Family of gay photographer killed at Twin Peaks exasperated by further delays

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday August 17, 2023
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Photographer Ed French was fatally shot in 2017. Photo: Courtesy Stop Crime SF<br>
Photographer Ed French was fatally shot in 2017. Photo: Courtesy Stop Crime SF

After the criminal trial of two San Franciscans accused of killing a gay photographer during a 2017 robbery ended in a mistrial, his partner and sister have been further exasperated by the repeated delays in the effort to retry the defendants on murder charges.

"It's always about delays," Lorrie French, the 83-year-old sister of Ed French, told the Bay Area Reporter. "We've had delays and it looks like that's the way it's going to be again."

A jury voted 10-2 on May 22 in favor of convicting Lamonte Mims, 25, of Patterson (Stanislaus County), and Fantasy Decuir, 25, of San Francisco of the murder Ed French, 71, of San Francisco. A unanimous verdict, however, is required for a criminal conviction.

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

The charges stemmed from July 16, 2017, when Ed 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 Ed 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 Ed French.

Decuir and Mims remain in custody awaiting sentencing on their robbery convictions, which Paul DeMeester, Mims' attorney, said should happen after the defendants are tried again on the homicide charges, and Decuir again on the robbery charge.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, a hearing was to have taken place on the homicide charges July 7. However, Mark Iverson, Decuir's attorney, told the B.A.R. he successfully had the hearing pushed back.

"I requested a continuance for several reasons," Iverson stated in an email. "Two of the reasons were cited in open court: We lost one of the attorneys and we are waiting on some transcripts of the trial testimony. The other grounds for the continuance were contained in a sealed declaration that I filed with the court. Because of the confidential information in this declaration, it is sealed by court order and reviewed by the judge who then determines whether there is good cause for a continuance."

Lorrie French was flustered by this, asking, "Why do they have the opportunity to give a sealed document?"

DeMeester told the B.A.R. on August 17 that the next hearing, scheduled for September 8, may also see delays, as Iverson will be going out of the country.

"So September 8 is going to be a status date to shake things out for future dates," DeMeester said. "I think the Decuir defense people are looking at experts — they need to expand the number of experts. It came down to an unconsciousness defense, so I'm sure the prosecution will reach out to some experts and the Decuir folks will want to bolster their experts. I know Mark said he'd had a trip scheduled for mid-to-late September into October."

Lorrie French and Brian Higginbotham, Ed French's partner, had told the B.A.R. in the spring that 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.

Iverson told the B.A.R. at that time 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.

DeMeester called the court delays a "balancing act." Higginbotham called it "outrageous," as they have waited for justice for over six years.

"We waited five and a half years to get the first one [trial] going," he said. "It's mind-blowing. Use as many adjectives as you'd like. His sister is 84 and she's hoping she can see the end of this before she's gone. All the emphasis is on the killers, not the victims, and his family and friends."

The San Francisco District Attorney's office did not immediately return a request for comment for this report.

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