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A man who prosecutors say killed an East Palo Alto community leader in 2010 was released from jail Tuesday, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. Gregory Leon Elarms, 60, allegedly confessed to killing David Lewis outside the Hillsdale Shopping Center on June 9, 2010, but a judge threw out murder charges against him. San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Stephen Hall ruled that San Mateo police had inappropriately obtained a confession from Elarms in violation of his Miranda rights, rendering his confession inadmissible at trial.
Prosecutors are appealing, but Wagstaffe said the process could take 12 to 18 months. On Jan. 3, Elarms pleaded no contest to three counts of felony possession of shanks in jail and was set to receive a maximum of four years in state prison under the terms of a plea agreement, according to Wagstaffe. But on Tuesday, Judge Craig Parsons granted the defense’s request to release Elarms on his own recognizance, Wagstaffe said. “We put a lot of power in our judges and a majority of the time, they get it right,” Wagstaffe said. “This is one of the times the judge got it wrong.” Elarms’ release is conditional to him showing up at future court hearings.
He is set to appear in court next on March 5 on the defense’s motion to withdraw the plea or for imposition of the sentence, Wagstaffe said. He said prosecutors are worried that Elarms may flee or hurt someone else. “We have our concerns. This is a man who confessed to a murder,” Wagstaffe said. “All we can do now is hope he comes back on March 5.” On Dec. 18, 2010, Elarms — who was not a suspect at the time — allegedly contacted San Mateo police detectives and claimed to have information about Lewis’ killing, according to police. Prosecutors said Elarms requested police protection because he believed his life was in danger.
Detectives offered to meet with Elarms, and while he was in police custody — but before he was arrested — he allegedly confessed to the murder and “muttered” something about needing an attorney, Wagstaffe said. Elarms was arrested, and since then had been in custody in San Mateo County Jail and at Atascadero State Hospital. Prior to his death, Lewis, a reformed drug addict and convicted felon, was active in the community as an advocate for rehabilitation and re-entry programs for ex-convicts.
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