The hardest time - Page 3

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

"We thought that the cops had either convinced or at least influenced the girls to identify Goff and Tennison," he says.

During that first phone call the girl was, however, ready to describe the vehicles that chased down Shannon. One of them, she said, was a yellow-and-white Buick Skylark. The description set off bells for Hendrix and Sanders. Tennison, a known gangbanger who'd been popped a couple of times for selling weed, owned a car matching that description. They poked around for him.

"I heard from a few people the rumor that the homicide detectives were looking for me," Tennison recounted in a recent Bay Guardian interview. He stopped by the central cop shop at 850 Bryant. "I asked them what was going on. They basically said, 'Your car and you were involved in a homicide.' I basically told 'em we can cut this interview short, that my car was in the impound already."

Towing-company records proved Tennison's impounded car wasn't at the scene of the crime, and he was set free.

Still, on Oct. 31, 1989, after repeated in-depth conversations with the police, Fauolo picked out Tennison from a photo lineup. Now, however, she offered new information. Straining the bounds of credibility, Fauolo insisted that Tennison owned two nearly identical, yellow-and-white Buicks: one with a white vinyl top, the other with a white- painted metal roof.

Prosecutor Butterworth never produced any evidence that this second car truly existed. While the SFPD keeps a photo registry of the vehicles of suspected gangsters, it had no snapshots of this mystery car - let alone the actual auto.

At the trial, medical examiner Boyd Stephens told the court that Shannon's body bore no bruises: the boy hadn't been beaten with anything but fists. Though Fauolo had sworn in pretrial depositions that the victim had been attacked with bats and sticks, she now said that she hadn't seen the mob actually striking Shannon with the weapons.

Other aspects of Fauolo's testimony are troubling. For one thing, she was standing more than 100 feet away from the crime, on a moonless night. Could she really make out the assassins?

Her recollection of the car chase never jibed with that of another witness who took in the pursuit - though not the actual shooting - from his Cora Street window. Shannon and his assailants, this witness said, had been driving in reverse at high speed for at least part of the chase. The victim backed his car into the ballpark fence at high speed, pursued by a black pickup truck "doing about 35 miles an hour backwards."

Fauolo, who supposedly had a front-row seat to the incident, never mentioned anything about the vehicles reversing rapidly.

Maluina's testimony - also documented in court records - was even more suspect. In November 1989 the girl was called into her school principal's office. Hendrix had some questions for her. Yes, Maluina told the detective, she'd seen Shannon get "mobbed" and killed. How had she happened onto the crime scene? She'd been "walking around." In Maluina's version of the night's events, there was no stolen car.

When Hendrix presented the girl with an array of mug shots, Maluina picked out Tennison but failed to ID Goff as the triggerman. She also selected a third man as a possible perpetrator but later retracted that accusation.

Four months later, at a preliminary court hearing, Maluina wasn't sure Tennison had been among the mob. "I'm not sure," she said when asked if the boy was one of the killers.

"And that's your honest answer?" Adachi asked.

"Yes," the girl replied.

Goff wasn't there, Maluina told the court at another early pretrial hearing.

In April 1989 Maluina recanted her testimony completely.

She now told Hendrix and prosecutor Butterworth that she hadn't seen the crime. In fact, she said, she'd fabricated her whole story at the urging of Fauolo. "I wasn't there when the incident happened," Maluina told Butterworth.

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