The hardest time - Page 9

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

He told me personally before I was arrested."

Tennison was a friend, but not a close comrade, Goff says.

He works out three, four hours a day, playing basketball, sometimes handball. There are no weights in the exercise yard, so Goff builds muscle by lifting other inmates. He studies business, planning for a career that may never come. "You have to be tough to get through the situation, 'cause it's not easy up in here. You have to have your mind right, or you'll go crazy."

Constantly, he asks himself, "Why am I here? Why am I being punished?"

Inspectors Hendrix and Sanders spent better than two decades trying to staunch the city's bleeding. Both African American, the men staffed the homicide unit throughout San Francisco's goriest years - the crack- fueled murder binge that ran from 1985 to 1993 - digging into some 500 slayings and solving 85 percent of them. As a team they were the kind of hard-boiled, damn near inescapable cops dreamed up by TV scriptwriters.

These days, 63-year-old Sanders, now assistant chief, seems more grandpa than hard-ass. His mind, however, is anything but soft: talking about Shannon's execution, he effortlessly calls up minute details from the decade- old incident.

Sanders is indignant at Adachi's allegation that he and Hendrix might have somehow shaped the statements of Maluina and Fauolo. "That is absolutely untrue. It's speculation on his part," the veteran officer tells me. "At no time in my career did I intentionally or unintentionally influence a witness."

Maluina and Fauolo, the ex- detective insists, "had no axe to grind. They were reluctant to come forward because they had families in the community," but through many hours of dialogue the cops convinced the girls to take the stand.

"Eyewitnesses all the time have inconsistencies," he says. "And those inconsistencies were pointed out by the defense counsel, very thoroughly. But those inconsistencies were not enough to shake the judgment of the jury as to the guilt of the two young men."

Maluina's flip-flop signified an instinct to protect herself, not dishonesty, Sanders argues. "She was afraid. Witnesses get killed. She was frightened, and rightfully so."

For Sanders the testimony simply made sense - agreeing with the few clues discovered at the scene. He remains adamant about the girls' integrity.

I ask about Tennison's supposed second car, the one that never materialized. Irrelevant, according to Sanders. "I looked at the evidence carefully. We didn't investigate this overnight. As far as I'm concerned, we laid out the evidence, gave it to the prosecution, which presented it to the jury - and the jury agreed that these two young men were guilty."

So why would Ricard cop to an assassination he didn't do? Would an innocent guy really volunteer for a permanent stay in the joint? "I have no idea what his motivation would be - except for pressure from some of his gang members. I don't doubt that he may have been there, but the information he gave doesn't fit the scenario.

"I initially thought [the confession] was just to confuse the issue, because he did not have the details of what happened. We know exactly the route of the chase. We know what corners - we know where the car was crashed. He didn't know all that. I don't know why he came forward. I have no idea."

Tennison and Goff deserve the purgatory they now dwell in, the cop assures me.

(Hendrix, who retired in 1999 after 34 years on the force, declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Silence governs the urban underworld. Rule one is: you do not snitch. Rule two: Breaking rule one is a transgression punishable by death. Case in point: two witnesses in San Francisco murder cases were slain just in the last two months.

Witness X named three other supposed witnesses, and Adachi's archaeology has focused on unearthing these characters.

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