Man pleads not guilty
to murdering partner
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A San Francisco man pleaded not guilty last week to murdering his partner of almost 20 years.
Timothy Stewart, 48, has been charged in the death of Terry Rex Spray, 60. He entered his plea and denied an allegation of use of a deadly weapon in San Francisco Superior Court Friday, October 5.
Stewart, whom some records indicate is 51, allegedly assaulted Spray, known as Rex, with a blunt object. Officials say Spray was found unconscious, not breathing, and bleeding in the garage of the couple's apartment building at 1135 Ellis Street on August 3. He died September 18, and police arrested Stewart on September 24.
People who knew the couple said they didn't know of problems between them, and at least two people who knew the men doubt that Stewart is responsible.
"If Tim is innocent, the last thing Rex would have wanted was for him to be incarcerated and enmeshed in the criminal justice system, and the evidence I've heard of doesn't sound that convincing beyond a reasonable doubt to me," Evan Mogan, who knew Spray for 25 years, said.
Mogan, 56, said Spray, who had worked for years as a nurse and was once a union president, seemed "fine" when they last spoke one to two weeks before the alleged assault.
"I really believe if he and Tim were having any problems, he would have shared it with me," Mogan said. "We talked about stuff like that. He and Tim, they didn't have a volatile relationship."
In an email, Stewart's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris said, "My client is grieving the loss of his longtime partner. He had nothing to do with the events that led to Rex Spray's death and we look forward to proving in court that there is no evidence showing otherwise. Tim is as eager to understand what happened to Rex as anyone could be." Harris declined a request to interview Stewart.
Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said, "We would not charge a case unless we had a good faith basis to believe we could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt." He didn't say what evidence prosecutors have, but he said the weapon was "a blunt instrument."
Bastian said he couldn't discuss the motive, "given that it's an ongoing investigation."
Shortly after the August assault, a San Francisco police spokesman said officers responding to the garage found a bleeding Spray, who hadn't yet been publicly identified, between two vehicles in the garage.
Soon after Stewart's arrest, there was a closed gate covering the entrance to the apartment building's garage, where Mogan said Spray's car had previously been broken into. Mogan said that in the August assault, it didn't appear Spray had been robbed. His wallet was with him, and his cell phone was in his apartment.
In a brief conversation shortly after Stewart's arrest, police Sergeant Jon Kasper said it was possible Stewart and Spray were domestic partners, before indicating he didn't have time to answer further questions. He didn't respond to a subsequent interview request.
Mogan said that Spray and Stewart met 19 to 20 years ago. He said they were registered domestic partners and married in 2004 after then-Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered same-sex marriages to be allowed in the city. The information on their domestic partnership and marriage hasn't been verified by the Bay Area Reporter.
Friends described seeing Spray in the hospital before he died.
Kimberly Blanck, 58, knew Spray for almost 25 years and indicated she'd last spoken with him a few months ago. The two had once worked together in in-patient psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital. She said she didn't know of any problems between Spray and Stewart.
She said as one of his specialties, Spray "was assigned to people who were very, very difficult to get along with. They were volatile." She said he was "always courteous to these people who other people were fearful of or turned away from."
Blanck visited a hospitalized Spray a couple of times after the August assault. She said his head was "flat above his forehead. It was just flat there. There was no skull cap."
Mogan, who also saw Spray after the assault, said Stewart visited often. He said the first time Stewart saw Spray, "they had to ask him to leave the ICU." Stewart "was crying, and he was beside himself," Mogan said.
Part of Spray's skull had been removed because of the swelling, he said. During one visit, "He brought a baseball cap to put on Rex, because he said he didn't like looking at his head," Mogan said.
Kinchley, 63, said he and Spray were close friends while they were both active in the Service Employees International Union Local 790. (He said Local 790 became part of what's now known as SEIU Local 1021.) Kinchley estimated that Local 790 had 30,000 members, including nurses and other workers, when Spray was elected president about 10 years ago.
He said he "never" sensed any trouble between the two men.
"They always seemed clearly fond of each other and playful with each other," Kinchley said.
Kinchley, who estimated it had been six years since he and Spray "had any kind of long conversation," visited Spray a couple times when he was in the hospital at UCSF-Parnassus. He said Stewart was in communication with Spray's sister in Indiana as they tried to figure out "how long they would continue to have the doctors provide support to keep Rex alive, and it was very clear that Tim was totally stressed out about making that decision, as anybody would be."
According to Blanck, Spray died after his sister, Stewart, and medical staff decided to remove his feeding tube. Spray's sister didn't respond to an interview request.
Spray had apparently recently worked at a South of Market mental health clinic. Calls to the agency weren't returned.
Blanck said Spray "compartmentalized his life." She said he never told his family that he was gay, about his relationship with Stewart, or about a son he had from a previous relationship.
"I think there was a part of him that wanted a little excitement in his life, and I think Tim was the excitement," Blanck said.
It appears that the excitement led to trouble at least once. San Francisco Superior Court records indicate that in 2008 the couple was evicted from their Market Street apartment after Stewart was seen on video stealing a refrigerator from the building's loading dock.
Patrick Babcock, 32, who lives several units down the hall from Spray and Stewart's Ellis Street apartment, said he'd never heard any signs of trouble between the two men, but he noted he has two children and there's often other noise in the neighborhood.
Babcock said that both men were nice, but he said Stewart seemed to have "lived hard," and he'd sometimes seen him drunk in the afternoon.
Mogan said Stewart drank "sporadically."
"Usually, he tried to avoid Rex if he was drinking, because Rex didn't like it," he said.
"Tim would kind of act goofy when he'd been drinking, but never violent or threatening," Mogan said. He said that after Stewart had knee surgery within the last year, he told him "rather proudly" that he was clean and sober.
Stewart appeared in court September 27, soon after his arrest, looking haggard, with an unshaven face and bags under his eyes. He appeared agitated as he conferred with an attorney before his hearing began, and stood up before he was instructed to. After a bailiff told him to be seated, Stewart said, "I know what to say" and sat back down.
Stewart went to Alaska several times a year as a commercial fisherman and "made good money," Mogan said. He also did odd jobs in San Francisco.
Mogan said Spray told him of private retirement accounts that he'd set up. Spray indicated to him that Stewart was the beneficiary and told him, "If anything happens to me, I hope you'll help Tim manage the money," Mogan said.
Blanck said Spray had discussed retirement with her. She estimated that he had $400,000 in retirement and other funds. She wasn't sure Stewart would have known about the money, and she indicated that she didn't think it would have been a plausible motive for him to kill Spray.
"I also don't think he's able to make a plan and stick with it to kill someone," Blanck, who usually saw Stewart "in passing" and described him as "goofy and jovial," said. "... He's not the planner type."
Stewart is in custody in San Francisco County jail on $3 million bail. His next court date is Friday, October 12 for a status update. Assistant District Attorney John Rowland is the prosecutor assigned to the case.
Anyone with information in the case may contact police Sergeant Jon Kasper, or Inspectors Michael Morley or Michael Philpott at (415) 553-1145 or give information anonymously at (415) 575-4444. Police have declined to release Stewart's booking photo.