Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Friday, March 4, 2016

Judge: Man Wrongfully Convicted of Murder, Jailed for 20 Years Can't Sue SF

Posted By on Fri, Mar 4, 2016 at 11:24 AM

click to enlarge Maurice Caldwell can't be compensated for his 20 years imprisonment for a crime he was later acquitted of committing. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Maurice Caldwell can't be compensated for his 20 years imprisonment for a crime he was later acquitted of committing.

A man who spent more than 20 years locked up on a murder conviction that was later overturned cannot sue the city of San Francisco for violating his civil rights, a judge ruled Wednesday. 

Maurice Caldwell was found guilty in 1991 of the murder of Judy Acosta in the Alemany housing projects on Ellsworth Street in southeastern San Francisco. The conviction was largely based on the testimony of one witness who identified Caldwell as the shooter.

Nearly 20 years later in December 2010, the conviction was overturned by Judge Charles Haines, although he did not address whether Caldwell was innocent or not. Haines ruled that the trial was unfair and produced a questionable verdict because Caldwell’s defense attorney, Craig Martin, had not properly investigated his client’s innocence.

In 2012, Caldwell sued the city and three of the police officers involved in his conviction for violating his civil rights. However, despite being released from prison and having his conviction overturned, Caldwell’s claim was not so simple.

Caldwell was the subject of an SF Weekly cover story in 2013 that examined his conviction and subsequent efforts to free himself and prove his innocence. With help from the Northern California Innocence Project and others, a confession to the murder was obtained from a man named Marritte Funches. Caldwell’s attorney also admitted to numerous failures in defending his client. That, along with other evidence, was enough to overturn the conviction.

However, the city of San Francisco maintained its stance that Caldwell was the killer and moved to begin a retrial in 2011. That effort ultimately failed because by then the prosecution’s key witness, Mary Cobbs, had passed away and it did not have enough evidence to make a case for Caldwell’s guilt. Caldwell was released from prison in late March 2011.

In his claim against the city, Caldwell sought to prove that police held a bias against him and wrongfully influenced Cobbs by shaping her account of the murder (Cobbs, for instance, received a vacation to Disneyland at the time for her “bravery” in helping police solve the case).

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte agreed that Caldwell raised valid questions about whether one of the officers, Kitt Crenshaw, had a motive to frame him, but that did not matter because prosecutor Alfred Giannini "broke the chain of causation” when he decided to try Caldwell for the murder.

Essentially, it means Giannini took on all responsibility for the case by bringing charges and thus relieved Crenshaw of any liability. That negates Caldwell’s claim, at least for now.

Attorney Monique Alonso told Courthouse News Service that while she and Caldwell are "very disappointed,” they will not give up.

"We think that Mr. Caldwell's civil rights were definitely violated in this case, and we do intend to file an appeal," Alonso told the news service. 
  • Pin It

Tags: , , , ,

About The Author

Max DeNike


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"