Defense investigator pleads no contest to misdemeanor charge of witness tampering 

A private investigator for a defense attorney who was accused of intimidating a witness in a 2009 murder case pleaded no contest Monday to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to dissuade a witness, the District Attorney's Office said.

Steve Vender, 63, was an investigator working with attorney Eric Safire in 2009 on the defense of then-19-year-old Philip Pitney in his trial in the attempted murder case of then-21-year-old Ladarius Greer. Greer had been shot several times at a Western Addition bus stop.

At the time, Greer told police that Vender had been continuously calling him asking him not to testify. Greer, who had a warrant for probation violation out of Solano County, was detained by San Francisco police Oct. 9 and he told them about Vender's calls. He played a voicemail message for them from Vender that said there was a no-bail warrant out for his arrest and that now might be a good time to "visit the Fresno Riviera."

Not long after he played the voicemail for police, Greer failed to show up to testify at Pitney's trial. Pitney was convicted attempted murder.

In November 2009, Vender was indicted by a grand jury on a felony charge of attempting to dissuade a witness. The indictment had a chilling effect on the defense attorney community at the time.

"It's an abuse of power and it's politically motivated," Safire said at the time.

The District Attorney's Office said Vender's behavior undermined the justice system.

"In order to preserve the integrity of the justice system, it is vital to ensure that witnesses are not prevented or dissuaded from testifying in court," Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian said Thursday.

Last month, a jury deadlocked on whether Vender was guilty of the felony charge. They voted 11-1 in favor of his guilt. However, a mistrial was declared because the verdict must be unanimous.

Rather than retry the case, a plea deal with the District Attorney's Office reduced the felony charge to a misdemeanor, which Vender pleaded no contest to on Monday.

He was sentenced to one year probation.

As of Thursday afternoon, there was no comment from Vender's attorney.

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