The hardest time - Page 2

After a decade in lockup, J.J. Tennison still maintains his innocence - and his lawyer is still fighting for him

Scoping the prosecution's evidence against Tennison, he found a case riddled with inconsistencies. He figured his client would walk. "The girls' stories never made any sense," Adachi says today. "I really thought this case was a winner."

The attorney also found a young man who regarded him with deep suspicion. "I'm sure he had a certain stereotype coming in of public defender," Adachi says. "A lot of it comes from popular media: you always hear that line, 'Why was he convicted? He had a public defender.' Within popular culture in the African American community there's that distrust of anything related to the Hall of Justice."

"It wasn't just [Adachi]; it was the whole predicament," Tennison explains. "I'd never been in that situation - charged with murder."

Meanwhile, deputy district attorney George Butterworth was building an indictment of Tennison on the words of Fauolo and Maluina. As he did, their stories mutated.

Fauolo's account of the August 1989 murder, laid out in trial transcripts, went like this: She'd taken the bus from Sunnydale to the corner of 24th and Mission Streets, where she picked up a stolen two-door gray car from her cousin. Fauolo and Maluina took off, cruising through the Financial District, down Mission Street, and north to Fisherman's Wharf, before heading back to Vis Valley. The kids parked in the lovers lane up above McLaren Park, smoking cigarettes and looking down on the city.

Four cars, full of people Fauolo referred to as "HP [Hunters Point] niggers" - Tennison among them, she said - slid into the lane. After 10 to 15 minutes a green car drove by, speeding along Visitacion Avenue. It was Shannon in his mother's car, a vehicle usually driven by his cousin, Patrick Barnett. "There go that nigger Pat!" one of the young men shouted. "He going to pay the price now."

The Hunters Point posse jumped in their cars and tore off after Shannon, apparently thinking they were pursuing Barnett, a suspect in the slaying of Cheap Charlie.

Fauolo and Maluina peeled out, tailing the chase. When Shannon crashed, Fauolo ditched her car by Visitacion Valley Middle School and followed her friend on foot. From the corner of the Super Fair blacktop, standing beneath a Marlboro sign, she watched as the pack, laughing, beat her friend. Goff, whom Fauolo had never seen before, emerged from the crowd, yanked a "long gun" from the trunk of a car, and boasted, "I'm going to blow this motherfucker out!"

"Don't shoot him!" Fauolo screamed. "Don't shoot him."

"Shut the fuck up," Goff yelled.

Then, according to Faoulo, Tennison held the victim like a sacrificial offering while Goff popped off four or five shots. As the mob slowly slipped away, Fauolo ran to Shannon's aid. He was lying face up on the asphalt. "Go get Pat," he croaked. "Go get Pat." Wearing a T-shirt memorializing a Sunnydale homeboy who'd been murdered a few months earlier, Shannon died.

When Fauolo first contacted the homicide unit on Aug. 22, she made no mention of J.J. Tennison. Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour call with detective Hendrix, the girl said she'd watched the crime go down, but she couldn't - or wouldn't - ID any of the participants.

Only after months of talking to the inspectors on a near daily basis would the girl pin the murder on Tennison and Goff.

Yet at the time of the killing, Fauolo knew exactly who Tennison was. He lived on the same Hunters Point street as her cousins. She saw him nearly every Sunday when she visited her relatives. She knew what kind of car Tennison drove. She knew his name.

So why did the girl wait so long to cough up that name, Adachi wondered. "You wanted to bring the people who were responsible for Cooly's death to justice.... And still you never mentioned J.J.'s name during this [initial] conversation?" he asked Fauolo.

"Because I - I didn't - I wasn't ready to talk to him about anything," Fauolo responded.

Adachi wasn't buying it.

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