Online Extra: Rickleffs sentencing delayed as defense waits for trial transcripts

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday February 13, 2020
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Convicted murderer James Rickleffs. Photo: Courtesy SFPD
Convicted murderer James Rickleffs. Photo: Courtesy SFPD

James Rickleffs, a San Francisco man found guilty last March of murdering a gay man in 2012, will not be sentenced for at least two more months.

Rickleffs, 53, had a hearing at the San Francisco Hall of Justice February 13. At that hearing, his new defense attorney, Marc Zilversmit, said he had only received a few hundred of an expected 3,000 pages of trial transcript he wants to review.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Gerardo Sandoval said he hopes Zilversmit is not using the transcripts as a delay tactic.

"I expect you are working diligently to read what you already have and are not waiting for everything," Sandoval said.

Zilversmit, a private attorney who said he specializes in appellate law, said he is aware the family of the victim in the case is "also very anxious."

"Whenever I get new transcripts, I drop what I'm doing," Zilversmit said.

Sandoval said that at a March 20 hearing he will pick a date for sentencing and potentially hear a motion for a new trial. Until then, Rickleffs will remain in custody at San Francisco County Jail.

Assistant District Attorney Julia Cervantes said that Sandoval will probably pick a sentencing date one month hence from the March 20 hearing.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, a jury found Rickleffs guilty of murder on March 4 in the 2012 death of 28-year-old gay hairstylist Steven "Eriq" Escalon. He was also found guilty of first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary, and petty theft.

Escalon's mother, Esmeralda, travels from Fresno to San Francisco for every hearing.

"I feel like if we show our presence it puts pressure on the judge to move forward," Esmeralda Escalon said Thursday.

Escalon's friend, Roberto Tiscareno, said he comes to support Esmeralda and the family.

"I feel like someone from the LGBT community needs to stand up and support and not forget that this crime happened in our backyard," Tiscareno said. "He was killed in Diamond Heights and they met in the Castro. We want to close this chapter, which started eight years ago."

Escalon and Rickleffs met the night before the murder, according to prosecutors, during "underwear night" at the Castro bar 440, located at 440 Castro Street.

After going home with Escalon to his Diamond Heights apartment early on the morning of June 12, 2012, prosecutors said Rickleffs tied Escalon up, gagged him, and poured poppers on his face to immobilize him. Then he left Escalon's apartment with a suitcase of items including a laptop, Escalon's checkbook, and a bankcard of one of Escalon's roommates.

Escalon died of an overdose of amyl nitrates and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, according to the medical examiner's report.

Escalon was found dead by his roommates and Rickleffs was arrested September 12, 2012 in possession of the suitcase.

During his trial, Deputy Public Defender Niki Solis argued that the death, though unfortunate, was the result of consensual BDSM sex and discussed Escalon's alleged life in a gay fast-lane of drugs and BDSM sex, a defense Esmeralda Escalon said at the time was inappropriate and inaccurate.

Jurors who spoke with the B.A.R. after the verdict agreed that Rickleffs didn't necessarily intend to kill Escalon, but his reckless disregard for Escalon's life during the robbery swayed them toward a murder conviction.

"He walked out the door and left him to die," one of the jurors told the B.A.R. "That was a substantial factor in his death."