Obstruction of Justice

A kidnapping victim watched his case linger needlessly in court 
for years. In S.F., he has company.

He lay in the dirt as the sound of running footsteps receded behind him. Screeching tires signaled that the cars were departing. Kruger lay completely still, staring at the grass. None of what was happening seemed real. He wondered whether Webster would come back. He wondered if he would ever get home.

After about 20 minutes, he heard a car pull up. It was Abraham.

Kruger dusted himself off and got into the backseat. Someone else was sitting shotgun. He didn't turn around, and Kruger never saw his face.

"Anwar's stupid, doing this over a girl," Abraham said as they drove away.

The pair dropped him off near his parents' house in the Ingleside. Kruger was in a daze as he walked home past the nail salons and Chinese bakeries on Ocean Avenue. It was 4 a.m.

Cops struggle all the time with tough cases, their attempts to solve awful crimes impeded by elusive suspects, reluctant witnesses, or both. The kidnapping and robbery of Evan Kruger was not such a case. After he recited the night's events to his mother, she immediately filed a complaint with the San Francisco Police Department. Investigators took statements from Evan and Michael on Aug. 2. As the sun set on Aug. 3, the brothers walked with two detectives through the field where Kruger had been made to kneel.

Kruger's story verged on the incredible — his account of the desolate field and merciful gunman seems lifted straight from Ethan and Joel Coen's cult-classic gangster film, Miller's Crossing, which Kruger says he has never seen — but the cops bought his story, for a number of reasons.

Portions of it were backed up by Maxie, who had given police a statement confirming many of the night's details. (The next day, she showed up for work at the Dugout. When Michael Kruger confronted her, she tried to downplay what had happened. After her shift ended, she never returned to the store again.)

While detectives didn't find a bullet casing in the field, they did examine and document a flattened patch in the high grass that conformed to the shape of Kruger's body. They also found a nearby resident who reported hearing a gunshot that night. But police never succeeded in tracking down the mysterious Abraham.

Assistant District Attorney Reve Bautista, the first prosecutor assigned to the case, subpoenaed images from a bank surveillance camera, confirming that a terrified-looking Kruger had withdrawn money from the ATM when he said he did. As Kruger puts it today, "What would I have been doing withdrawing $100 at three in the morning from Hunters Point?"

It turned out Webster had burst into the Giants Dugout store about a week before the incident, angrily demanding to inspect Maxie's cellphone. His demeanor unsettled store employees enough that managers printed and distributed Webster's photo, found on an Internet social networking site, with directions that he was not to be allowed back in. Presumably, it was Maxie's phone that had led him to Kruger.

Police arrested Webster, and on Aug. 5, 2006, the District Attorney's office charged him with kidnapping, robbery, and false imprisonment. Maxie — whose degree of culpability was unclear, but who police believed may have deliberately lured Kruger into a trap — was also charged. Bail for Webster was set at $350,000. If convicted on all charges, he was facing close to a decade in prison.

"To me, that was an extremely, extremely serious case," recalls Bautista, who left the DA's office two years ago and now works for the Oakland City Attorney. It was also one in which she believed the prosecution had an excellent chance of prevailing at trial. "The circumstantial evidence was strong," she says, and would have reinforced what she describes as convincing testimony by Kruger: "I honestly thought that his credibility was just great. ... I think a jury would have found him believable."

At the end of August, Kruger flew to Chicago to begin his second year at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He left with the expectation of returning promptly to San Francisco to testify at a preliminary hearing, which would lead in short order either to a plea bargain or trial, depending on how defense attorneys and prosecutors assessed Webster's case.

But things didn't go as expected. An entire academic year passed, and the only news Kruger had was of various delays. Webster's and Maxie's attorneys requested and received continuances in the court proceedings because of an assortment of scheduling conflicts. "Just excuse after excuse," Kruger recalls.

Meanwhile, the events of August 2006 continued to cast a pall over his life. Shortly after charges were filed, Michael Kruger received an anonymous phone call from someone claiming to be a friend of Webster's, urging him to see to it that his family members didn't cooperate with the prosecution. "We know where you work," the caller said.

Webster was able to get out of jail after a judge reduced his bail to $50,000 in September 2006. In Illinois, Evan Kruger was visited by nightmares of Webster coming to his family's home. He silently rehearsed his courtroom testimony, trying to anticipate what direction his grilling by Webster's lawyers would take.

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