A man accused of a 2012 murder in the Mission district was acquitted of all charges Monday after a jury decided his "confession" was contradicted by physical evidence and witness testimony, the Public Defender's Office said Tuesday.
Sterling Samm, 21, of San Pablo, was found not guilty of murder, robbery, attempted robbery and felony gun possession, spokeswoman Tamara Barak Aparton said. Samm faced life in prison if convicted.
Samm was in the area of South Van Ness Avenue and 20th Street on Oct. 30, where 28-year-old Jose Matias-Aguilon was found shot during an attempted robbery. He died later at the hospital. Samm was arrested for that crime and an earlier robbery that happened at 17th and Capp streets.
Detained along with him were two other men and a 14-year-old boy, Aparton said. The teenager's case is currently in juvenile court and the other two men were released after several hours of questioning.
Despite the fact that witnesses ruled Samm out as being involved in the crimes and not matching descriptions given to 911, among other mitigating factors, police were able to elicit a confession from Samm using a technique that the Public Defender's Office says tricked the defendant into giving a false confession.
According to court testimony, Samm was told he'd be given the death penalty unless he confessed to the killing and investigators reportedly lied to Samm telling him he was caught on video, picked out by witnesses in a line-up and that the 14-year-old detained with him implicated him in the crime.
None of the other suspects implicated Samm, Aparton said, much less knew his name.
The investigator admitted in court the technique was used to obtain a confession, Aparton said.
Forensic evidence also presented at trial contradicted Samm's confession.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the case shows how easy it can be to extract a false confession from people in vulnerable situations.
Samm was released from custody Monday.