Man to stand
trial in partner's death
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A San Francisco judge has ordered a man accused of bashing in the head of his longtime partner to stand trial in the partner's death.
But while holding Timothy Stewart, 48, to answer on the charge of murdering Terry Rex Spray, 60, Superior Court Judge Bruce Chan also said that if he were a juror, he would have a "reasonable doubt" of Stewart's guilt, based on the evidence he had seen.
Stewart, who had been Spray's registered domestic partner since 1994, is accused of assaulting Spray with a flat metal bar August 3 in the garage of their apartment building at 1135 Ellis Street. Spray died September 18, and police arrested Stewart September 24.
At the Wednesday, December 12 conclusion of the preliminary hearing, which lasted more than five days, Chan said, "A couple of jurors, at least, could have some real questions" about whether Stewart's guilty, but he noted "there's a different standard of proof" to be met at the preliminary hearing stage.
Chan pointed to surveillance video from the garage as among the evidence that raised "strong suspicion" that Stewart was involved.
The video covers about 11 minutes from around the time Spray is believed to have been assaulted, but it doesn't show the actual attack. In the video Stewart walks into the garage from the lobby just after 7 a.m., pushes a button to open the garage door, and disappears from view.
Within moments, the camera is tilted upward, eliminating the view of a portion of the garage.
Then, Spray enters the garage from the lobby and disappears behind a column. He reappears briefly before walking out of view again. Within three minutes, according to a time display on the video, the back of someone's head is visible near where Spray could last be viewed. The person appears to have a white object over one hand and pushes the button to open the garage door.
Police Officer Sandon Cheung testified the door stays at least partially open for 40 seconds. According to Cheung, Stewart had identified himself as the first person in the video. It wasn't clear from the footage who the person with the white object was.
Chan compared the timing of the footage to cell phone calls that seemed to take place just before Spray entered the garage. The brief calls were between a number belonging to Stewart and a number belonging to the San Mateo woman he told police he'd recently moved in with. She had apparently been waiting for Stewart on Ellis Street to pick him up the morning of Spray's assault.
Spray and the woman knew about each other, and Stewart and Spray planned to take over the woman's condominium, according to information presented in court.
Chan also brought up a "smear" on the door of Spray and Stewart's apartment.
San Francisco Police Department crime lab worker Sharon Barkwill testified that swabs from the door had tested "presumptively positive for the presence of blood." However, she acknowledged that the tests didn't reveal whose blood it was, how long it had been present, or even whether it was human blood.
Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris told Chan there was "nothing the court has said that doesn't require speculation."
During a recorded interview with police that was played in court, Stewart said he had entered into a domestic partnership with Spray in order to get insurance. Assistant District Attorney John Rowland said Stewart had committed fraud and "that fraud completely takes away from his credibility."
After the hearing, Harris said Spray and Stewart's relationship had "worked for them for many, many years," but according to Rowland "their relationship is criminal."
Spray had worked as a nurse and had once been a union president. At his November 16 memorial service, he was described as a "tireless" advocate for others. Stewart, who's in custody and was in court throughout the hearing, appeared to cry at one point during the proceedings.
During the hearing, Rowland didn't offer any clear indication of what the motive for the killing may have been. People who knew the couple have indicated to the Bay Area Reporter that Spray possibly had sizable savings from retirement and other funds, but Harris told the paper "that hasn't been substantiated, as far as I'm aware."
The next hearing is set for Wednesday, December 26.