By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
Defense attorney V. Roy Lefcourt walks into a holding cell at the Hall of Justice where his client, Bernard Temple, is awaiting jury verdicts on two counts of murder in the first degree. The attorney's stomach is twisting and turning, tortured by the same doubt and apprehension he feels every time he defends a client who's facing life without possibility of parole. This time his client has been accused of being a hit man for crack cocaine traffickers in Hunters Point and the other crime-ridden southeastern neighborhoods of San Francisco.
"Well, Bernard, we have verdicts," Lefcourt says as he enters the holding cell. The defense attorney plans on launching into his standard presentation: Here's how we'll appeal if you are found guilty. This isn't the end of it. Don't get discouraged.
With a confident sweep of his hand, Temple interrupts. "Mr. Lefcourt, what we have here are two acquittals."
Minutes later, Temple is led to the defense table and the court is called to order. He clasps his hands as if in prayer. They shake, he grips them so tightly. His eyes are closed in anticipation until he hears the first verdict.
His eyes flash open; he stares straight ahead. Then it comes. The next and final verdict.
He's free. Free after a more than a year in jail. Free to return to his Merced home and his beautiful wife and children. Free, law enforcement officials still believe, of punishment for a legacy of contract murder.
The courtroom is packed. Temple's relatives, who've attended most days of the trial, are for some reason absent. The audience is made up almost entirely of members of the FBI Violent Gang Task Force, a combination of federal agents and SFPD narcotics cops deputized as FBI agents. The task force members worked on the Temple case for three years. It was the first murder case they put together. The results today are enormously important.
Usually when a stunning verdict is read there's a gasp or a muffled cry. Today, there's nothing. Utter silence.
The sound of three years of hard work down the tubes.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney Floyd Andrews, creaks out of his chair and walks from the room.
He's unable to find words, express basic emotions, even begin to grasp what has just taken place. He hasn't slept or eaten right for weeks. Several days before the verdicts, he collapsed on the way to court, suffering from chest pains. Rushed to the emergency room, he was told the attack was stress-related.
As he leaves the courtroom, Andrews doesn't talk to the jurors or the press. He walks back to his office, falls into his chair, and stares at the wall.
A few minutes later, a light rap falls on his doorsill.
District Attorney Terence Hallinan, Chief Assistant District Attorney Richard Iglehart, and Paul Cummins, chief of the DA's Criminal Division, walk into Andrews' office. The three top prosecutors pull up chairs and form a protective circle around Andrews.
"You did the best you could," Hallinan says. "We are extremely proud of you."
Hallinan made a class gesture. But the district attorney could have saved his breath. As the DA's Office's only prosecutor of African-American gangs, Floyd Andrews knows better than anyone how easy it is to do your best, with the best of intentions, and still lose when you're dealing with crack-related crime and the locus is Bayview-Hunters Point. It's as easy to lose gang cases that originate there as it is to explain how they are lost.
The explanation starts and, really, ends with this reality: In Bayview-Hunters Point, witnesses and their family members get threatened, and sometimes they get dead.
In Bayview-Hunters Point, you can't rely on a sense of civic duty and outrage to motivate witnesses to testify against criminals, because Bayview-Hunters Point is not Noe Valley. It's a different world out on Third Street, and one of the few ways to cultivate witnesses there is to exert extreme pressure, to make deals with devils, to pay money, to make pending criminal cases disappear in exchange for testimony.
But these strategies work only with witnesses who are also criminals, unsavory people over whom cops can hold a hammer -- a case, a prison term, whatever -- to make them, quite against their will, take the stand and rat out those they may have done business or even grown up with.
The witnesses' own seedy histories and dreadfully lousy motives tend to stink up a courtroom and turn jurors' sympathies away from the victims, who are also usually nasty characters, and toward defendants.
