The eight-man, three-woman jury deliberated for 11 hours over three days before convicting Noah Mitchell Jackson, 21, of Ocean Beach, in the 2017 slaying of Walter (Ras) Riley, 65, who was stabbed five times.
Jackson showed little reaction, but his lawyer, Eugene Iredale, reacted with disappointment and held his hands over his face briefly.
Iredale had argued for acquittal, saying that video surveillance photos of a man seen leaving Bacon Street after the attack was of someone else, not Jackson.
“The verdict is painful to us,” said Iredale to San Diego Superior Court Judge Michael Groch.
“I know that was difficult news,” said Groch, minutes after the verdict. “I’ll see you at the sentencing date.”
Groch set sentencing for Aug. 23. Jackson is likely to receive a sentence of 16 years to life in state prison.
Riley, a tall African American man, sold incense sticks on Newport Avenue and also at the OB Farmers Market. A lot of people referred to him as the “Incense Man.”
Riley was found mortally wounded in the 1900 block of Bacon Street at 12:30 a.m. on June 22, 2017. He was also homeless and may have been sleeping at the time.
“I have a lot of respect for the jury process,” said Deputy District Attorney Michael Reilly to a reporter afterwards. “I think the jurors got it right.”
Reilly argued to jurors that Jackson’s own words tripped him up, saying he admitted to being at the scene and later saying Riley had spit on one of his sisters.
Iredale put on testimony from all three of Jackson’s sisters who said they had not been spit upon by the victim. Jackson did not testify.
Jurors acquitted Jackson of first-degree murder. Reilly had told jurors first-degree murder was an option to consider.
The prosecutor told jurors that Jackson’s girlfriend had broken up with him that night and his anger at his girlfriend was aimed at Riley.
The prosecutor said people who get angry often “punch the wall, or take it out on the wall,” adding “Mr. Riley was the wall.”
Other witnesses testified in the three-week trial that Jackson was intoxicated that night and he got into a fist fight with an acquaintance. Several testified Jackson appeared suicidal that night and witnesses said they were worried about him.
Jackson admitted he “exchanged words” with Riley earlier, but denied hurting him, according to testimony.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Iredale afterwards. “We intend, of course, to appeal.”
“I just don’t understand what happened. I believe no reasonable jury – on this evidence – should have convicted him,” said Iredale.
Iredale showed photos of his client, which depicted a darker looking young man, with the video surveillance photos that showed a pale looking man wearing a light or grey sweatshirt walking away from the scene and holding either a knife or a cell phone.
A grey sweatshirt was found lying on top of a Peninsula Beacon newsstand eight hours later. A crime scene technician testified it was worn by a woman and the DNA collected did not match Jackson.
Only one of the jurors afterwards stayed behind to talk to attorneys briefly before the others quickly left the courthouse.
“It’s a very difficult thing for everybody,” said one juror to the attorneys before leaving.
The knife was never recovered. A witness said he was told it was thrown into the ocean. Jackson remains in jail without bail.