The hardest time - Page 7

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

my ... God," Melton gasped as the verdict was announced; Adachi was speechless as his client wept openly.

Already tenuous, the bond between Adachi and Tennison crumbled. "I wanted to take the stand," Tennison remembers. "I figured all [the prosecution] could do was say that I was a drug dealer. I felt that I should've testified on my own behalf and my witnesses should've testified for me. It would've eased the pain for me a little.

"After the trial we kind of pointed the finger at each other. When it was all said and done, I felt he didn't give it his all. I figured I didn't get off, so he didn't do his job."

Adachi, too, felt let down. "I was angry at him because I thought he didn't help me. I thought he didn't trust me because I was a public defender. I could've found out more about the case had I had more access to the community. If this had occurred in the Japanese community that I've been a part of for years, I could've gotten down there and found out everything I needed to know. I did all the regular investigation, talked to all the witnesses, talked to his family, all that. But there needed to be an extraordinary effort, not only to solve a murder but to untangle a web of deceit which had been woven by these two girls."

Sitting in his Seventh Street office, Adachi holds his fingers a millimeter apart: "We had this much trust after the trial."

Every defense lawyer has watched - sick in the gut - as a client he or she believes to be inculpable is sent to the pen. These are the trials that haunt; Tennison, his face shrouded in darkness, starred in Adachi's nightmares for many years after the decision.

"The reason he wasn't acquitted was because the jury was holding the defense to too high a standard," contends Adachi, who argues that the town's then- raging gang war "had the effect of really shifting the burden of proof. If I were to analyze it now, in a gang case where somebody's dead, you've got to prove innocence" - rather than simply raising a reasonable doubt.

When a client is found guilty, the public defender nearly always washes his or her hands of the matter, leaving appeals to state-paid lawyers or private counsel. After all, there's a steady stream of new clients and no funding for lost causes, which is what most appeals are. Adachi conferred with gumshoe Bob Stemi, the investigator who'd helped him craft Tennison's failed defense. Both men were devastated. They decided to start over, to excavate fresh evidence and reconstruct the case as if they were headed back to trial.

Adachi began reaching out to Tennison, hoping to resurrect some sense of trust.

A month after the verdict came down, S.F. police officers Michael Lewis and Nevil Gittens picked up a man named Lovinsky "Lovinsta" Ricard Jr. on a routine drug warrant. Ricard had a surprise for them: it was he - not Goff and Tennison - who shot Shannon to death, he informed the cops.

According to police transcripts of that confession, Ricard had been cruising around with a bunch of friends in a convoy of three cars and a black pickup truck, looking to leave somebody from Sunnydale bleeding. The posse stopped to loiter in the parking lot of the 7-11 at Third and Newcomb Streets - just a few blocks from the spot where Shannon was killed. Ricard sat in the pickup swilling Old English malt liquor.

Shannon drove by, and Ricard and company lit out after him. When they got to the Visitacion Avenue ball field, Ricard told the cops, Shannon "ran up on the curb, and at the fence he jumped out. Then we started chasing him. I remember I got off the truck and ... some people, they had already cornered him, OK.... And they, over there, they were beatin' him up.

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