When you make deals with criminals, sometimes you get burned. Snitches lie. It's a fact of life. They lie for many different reasons. Sometimes they are afraid. And sometimes they are desperate for the deal you're offering. If cops and prosecutors aren't skeptical enough, if they lose sight of what they're doing, if they become too focused on a goal rather than the means of getting there, they can end up giving more than they receive from their snitches. They can let a criminal go -- sometimes for several crimes -- and end up with either useless or perjured testimony in exchange.
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.
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.
Temple was, of course, a main target.
During the summer of 1995, the CRUSH team rousted a bunch of low-level dealers in a warehouse in Hunters Point. Cedric Geter, a crack dealer and addict, was among them. CRUSH officers knew Geter well. He had snitched for officers on the team since 1990.
During the time he informed for the SFPD and CRUSH, Geter developed an uncanny talent for avoiding prosecution for serious, often violent, crime. He could be rightly called the teflon con.
Police reports show that from 1991 until 1995, Geter was suspected of, detained for, or arrested in connection with two car thefts, three assaults with a deadly weapon (shootings and stabbings), two simple assaults, and one robbery (during which he was suspected of shooting a bar patron). Some of these cases involved CRUSH officers. None resulted in a for-mal charge.
Unless you were there, it's impossible to know what truly passed between a crackhead and a cop in a warehouse in the middle of the night in the nether world of Hunters Point. Geter said in court that he wasn't busted with any drugs that night. But for some reason -- and it's a good bet it wasn't civic pride -- he decided, four years after the fact, to tell an SFPD officer he'd seen Bernard Temple kill Jacky Williams.
Cedric Geter, the crack dealer and addict, was passed off to the feds in September.
CRUSH developed another snitch that year, Lawrence Broussard, a con who was married to Temple's sister-in-law. Broussard was a fugitive, a parolee who went rabbit after he picked up an assault with a deadly weapon charge. Sometime in 1996, CRUSH officers rousted him on the fugitive charge. The veritable pharmacy of heroin and crack they found on him helped convince him to start ratting. Broussard was passed over to LaFreniere as well.
He told the FBI agent about several homicides allegedly committed by Temple. He said he had witnessed the Jacky Williams homicide. He said Temple had teased him about witnessing the Williams murder.
"You were in that store," Temple told Broussard, according to FBI documents. "You could be slippin'. You could have been got, too."
In March 1996, task force investigators were ready to strike at their first target, the Michael gang, 17 people suspected of running a crack ring. The feds arrested the gang in pre-dawn raids in several Bay Area cities. Much of the information used to get the arrest warrants was based on wiretaps planted the year before. Those taps were approved by a federal judge based on information provided by Magee and Geter and two other task force snitches. Several pounds of crack and powder cocaine and a vast arsenal of weapons -- one lying next to a sleeping baby -- were confiscated.
Initial press reports quoted law enforcement sources who accused the gang of being violent, of ordering hits on people. But when the feds made their case in court, it was founded on run-of-the-mill cocaine trafficking conspiracy charges.
For some reason, the feds did not go after Bernard Temple. Instead, in August, Floyd Andrews presented the Temple case to a state grand jury. Magee, Broussard, Geter, and Leoncio White, under pressure from federal investigators, testified.
Almost as soon as he had testified against Temple, though, Magee began turning on his law enforcement friends. He started meeting with defense attorneys in the Michael case, telling them that parts of the information he had given to LaFreniere and other federal investigators were false. He called Temple, telling the supposed hit man that the grand jury had indicted and his arrest was imminent.
Magee met with Temple's first attorney, Michael Burt, and later with Lefcourt, telling both men he had lied to the grand jury. He drew a map for Burt, providing the public defender with an account of the Mullins murder that made it impossible, given the positioning of Mullins and Temple and the direction in which the killer ran, for Temple to be the shooter.
Later, Magee did himself one better. The government snitch signed a declaration for Lefcourt, the defense attorney. Under penalty of perjury, Kel Magee swore in writing that he had lied in his testimony to the grand jury.
