Trial in killing of gay photographer ends in hung jury

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 7, 2023
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Photographer Ed French was fatally shot in 2017. Photo: Courtesy Stop Crime SF
Photographer Ed French was fatally shot in 2017. Photo: Courtesy Stop Crime SF

The partner and sister of a gay photographer killed during a 2017 robbery are stunned after a recent San Francisco criminal trial of the accused killers ended with a hung jury.

"You don't want to know what my thoughts were," Lorrie French, the 83-year-old sister of Ed French, told the Bay Area Reporter when asked what she thought when she heard the news.

The jury voted 10-2 on May 22 in favor of convicting Lamonte Mims, 25 of Patterson, and Fantasy Decuir, 25 of San Francisco of murdering Ed French, 71, of San Francisco, but a unanimous verdict was required for conviction.

On a second count of second-degree robbery of Ed French — Mims was convicted, but the jury hung on the charge for Decuir, 10-2.

The charges stemmed from July 16, 2017, when French was approached in the early morning hours by Mims and Decuir, according to prosecutors, as he was photographing the sunrise from Twin Peaks.

According to video evidence, Decuir is seen shooting French after Mims took his camera.

Decuir and Mims were arrested several weeks later after a man and woman were robbed of their camera, wallet, credit cards, and both United States and European Union currency at St. Mary's Cathedral Square. Decuir and Mims were found guilty on the counts relating to these allegations, which are separate from the charges of homicide and robbery against French.

They remain in custody awaiting sentencing on their robbery convictions.

The San Francisco District Attorney's office provided the B.A.R. a copy of the complaint against Mims and Decuir but did not respond to a request for comment on the case as of press time. Lorrie French and her brother's partner, Brian Higginbotham, 65, also of San Francisco, told the B.A.R. that the DA's office plans to prosecute the charges that ended in a mistrial.

"Frankly, it was disbelief," Higginbotham told the B.A.R. regarding his reaction. "Let's not forget they killed him in July, [police] caught them in August, and in two months it'll be six long years we've been waiting. There's video, there's audio and there's a compelling witness statement. ... We're all very upset, there's a lot of people following this case."

Lorrie French and Higginbotham said the defense brought in a medical expert who stated that Decuir's sickle-cell disease led her to think that "she was dreaming and didn't realize she killed someone," in Higginbotham's words.

"It was laughable," Lorrie French said. "She certainly wasn't unconscious, as the doctor alluded to."

Lorrie French said that the DA's office said next time it'd bring its own medical expert to provide an alternate scenario.

Paul DeMeester, Mims' attorney, told the B.A.R. that "my client was not the one who shot Mr. French, as can be clearly seen on the video. It was Fantasy Decuir who clearly shot Mr. French on Sunday morning at Twin Peaks." He added that Mims "may only be found guilty of felony murder — first-degree murder — if the person was a major participant, which we conceded, and acted with reckless indifference."

DeMeester added that the medical testimony regarding the sickle-cell disease asserted it was high doses of an opioid medication that led to nullified culpability.

"What was shown in evidence was that Fantasy was in the hospital for some days — as late as the afternoon of July 14 — and she was given intravenously heavy doses of pain medication, Dilaudid, and that's way up there in terms of pain medication, and a number of attending physicians testified about the treatment she received in the week leading up to July 16, when Mr. French was killed," DeMeester said.

Decuir's attorney Mark Iverson told the B.A.R. that "the legal defense of unconsciousness we presented on behalf of Ms. Decuir involved the interaction of the extreme pain Ms. Decuir experienced during that time from her sickle-cell disease and the large amounts of opiates prescribed and administered to her to relieve her pain. Her ability to manage this medical crisis and her withdrawal from opiates was severely compromised by her intellectual disability."

Iverson said no expert "testified that Ms. Decuir was unconscious at the time of the shooting of Mr. French because such opinions are not legally permitted."

"Rather, the jury heard from a variety of doctors and nurses about what it is like to suffer from sickle-cell disease generally and specifically the course the disease took with Ms. Decuir during the month of July 2017 and how medically opiates were the only viable way to alleviate her severe pain throughout the month of July 2017," he continued.

'He loved this city'

Higginbotham said he's made 75 different court appearances. The couple had been together for over 30 years.

"I met him in 1989," Higginbotham recalled. "We met here; some club south of Market. He was a very interesting guy. It's so outrageous; that Sunday morning he had $50,000 to come in the next day to invest in something. He was so excited. He's a lifelong San Franciscan — born by the Zuni restaurant on Market, grew up in the North Bay, Petaluma, but got out of there quickly. In 1979, he moved down here after all the Harvey Milk stuff was happening."

Lorrie French said that "they didn't just take away my brother. They took my best friend, my buddy. He was such a good, caring person." She described her late brother as "Mr. San Francisco."

"One time we took our nephew and niece from Washington to the California Street cable car," Lorrie French said. "As we went down, he was telling the kids the buildings, and when we got off at the end of the line the people behind us asked 'Can we go with you?' because they were listening, getting the history of San Francisco. He loved this city. He really loved this city, but that's the city that took him."

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 7 at 9 a.m. in Department 22 at the Hall of Justice.

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