A 48-year-old man initially believed to have broken into a luxury apartment garage and then torched a Mercedes sedan in San Francisco’s South Beach neighborhood during the summer was acquitted Friday after a jury determined his arrest was based on unreliable identification, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said today. San Francisco resident Anthony Bejarano was arrested based on tips that came in after police released photos and a video of the suspected arsonist. On June 19, a Mercedes was found ablaze in the parking garage of One Rincon Hill apartments, located at the intersection of First and Harrison streets, according to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.
A valet told the property manager that he saw a man standing in front of the car shortly before the fire and then saw the man running from the building. According to the public defender’s office, Bejarano was in the building that day to serve legal papers to a resident at One Rincon Hill. Surveillance footage only captured Bejarano walking on the valet level of the garage, a floor above where the Mercedes was parked. There was no footage of Bejarano on the same floor as the blaze. According to the public defender’s office, police and the building manager showed the valet a screenshot of Bejarano and asked him if that was the man he saw near the car.
The valet confirmed that was the man and police then publicly released the image. Bejarano was arrested six days after the fire. Police then searched his home and his clothing sent to a crime lab to be tested for accelerant, but none was found and no other forensic evidence linked Bejarano to the crime, according to the public defender’s office. The trial, which lasted for two weeks, led the jury to conclude that the identification of the suspect was done with haste. On Friday, jurors found Bejarano not guilty of burglary and arson, according to the office of the public defender.
Bejarano, who regularly volunteered at Project Open Hand and had no previous criminal record, faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted for those felonies, Deputy Public Defender Chris Hite said. The office of the public defender said the valet should have been presented with a line-up, instead of a single photo with his boss present while surrounded by police officers. Public Defender Jeff Adachi said in a statement that, “Eyewitness misidentification is the most common element in wrongful convictions that are later overturned by DNA evidence.” Bejarano was originally charged with a second fire in the area, but a judge dismissed those charges due to lack of evidence, according to the public defender’s office.
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