As the year went on, the state's case against Temple disintegrated, witness by witness, snitch by snitch. Cedric Geter, the crack dealer and addict, the ultimate teflon con, was arrested and charged with chasing a man down a street in Bayview-Hunters Point and filling him full of lead. Broussard was shot dead in East Palo Alto, in what Andrews still believes was a retaliatory hit.
And Andrews' main witness, Magee, was a liar out to undercut him, and Andrews knew it. How could the prosecutor expect decent testimony from him at trial? How could he expect the declaration not to nullify his statements?
Andrews and the other task force members had a decision to make: Do we dismiss the charges against Bernard Temple and investigate further, hoping to refile those and, perhaps, other charges later?
The argument for a dismissal was compelling. Aside from Magee and Geter, the prosecution had no eyewitnesses.
And the task force must have known the defense would make hay out of all the deals the feds made on behalf of Magee and the cases against Geter that went away without prosecution. The cops and the prosecutors must have known both men could be easily portrayed as liars who were trying to weasel out of their own prosecutorial difficulties.
Ultimately, Andrews says, the decision was his. And he says he never considered dismissing the cases against Temple.
Things go bad for Andrews before the first day of the trial. By the luck of the draw, only four African-Americans make it into the jury selection process.
Andrews dismisses two, one a prison minister who, the prosecutor feels, hates him. The other potential juror knows Temple, and that is enough for the state to disqualify. Lefcourt also gets rid of two: a woman in her 50s and a thirtysomething man, a playground director. Both live in Bayview-Hunters Point.
A jury with no African-Americans is seated to hear a black-on-black murder case from the southeast slums.
The lack of blacks, one juror contends, had a profound effect on the verdicts. The juror, who asked not to be named, says the middle-class-and-above whites and Asians on the jury were unable to believe that the fear of retaliation, the fear of death, could possibly be a reason why witnesses gave contradictory testimony, or a reason why law enforcement felt it necessary to cut plea bargains and disperse cash payments to win cooperation. The jury saw the deals, and, not believing witnesses could be in fear for their lives, not understanding what it's like on Third Street, decided the witnesses were all just liars.
Lefcourt's opening statement is a masterful example of storytelling.
First, he takes the Soul-Jacker, the allegedly prolific assassin, and turns him into a roughhousing rapscallion. He talks about teen-age groups fighting over turf, "to either protect themselves or protect their turf. It didn't necessarily have to do with drugs."
Then he turns the rapscallion into a political activist, someone fighting a racist police force that was out to oppress his community. This activism, Lefcourt artfully suggests, pissed off San Francisco police, who joined in a vendetta against him and trumped up the murder cases. "Bernard Temple ruffled a lot of feathers. There was not a lot of joy in certain parts of the city when a young black man started taking responsibility in this way."
His finishing touch: "Unless you realize the police have a motive too, you will miss the gist of this case."
On the first day of testimony, the boys from the 'hood show up in force. Leoncio White is taking the stand today, and the boys have a message to deliver. They fill the court gallery, grimacing and growling at White. They're talking shit and getting up and down and changing seats. They flash threatening hand gestures, according to Andrews.
A colleague of Andrews' sticks his head into Department 21. He sees what's going on, and, knowing Andrews is too busy questioning the witness to do anything about it, calls the FBI. A whole mess of agents, many of them cross-sworn SFPD narcotics officers, piles into cars at the federal building and screams down to the Hall of Justice. The agents fill the back of Superior Court Judge Robert L. Dondero's courtroom in a show of force. As word gets out in the Hall of Justice, all the inspectors who never miss a good fight pile down too.
Soon there are some 100 people in the courtroom. Andrews has been a prosecutor for nearly 15 years, and he's never seen anything like it. The gallery is squared off. Half law enforcement. Half gangbangers. It's a remarkable symbolic replication of the war going on in Bayview-Hunters Point. The bailiff gets so rattled he asks his superiors for permission to store a pistol in his desk. And this bailiff, he's a big guy.
