behind bars after he tried to sell some crack to an undercover narc in the Central Valley. His prodigious record of convictions, and an outstanding felony warrant for domestic violence, made him a three-strikes candidate -- as in three strikes and you're in prison for life.

Magee called John Fowlie, an SFPD officer he'd snitched for since the mid-'80s. Fowlie told Magee he couldn't help him, but suggested his old informant call Thomas J. LaFreniere, the FBI agent directing the Violent Gang Task Force, a group run out of the Department of Justice's Dangerous Drugs Division in Washington, D.C., and dedicated to interrupting the crack- and gang-related terrorism in poor neighborhoods.

Magee made the call, and LaFreniere brokered a deal in Fresno that helped Magee avoid the next decade or so behind bars. In return Magee told LaFreniere a lot of things, one of them being the claim that Temple was a hit man for crack dealers. Magee offered himself as a witness to the Mullins killing. He told the agent a convicted killer and drug dealer named Leoncio White had also seen the hit. And, Magee said, he knew how Temple got rid of the murder weapon.

Magee, it seemed, couldn't stop snitching. He provided detailed information on one of the main crack kingpins in Bayview-Hunters Point, Charles Michael. He described Michael's network and fingered its main players. He said Temple had once performed a contract killing for Michael.

The FBI was so happy with its new snitch that it helped him avoid revocation of his probation on drug and domestic violence convictions when he got caught passing bad checks at a Nordstrom store.

A short time later, cops picked up word that a contract had been taken out on Magee. The snitch fled to Kansas. There, he held true to form, getting charged with performing lewd acts with a minor. He fled again, back to the Bay Area, where, in late 1995, he picked up even more trouble, two auto theft cases, one in Alameda County and one in San Mateo County.

But Magee was a snitch, and snitches can't circulate and find out things and testify credibly if they are spending all their time in the joint.

As LaFreniere groomed Magee to be a major snitch, the SFPD complemented the federal efforts, forming the Crime Response Unit to Stop Homicide (CRUSH), an elite squad of cops who were assigned to crack unsolved black-on-black homicides, many of which occurred in Bayview-Hunters Point. The department's most senior homicide detective, Inspector Napoleon Hendrix, coordinated all efforts with the task force. He forked over information and witnesses, and LaFreniere reciprocated.

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