Man Held for Trial on Castro Arson Charges

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Sunday August 30, 2015
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David Diaz at his January court appearance
David Diaz at his January court appearance

A judge this week ordered a San Francisco man who was convicted of accidentally choking to death a sex partner in 2011 to stand trial for allegedly burning his boyfriend's car and the storage area of a hair salon last winter in the Castro district.

David Munoz Diaz, 25, faces felony counts of arson of an inhabited structure, arson of property, and possession of an incendiary device. Retired Superior Court Judge Ellen Chaitin ordered Monday, August 24 that he be held on all three counts. Diaz, who's in custody on $500,000 bail, showed no obvious reaction.

Chaitin's ruling came just before the August 26 anniversary of Diaz's manslaughter conviction.

During his trial last summer, Diaz testified about how he fatally choked Freddy Canul-Arguello, 23, in Buena Vista Park in June 2011. He said it was an accident that occurred after Canul-Arguello asked to be choked during a sexual encounter.

He also said he set fire to a cup in a recycling bin but said he did it to signal for help. The melted bin was found with Canul-Arguello's heavily charred body.

Jurors acquitted Diaz of second-degree murder but convicted him of involuntary manslaughter, arson, mutilating human remains, and destroying evidence. He was released in September after spending more than three years in custody.

At Diaz's sentencing in November, Deputy Public Defender Alex Lilien, who's also representing Diaz in the current case, requested that Superior Court Judge Donald Sullivan dismiss all counts but the involuntary manslaughter. Sullivan dismissed only the arson count.

Diaz is currently charged with setting fire to his boyfriend Larry Metzger's Hyundai and also to the Up Hair salon, at 4084 18th Street. The salon is in the same building where Diaz and Metzger live and where the Mix bar, 4086 18th Street, which Metzger owns, is located. Both fires caused thousands of dollars in damage. Diaz pleaded not guilty in January.

According to testimony during the preliminary hearing, which started Friday, on December 21, just before 3 a.m., surveillance footage from a nearby home showed Diaz driving Metzger's car into a parking space at 132 Hartford Street after another man got out of the car to open a gate.

Six minutes later, "the car erupted in flames," Assistant District Attorney Andrew Clark said in court Monday.

In the salon incident, which occurred January 17, Clark said video footage from the Mix shows Diaz "acting very suspiciously" alone in the bar after it had closed.

He could be seen going upstairs to the second floor, where the salon is located, and "shortly after," the fire broke out, Clark said.

The prosecutor noted that according to fire department investigator Laura Kelly, a Mix manager had seen Diaz in the bar as she and others were closing it. A few minutes later, the manager had seen the second floor door propped open and Diaz standing nearby.

Kelly testified that the woman had told her when she asked Diaz why the door was open, he told her, "Someone obviously wanted it like that and she should leave it like that."

Clark acknowledged the evidence against Diaz was "circumstantial," and prosecutors don't have any video of Diaz actually starting the fires, but "nevertheless, the circumstances are powerful and rise to the level of probable cause" to hold him on the charges.

Chaitin said the car fire was "a close call," but given the timing, "it would be very, very difficult for someone else to have set that fire."

Lilien, who's representing Diaz, said the prosecution's evidence for the current charges was "pretty thin."

He argued strongly against the possession of an incendiary device count, saying that there had been "no evidence" of an incendiary device.

He also said there'd been no indication Diaz, who had appeared at the scene of the car fire, had smelled of smoke when authorities spoke with him.

But when Chaitin said the "most inculpating fact" Diaz faces "is the timing," Lilien said, "I agree ... it's the timing."

A conviction of arson of an inhabited structure alone can result in a maximum sentence of eight years in state prison plus lifetime registration as an arsonist.

Outside the courtroom Monday, Lilien said a plea deal is "not out of the question," but neither side has proposed a resolution yet.

Metzger, who continues to be supportive of Diaz, was in the courtroom Monday. He declined to comment on the case.

Diaz's next court date is September 8 for arraignment.