On the stand, White says all the things Andrews wants him to say: On the day Walter Mullins was killed White saw Temple and Waldo at a craps game at the intersection of Oakdale and Baldwin. When Temple picked up his jacket, a hockey mask fell out. A few minutes later, Mullins is shot dead and White sees the the killer, wearing the same type of mask, running away from Waldo's dying form.
But Lefcourt undercuts White's credibility easily when he cross-examines the government witness.
Lefcourt, through his investigation into the case, knows that White had at one time told his parole officer he carried a gun, in violation of his parole, because he heard voices and was afraid. He gets White to admit this damaging fact.
Lefcourt compels White to admit his deal with the FBI: White was caught talking about drugs on the Michael wiretaps and was told he could have that case proceed in state court, where sentences are dramatically lighter than federal court, if he testified against Temple.
He gets White to admit that he killed a man senselessly in a liquor store holdup in 1981.
Lefcourt rattles White so much that the witness utters the classic snitch line: "Hey, I'm not the one on trial here."
Magee takes the stand. He's angry. And scared. After he turned on law enforcement, recanting his grand jury testimony in writing, the prosecution retaliated, revoking his domestic violence probation. Magee was sentenced to three years in state prison. Prison with a snitch jacket. An extremely unhealthy situation.
Andrews decides to bring out the deals and the money paid to Magee on direct examination. Magee admits he took $17,000 from the feds, that he got a break on his Fresno beef, that he got a HUD foreclosure house to live in for free, all these things just to rat out a man he's known since he was a kid. All this admitted in front of Temple's friends and admirers.
At one point during the trial, Magee has to excuse himself from the stand because he's sick to his stomach.
Magee's testimony, for the most part, is gibberish. He has a remarkable talent for answering a question with a circuitous spiel of nonsense. (In his closing remarks, Lefcourt says, "If any of you [jurors] understood Kel Magee you get a prize. I don't know if he needs a lawyer or a psychiatrist.")
Magee begins his testimony using a tactic he will employ throughout the trial: memory failure. When Andrews asks him to repeat specific, and incriminating, grand jury testimony about witnessing Temple murder Mullins, Magee hedges, says he can't remember. This forces Andrews to show Magee transcripts of earlier statements he had made to police and the grand jury. Even then, Magee disputes what the transcripts say. So tapes of the questioning are played. He says he must have misunderstood the questions.
Before trial, Magee told police and the grand jury that he was there when Temple bought a hockey mask on the day of the murder of Walter Mullins. He said he saw Temple with a gun prior to the murder. He said he saw Temple shoot Mullins.
At trial he denies, dodges, and weaves on all these points.
Andrews finishes up his direct examination with a key question: Did you see Bernard Temple shoot Walter Mullins?
He gets this answer: No, I did not see Bernard Temple shoot Walter Mullins.
Andrews' next witness, Herman Holland, testifies convincingly.
Holland was an extremely ambitious crackhead in 1988, the year Mullins was murdered. He made his living hiding guns and fixing cars -- all in exchange for the crack cocaine he craved.
But he'd gotten out of "the life" shortly after Mullins was killed. He'd cleaned up and moved to San Diego. He'd forgotten about being asked to allegedly hide a murder weapon in exchange for crack. He'd tried to forget his role as an accessory to murder after the fact.
In 1996, John Payne, an SFPD sergeant deputized as a federal agent, flew down to San Diego and knocked on Holland's door. The awful past had returned in the guise of the affable but determined federal agent. Holland pulled his shades, sat down on his couch, and unburdened himself. He agreed to testify. The implied deal: You talk, and we don't charge you with being an accessory.
On the stand, Holland says Temple came to his house the evening Mullins was killed, admitted that he had shot Waldo, and asked Holland to stash the gun. Holland holds up well on cross-examination, marking one of the prosecution's few victories.
