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SF stalking trial underway

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Trial got underway recently for a gay man accused of stalking his ex-partner and a former friend.

John Lyle Saunders, 50, allegedly harassed his former partner and their neighbor for months and vandalized the Corona Heights property the three men had bought together.

Saunders faces a dozen charges, including four counts of stalking, as well as violating protective orders, domestic battery, and vandalism.

During opening statements Wednesday, February 7, Assistant District Attorney Don DuBain said the three men purchased the multi-unit building on Levant Street about a dozen years ago.

Their 13-year relationship "deteriorated" though, and the partner moved out in September 2016.

"That's when problems began" that resulted in the criminal case, said DuBain.

DuBain showed jurors photos of holes that had been made in the walls, artwork that had been destroyed, and tiles that had been damaged.

After Saunders' ex-partner bought his share of the property from him, Saunders refused to leave and had to be evicted several months later. After that he returned and was arrested for trespassing. Even that didn't stop him, though, according to DuBain, and Saunders came back and "tried to force his way into" the home.

Then, late one night in June 2017 when the ex-partner was visiting Los Angeles, he saw surveillance video on his phone showing Saunders "prowling around" and "ultimately breaking into the residence," said DuBain.

When police arrived, Saunders initially convinced them that it was his property, but they later returned and arrested him.

DuBain played surveillance footage to jurors that showed Saunders walking around with a flashlight and peering inside the residence. The video also shows him kicking a wall or door at one point and carrying around a shovel.

Saunders also allegedly threatened to kill the former friend that he and his ex-partner had purchased the residence with, said DuBain.

In September 2016, civil court records show, Saunders' former friend filed for a restraining order, saying that Saunders "came after me in the garage. I escaped to my car and locked the door. He then dented the door and threatened to kill me with a knife (if he had one)."

Police had already been called to the house "numerous times over the last six months" due to Saunders' harassment, according to the man's filing. He also said that his water heater had been damaged and security cameras he'd installed in the garage had been "destroyed."

The restraining order was eventually granted.

Deputy Public Defender Carmen Aguirre told jurors last week that Saunders had "lost everything," including his relationship and his home, and he couldn't get some of his belongings.

"That's what this case is about," said Aguirre.

She added that the video had shown Saunders going to the property to find out about his possessions during LGBT Pride weekend, when his ex-partner wasn't likely to be home.

"It may not be the best way" to go about it, said Aguirre, but it was "an emotional response, not an attempt to terrorize anybody. ... This matter doesn't belong here."

Closing arguments in the case were expected Thursday (February 15).

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