Man convicted of lesser charge in burglary case
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Carlos Gomez-Miranda has been found not guilty of burglary, but guilty of petty larceny, in connection with a July incident where jewelry and other personal items were stolen from the 18th Street home of a lesbian attorney in the Castro.
The verdict was announced after a couple of hours of deliberation at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, October 29, in the courtroom of San Francisco Superior Court Judge Gerardo Sandoval at the Hall of Justice. Gomez-Miranda was sentenced to 180 days in the county jail, with 104 already counted as time served.
Gomez-Miranda's trial started Thursday, October 24. He had been charged on a felony count of first-degree burglary, a count of larceny, and a misdemeanor charge of receiving stolen property. He could only have been found guilty on the third count, however, if found not guilty of burglary, according to the jury instructions.
Gomez-Miranda, 31, was arrested at the end of July in connection with the crime. Attorney Angela Padilla, 53, returned to her house in the Castro in early July to find that it had been ransacked. Cigarettes, needles, and dirty dishes were all over the place — and thousands of dollars worth of jewelry was stolen, she said.
Padilla's wife and three children also resided in the house at the time, though no one was home when the incident occurred.
When Gomez-Miranda was arrested weeks later by San Francisco police, some of Padilla's jewelry was found on him, trial testimony showed.
Padilla called the verdict "outrageous" in a phone call with the Bay Area Reporter shortly after it was announced.
"Sounds like typical San Francisco to me," Padilla said. "It was an open-and-shut case. His DNA was all over my house. My property was in his backpack. This verdict is outrageous but at least he was convicted of something."
Padilla said that what happened in July was the final straw for her and she is leaving San Francisco after having lived here for 28 years.
"The city is lawless. It's filthy. Crime is unchecked," she said. "My car has been broken into multiple times."
The defense did not dispute that Gomez-Miranda had been in the house, but insisted that the prosecution had not met the legal threshold for proving the burglary charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
During closing arguments Monday, October 28, San Francisco Deputy Public Defender William Helvestine said that Gomez-Miranda, who was homeless, was lured into the house by another homeless man who offered him a place to sleep after he'd failed to find a bed at the MSC-South homeless shelter. His intent in entering the house was not to commit burglary, the attorney said.
Helvestine said that Gomez-Miranda was high on methamphetamine because he'd expected a night out on the street and he had to stay awake and alert for it to avoid getting attacked or robbed himself.
"The trial, as I saw it, revolved around this issue of homelessness," Helvestine said during closing arguments. "It explains why he found himself on the early morning hours of July 1 in a strange person's home with a strange man and why the reason he ended up there was reasonable. It wasn't felonious — he didn't enter with the intent to commit theft."
Helvestine also said there's no evidence the amount of jewelry in question was over $950 — the required amount for a grand theft charge. He said the most his client could be guilty of is receiving stolen property.
"We've heard of a seedy underbelly to this city I think most of us have no firsthand knowledge of," he said. "I put him in your hands and I trust you will do the right thing."
Assistant District Attorney Andrew Joseph Clark said that the homelessness defense doesn't cut it.
"There are a lot of good people out there who are not committing crimes who are homeless, and it's unfortunate that they're homeless, but they're not breaking into houses, going through windows, and stealing property," Clark said during closing arguments. "That's an important thing to keep in mind."
Clark said that what happened was a lot more simple than what the defense was arguing. Security camera footage from a 7-Eleven shows Gomez-Miranda there at the same time that two 7-Eleven receipts found in Padilla's home are stamped with.
"When he was arrested, he had Ms. Padilla's property that had been stolen from her house that she reported to the police on the day she had been ransacked," Clark said. "He stole property from that home. He almost got away with it — but he didn't.
"If you don't abandon common sense, you realize this home was burglarized," he added.
Juror No. 12, who did not want to be named, said that Helvestine had the better of the argument.
"There was no intent. He didn't have the motivation," he said of Gomez-Miranda. "To have burglary you have to have intent."
The juror said that there was "no way" the amount of jewelry the jury saw was valued over $950 (although more jewelry than that recovered was reported to be stolen, according to statements made in court).
"It wouldn't have come close," he said.
Helvestine said he was not surprised by the verdict and that it was his client's testimony that won the day.
"I don't think the evidence was there from the beginning," he told the B.A.R. after the verdict. "Anyone in the courtroom for Carlos' testimony would have found him truthful, upfront, and honest."