Andrews doesn't know it yet, but his case is about to take a nose dive from its al-ready low altitude, and it will not recover. Magee's gibberish will seem like a blessing in a few minutes.
Next witness: Cedric Geter. Cedric the supposed eyewitness to the Jacky Williams murder. Cedric the drug addict. Cedric the smelly sleazebag. Cedric the accused murderer. Cedric the liar. Cedric Geter, the virus that infects the entire prosecution for the rest of the trial and spawns an epidemic of absolutely reasonable doubt.
Geter will eventually commit perjury and hand Lefcourt a great device for creating reasonable doubt. Even before he lies under oath, however, Geter provides an advantage to the defense: He personifies the physical contrast that Lefcourt is trying to get the jury to focus on.
Geter slouches in his chair and holds his hand over his mouth as he mumbles his way through his testimony.
Temple sits bolt upright, eyes wide and sparkling, a handsome young man.
Geter seems drugged; his eyes are dead. He shifts in his chair and uses hand gestures associated with thug life. As he walks by the jurors on his way to the witness stand, he smells so badly, one of the jurors averts herself to avoid the stench.
Meanwhile, female clerks of the court are dropping by to catch a glimpse of the dapper Temple, who is dressed impeccably in pleated pants, a dress shirt that is tucked in, ironed, and buttoned to the next to the last button. He is very nearly preppy.
Geter wears all black. His shirt is rumpled and untucked. He seems to not understand logic. Questions eliciting the most basic information have to be asked several different ways in order to penetrate the apparent fog clouding his mental faculties. And even then, he mumbles incoherently when answering.
Asked if he's an informant for the federal government, asked if he's an informant for the SFPD, asked if he's a snitch for any law enforcement authority, Cedric Geter says no.
But he is an informant for both the SFPD and the FBI. He has just perjured himself.
Geter is not done ruining the district attorney's case. Lefcourt has Geter testify about the dramatic number of criminal cases he's been involved in that, somehow, never made it to trial. Of course, the implication is that the FBI and SFPD are excusing his criminal conduct just because he's an informant. And the jury buys it.
Oddly, Geter testifies with certainty about seeing Bernard Temple shoot Jacky Williams. He says he was on the street that day, near the corner store at Fitzgerald and Jennings where Williams was murdered. Geter says he was there selling drugs. He tries to convince the court of an altruistic motive for his testimony, claiming Williams was like a brother to him. "He taught me how to steal cars," Geter says.
But Geter has another trick up his sleeve, yet another way to undermine himself, and the prosecution's case. He fails to return to the stand after a short recess in the trial.
A shaken Andrews must move on to other witnesses in the Jacky Williams case.
A woman who is supposed to connect Temple to the car used in the Williams killing and a man who supposedly witnessed the murder have huge holes in their testimony. Both have told contradictory stories over the years. Lefcourt tears them to shreds. For the most part, jurors later say, the jury discounts the testimony.
Then Geter finds his way back to court. Lefcourt accuses him of being on drugs, which, given his appearance and demeanor, seems entirely possible. He's allowed to testify some more. He admits he lied about being an informant for the government.
The prosecution presents two more purported eyewitnesses to the Williams killing. Their names have been provided by Geter. Andrews desperately needs to clean up the Geter mess. All he gets is more mess.
One witness, Anthony Starkes, is doing 86 years for car-jacking. He gets up on the stand and says, no, contrary to what he told police in a prison interview, he most certainly did not see Temple shoot Williams.
Since the Temple case is the undeniable product of an FBI investigation, Andrews can't avoid putting LaFreniere on the stand.
LaFreniere tells the court of the money paid to Magee, of the favors done, of the cases where he and other federal officials intervened in order to win cooperation:
How they helped a violent career criminal avoid 25 years to life in prison.
How they helped him avoid the imposition of a five-year suspended sentence.
How they gave him $17,000.
