Defense attorneys denied that alleged gang members accused in last year’s slaying of a German woman visiting San Francisco with her husband are guilty of murder.
Attorneys for five of the young men — Philip Stewart, Delvon Scott, Willie Eason and Marcus Blueford, all 19, and Raheem Jackson, 17, who is being charged as an adult — entered pleas of not guilty at their arraignment in San Francisco Superior Court on Tuesday. They are being charged in connection with the Aug. 8 killing of Mechthild Schröer, a 50-year-old German school principal who was walking with her husband near Union Square when a gun battle erupted outside a crowded party and she was struck.
A sixth man, Gethsemane Pita, 19, pleaded not guilty as an accessory to murder.
Prosecutors are charging the case as first-degree murder committed for the purposes of a gang, and are seeking life in prison without parole — even though investigators believe the suspects, members of rival gangs, were targeting each other and not Schröer.
Assistant District Attorney Eric Fleming said after the hearing the suspects can be held responsible for a “willful, deliberate and premeditated” murder because they were allegedly intending to kill each other on the street.
“If someone gets caught in the crossfire of a gang-related shooting, everyone who fired a gun during that incident can be held liable for the murder,” Fleming said.
Fleming declined to discuss the specifics of the case, but police have collected video evidence of the gun battle, along with witness statements.
Defense attorneys could challenge the identification of their clients, or could even argue their clients had been defending themselves or their friends from the other suspects.
“There’s a high probability that somebody, for whatever reason, shot at somebody, and that person fired back because they thought they were under attack,” said attorney V. Roy Lefcourt, who represents Eason.
Lefcourt insisted his client was not a gang member and had simply gone to the party to meet friends.
Another defense attorney on the case, who asked not to be named, said the evidence they had received from the prosecution so far showed that only two of the suspects were captured on video and the rest were identified by witnesses.
All six suspects remain in custody.
Bail for each is variously set between $1 million and $7 million.