The controversial murder trial of a former tenants rights’ attorney accused of fatally stabbing on man in 2015 continued Monday with further examinations of witnesses and evidence presented in the case.
Carlos Argueta, 34, is accused of fatally stabbing James “Rick” Thomas, 61, on Sept. 3, 2015 on 6th Street near Market.
Monday morning saw the presentation of witnesses and examinations from both the defense attorney Jeff Adachi and prosecutor Adam Maldonado.
The court room was filled with friends and family who came to support Argueta during his trial.
Jessica Chou knew Argueta from law school in New York where they were roommates. She mentioned that he is “a good friend” and that she was present two years ago when the first case was thrown out.
On the night in question, Argueta was out with an intern, Pascal Krummenacher, from his work at the Eviction Defense Collective, an organization that helps provide counsel to lower-income residents facing eviction. They were celebrating Krummenacher’s internship coming to a close and allegedly both had a lot to drink.
The two men got into an argument with Thomas on the corner of 6th and Market streets. The argument turned aggressive, with Thomas attempting to punch Argueta several times and the latter eventually pulling out a knife. The altercation ended with Argueta fatally stabbing Thomas in the chest.
“There’s a very interesting law that applies in cases like this where you may have a situation where someone doesn’t necessarily intend on killing someone, but kind of engages in behavior that creates a pretty dangerous circumstance where someone does die or get hurt,” said Maldonado during a phone interview after the trial.
The main witness, George Robert Compton, was friends with the victim, although he claimed he did not know the victim’s name until after he was killed. “I’ve had friends for 13 years without knowing their names,” said Compton.
Compton was asked to watch security footage, identify each person involved in the incident and relay what had happened during each scene on the footage. Compton had difficulty comparing the footage to his memory of that night because of the poor quality of the videos. It took hours to comb through just minutes of footage.
Compton also suffers from memory issues because of injuries he sustained as a baby and from taking a baseball bat to the head at one point in his life. Both Adachi and Maldonado pointed out Compton’s memory issues during questioning.
“It’ll be interesting because [Compton] has made a number of statements that were inconsistent with his prior statements,” said Adachi before he questioned the witness.
Compton was also using drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin at the time. He stated that he was also using a drug called methadone, a synthetic heroin, to help lessen his opioid dependancy. Compton had injected heroin several hours before the incident.
Compton testified that he saw Thomas attempt to punch Argueta rapidly multiple times, much like punching a speed-bag. However, Compton claimed he never saw Argueta attempt to swing, punch or try to hurt Thomas in any way.
In the final hour of the court session, the last witness took the stand. Paul Ruetti, a San Francisco police officer of 12 years, was one of the first responders to the scene.
Ruetti said his main objective was to “maintain custody of the defendant because he had been named a suspect in that stabbing.”
Ruetti was asked about statements the defendant made to him after being taken into custody. According to Ruetti, Argueta had said repeatedly: “What was I supposed to do? I was being attacked. Was I just supposed to stand there?”
During his cross examination, Adachi questioned the cop about the statements for so long that the judge paused him to comment: “The horse is about to die about this statement.”
Adachi also asked Ruetti about the nature of Argueta’s intoxication, to which Ruetti replied that he believed Argueta was very drunk because he was slurring his words.
Adachi claimed Ruetti had no way of knowing Argueta’s alleged intoxication because he had never interacted with Argueta before that night. Ruetti cited his 12 years of experience with hundreds of drunk people as reason for his belief.
The first witness that Maldonado brought to the stand, before Compton, refused to answer any questions and his testimony was stricken from the court record.
Back in 2016 when the first trial began, a judge threw out the case when there was word of potential evidence tampering. However, months later a grand jury indicted Argueta and he was taken to trial. It has been about three months since his current trial began.
According to Adachi, the previous District Attorney on the case had been involved in the alleged evidence tampering which lead to his dismissal from the case. Maldonado was then assigned the case after the indictment from the grand jury.
Maldonado encouraged the reporter to return for closing statements and see how the trial will end.