By the end of LaFreniere's testimony, the jury understands that Magee was saved from hard time not once, but twice by the federal government, which also paid him a remarkable amount of money. These facts, delivered unashamedly by LaFreniere, create an impression: The incentive for Magee to lie is massive. The incentive for him to tell the truth ... well, that hasn't even been explained.
The prosecution rests its case after LaFreniere leaves the stand. Lefcourt immediately begins hammering the bloody pulp that once was Cedric Geter. The defense attorney has already made him out to be a liar and junkie. Now he's going to make him look like a killer, too.
Anticipating this strategy, Andrews had put the prosecutor who decided to drop murder charges against Geter on the stand during the state's portion of the case. That prosecutor, John Farrell, said he dismissed the case because he had heard contradictory testimony coming from one of his witnesses.
Now, though, Lefcourt has his turn and calls Deputy Public Defender Peter Keane, who lends expert credibility to the argument that Geter was let off on a murder charge so he could be used as a witness against Temple.
Says Keane, "My opinion is that based upon what I read in the preliminary hearing and the evidence that existed against Mr. Geter, that the decision to not charge Mr. Geter, to my mind, could only be justified on the basis of Mr. Geter getting some reward for the -- from the authorities for something he's doing for them."
Lefcourt moves on to the FBI. He's found more material with which to taint the agency.
The previous week he had asked LaFreniere for the identity of a confidential witness in a specific FBI report on the Mullins killing. The unnamed witness told the FBI he saw Temple kill Mullins. LaFreniere says the informant is none other than Cedric Geter.
Suddenly it's revealed that Geter, already known to the jury as a sleazy liar and a probable drug addict and killer, told the FBI he saw the murders of both Williams and Mullins -- and the prosecution is using him in only one of the cases, the Williams homicide.
This odd state of affairs raises disturbing questions: Did Andrews know that his witness once claimed to have seen both murders? If so, why didn't he use him in both cases? Did he doubt his claims about witnessing the Mullins murder? If he didn't believe him on one case, what made him believe Geter on the other? Or is it that Andrews realized no jury would ever buy the argument that one person saw two murders committed by the same person three years apart?
Andrews says he can't recall whether he was told by the FBI that Geter claimed to have seen both murders. Lefcourt says he believes him, that he thinks both he and the prosecutor are being bamboozled by the feds. The FBI, the defense attorney implies, is hiding things Lefcourt could use to impeach government witnesses. The FBI, he suggests, is playing dirty pool.
Throughout the trial, Lefcourt has complained that he has not been given the full story about benefits the witnesses received in exchange for their testimony. This newest revelation, however, sets Judge Dondero off. He temporarily postpones the trial and orders a special hearing to sort out all the compensation and deals related to prosecution testimony in the Temple case.
A parade of cops takes the stand in an afternoon-long hearing. They lay bare all the payments and plea bargains and other arrangements with the state's witnesses. It is information that prosecutors should have revealed to the defense well in advance of the trial.
"About 30 percent of what I heard in that hearing I didn't know, and I should have known," Lefcourt says later in an interview.
Lefcourt calls Temple's wife, Monique, Monique's mother, and one of Temple's friends to the stand. They all provide Temple with an alibi for the Mullins murder. It seems no more credible than Geter's testimony, but their assertions do not, in the end, matter much. For the most part, the jury's mind is made up: The FBI and the SFPD went too far and had shady motives. The state's witnesses lied to get their deals.
In his closing remarks, Andrews admits his witnesses are scum. He calls them disgusting but necessary cockroaches. He says Geter is a "dopehead" who has the mind of a child. He admits they are liars. But he tries to give the jury a reason for their lies, their contradictory testimony, a reason other than FBI money and deals on cases: fear. He tries to get the jurors to focus on the parts of testimony that are indeed credible.
It's a stirring and articulately rendered speech, and Andrews means every word of it. None of it, however, has any impact whatsoever.
On Nov. 5, after three days of deliberations, the jury fulfills Bernard Temple's holding-cell prediction and finds him innocent.
