Man acquitted in fatal attack on SF newspaper vendor 

The man accused of fatally injuring a 77-year-old newspaper vendor outside a San Francisco BART station in 2013 was found not guilty Monday, the Public Defender's Office announced.

Mark Anthony Cassell, now 39, was accused of killing newspaper vendor Dallas Ayers in an attack Jan. 28, 2013 near 1 Post St. outside the Montgomery BART station.

Ayers was hospitalized and died almost a month later due to complications from a broken hip.

Colleagues said Ayers worked as a newspaper vendor for about 30 years and was on his midday break from the stand when he was attacked.

Prosecutors have called the incident a random assault and said the suspect picked the older man up and threw him to the ground.

But defense attorneys said witnesses saw Ayers picked up by someone in a joking manner, then accidentally dropped to the ground, and that the identification of Cassell as the suspect was flimsy.

On Monday night, San Francisco jurors found Cassell not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, elder abuse and assault likely to cause great bodily injury, said the Public Defender's Office.

If convicted, Cassell faced up to 11 years in state prison, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Azita Ghafourpour.

Following the assault, a witness took a blurry photo of the attacker, which led to an officer concluding Cassell resembled the person in the photo.

Cassell has been in custody since he was arrested in March 2013.

"Like the suspect, Mr. Cassell is a Caucasian man with a beard, but that is where the resemblance ends," Ghafourpour said. "He was an easy target because he was homeless and had mental health issues. He was swept off the street and charged with a serious crime."

The Public Defender's Office said none of the witnesses were able to pick Cassell out of a lineup as the attacker following the incident, although one witness identified him in court a year later.

Ayers' attacker was described as 5-foot-8 while Cassell stands 6-foot-4.

"It did not take the jury long to realize this was a case of mistaken identity," Ghafourpour said.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Cassell has been living behind bars because his arrest was "based not on evidence but on bias and a rush to judgment."

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