Let me spell out the entire circumstances of the crime, according to court records and sworn testimony, and I'm confident you'll see what I mean.
Edgar Mora was an angry and depressed man when March 12, 1998, rolled around. It was the first anniversary of his sister's death from cancer. The mother of his two children had recently moved to Sacramento, and he could no longer see the kids on a regular basis. He had been denied Job Corps training; he had applied to the program so he could better his employment opportunities. At the time, he was working as a warehouseman. He was 25 years old and living with his parents.
The night of the attack on Wilmes, Mora and his girlfriend, Silvia Vanegas, went to a movie in San Bruno. On the way Mora began drinking a bottle of schnapps accompanied by warm grape juice. By the time the two reached the theater, Mora was already extremely drunk. He was loud and increasingly angry. Vanegas hoped to get him home after the movie, but Mora wanted to go dancing at Harry Denton's in San Francisco. He ripped his shirt off in the car on the way.
Mora jumped out of the moving car four times that night, the first time at Fourth and Mission streets, where he wanted to enter a liquor store and buy beer. Vanegas talked him out of this, and they proceeded on.
All that night, Mora ranted about what a loser he was. How he was nothing, how he had nothing, according to Vanegas' testimony at her boyfriend's preliminary hearing.
At 11th and Mission, Mora again jumped out of the moving car because he saw people dancing upstairs at a dance studio. Mora began attacking a bus shelter on the corner. He punched a homeless man in the head. He hit Vanegas in the head. He was screaming at her, "Do you love me? Do you love me?" He hit a car driving by as he walked across the street toward the dance studio.
In his stupor, he wanted to join the dancers upstairs. He banged loudly on the door. He banged his head on the door.
Just then, Wilmes, who was high on methamphetamine, walked across the street with Carroll toward the Loading Dock bar, a gay leather bar next to the dance studio. They encountered Mora. According to Carroll and the homeless man whom Mora had struck earlier, Mora asked Carroll, "Do you want a piece of me, faggot?"
Wilmes said something to Mora, and Mora punched him in the mouth. According to the testimony of the city's coroner, the punch was not particularly powerful. Wilmes sustained a fat lip; that was it. But when Wilmes fell, his head hit the pavement hard, the coroner said, and his brain began to bleed and swell. Two days later, he died of brain damage.
Everyone agrees the attack on Wilmes took a matter of seconds.
But eyewitnesses differ on one critical point. Tim Carroll, the key prosecution witness and Wilmes' companion the night of the attack, testified at Mora's preliminary hearing that the defendant got on top of Wilmes' body after he had fallen to the ground and shook his body, striking his head on the pavement several times.
But neither of the other two eyewitnesses to the assault saw the shaking of the body or the head striking the pavement. And the medical examiner testified that the back of Wilmes' head was not bruised or cut in any way. He said it was impossible to discern a wound on the back of the head at all. Carroll, in his initial interviews with police, either did not mention that Mora shook the body or struck the head on the pavement, or he seemed vague and confused on the matter, a circumstance that Carroll attributed to fatigue and emotional distress. "If I was a robot and wasn't upset, I would have been able to provide a videotape-quality account of what happened, but I am human, not a robot," Carroll said in an interview from his home in Sacramento. Carroll went on to say he stood by his latest testimony, at the Nov. 16 preliminary hearing, that Mora shook Wilmes' body and struck his head on the pavement several times.
Carroll's testimony about the shaking of the body and the head striking the pavement was singularly important in convincing the judge at the preliminary hearing that Mora may have actually meant to kill Wilmes, or that he had formed an "implied motive" to kill, and that he should be held over for trial on murder, rather than involuntary manslaughter. But even Carroll suggested in initial police interviews that Mora might have been too intoxicated to form any intent at all. When a police officer brought up the possibility that the attack might be considered a hate crime, Carroll told the officer, "I think the guy was too messed up to know what he was doing."
Carroll's account has changed over time on other fronts. Throughout three police interviews and ending with his Nov. 16 testimony at Mora's preliminary hearing, he gave differing accounts of how many times and with what kind of force Mora used the word "faggot." At the preliminary hearing two new aspects of his testimony emerged, which he had not mentioned in any of his three prior interviews with police. He testified that Mora had slapped him on the buttocks, and that Mora had tried to punch him, too. Mora's defense attorney, Robert Dunlap, questioned Carroll about the inconsistencies in his testimony at the preliminary hearing, and last week Dunlap told me he believed Carroll was "embellishing."