The next day, Andrews walks into a courtroom with Kel Magee, the snitch who turned on the state and helped annihilate the cases against Bernard Temple, and asks a judge to reduce his three-year prison sentence to the time Magee has already served. The prosecutor doesn't want to send Magee to the pen wearing a snitch jacket.
"I didn't want his death on my hands," the prosecutor says later. The judge complies with Andrews' request and sets the lying loser Kel Magee free.
Jeff Medeiros, the foreman of the jury that acquitted Bernard Temple, says the vote was nine to three for acquittal the second the jury retired to deliberate. He says the deals made with informants, the money they were paid, and the involvement of the FBI in the murder cases were the controlling factors in most jurors' minds when they decided to acquit Temple.
"They were all liars," Medeiros says of the government witnesses. He says the jury thought the witnesses may have been afraid but, he hastens to add, fear was not considered a credible explanation for the shaky testimony and the many favors the government did for its informants.
"It was the cases," he says of why Geter's testimony was discarded by the jurors. "It was all those cases he was never prosecuted on."
Another juror, who declines to be identified, says this prevailing mind-set -- that deals were a quid pro quo for information, rather than a vaccine against sheer terror -- was a direct result of the jury's racial composition. (While trying to impeach eyewitness testimony that Temple had murdered Jacky Williams, Lefcourt stressed that in 1991 Temple's hair was done up geri-curl style, which was not the way witnesses described the hair of Jacky Williams' killer. Jurors were so unfamiliar with the way life is lived in black neighborhoods that they didn't understand what a geri-curl was. "The jurors kept saying 'Cherry-Girl' in deliberations," the juror says.)
Andrews goes further. "It's racist," he says of the jury's inability to see that government deals and shaky informant testimony were products of a different world, a world jurors should have tried harder to understand.
After a month off, Andrews is back in his office, which looks more like a messy dorm room than the workplace of a gang prosecutor. He's still dumbfounded that the jury did not believe fear could motivate wildly contradictory testimony, and even lying. After all, he points out, what was it Geter lied about? He lied about being a snitch, about what would cause him the most trouble down on Third Street. Andrews recalls the amazing first day, when all the thugs came down to intimidate the witnesses.
"You'd think the jury would have seen that," he says. (They did. That's why one of the jurors interviewed for this article asked that her name not be used.)
Mostly, though, Floyd Andrews blames himself. He should never have put Geter on the stand, he acknowledges. He's slowly realizing Magee was also a lousy witness. "My problem is I'm too close to it; I couldn't see it from the jury's perspective."
He's starting to think he may just be losing his ability to see which cases are worth taking to trial. "Maybe I'm just too naive and clueless to see when I'm just bashing my head up against the wall," he says.
But what's the alternative? he asks. To refuse to go to trial on the hard ones, just so he can rack up a decent batting average?
"I hate to think it's not possible to do anything about the level of violence out there," he says. "It's accepted. Kids see it."
Andrews explains why he takes bad cases to trial. He recalls a real dog of a case. A crack whore ratted out a drug dealer, and he took out a contract on her. Two other crackheads were enlisted in the effort; they persuaded the whore to go to a house, where she could provide some services and get some money for crack. The next thing she knows, she's waking up in a hospital with a bullet wound in the back of her head. She can't remember squat. She's a lousy witness. The dealer who ordered the hit wasn't there when she was shot.
Even with that minimal evidence, Andrews gets maximum sentences on all three defendants -- the two guys who did the shooting and the crack dealer who ordered the hit.
But he admits those kinds of cases are one in a million. He loses the vast majority of gang cases out of Bayview-Hunters Point. He can't think of anything at this moment that will alter that reality. "I was hoping this task force would change things, but it didn't happen," he says. "At this point what are the chances of getting anyone to talk to us?"
The question is rhetorical; the answer is so obvious, it need not be spoken aloud.