The hardest time - Page 10

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

Scouring credit data, Department of Motor Vehicles info, court records, and prison rolls, Adachi, along with investigator Stemi, hunted up two of these people, only to run head-on into the code of the streets. Bringing along a tape of Ricard's confession, Adachi and Stemi paid a visit to one of the alleged witnesses, a convicted dope dealer doing time in the San Quentin state pen. See, they said, your buddy turned himself in; he's trying to take responsibility for his actions. No dice, the man replied. I don't got shit to say to you.

Contacting another alleged witness (this one a small-time rapper) via a trusted intermediary, they again came up empty. It didn't matter that Ricard had already incriminated himself: nobody wanted to talk. Besides, Shannon had been besieged by a mob, and flapping lips could conceivably lead to more arrests. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

"All of them are scared that they'll go to jail," Witness X figures.

Since the trial, Maluina and Fauolo have made themselves scarce - both have moved in and out of San Francisco on several occasions - eluding attempts by Adachi and Stemi to reach them. (The Bay Guardian was unable to contact either woman.)

Despite all of the dead ends, Adachi and Tennison have, if anything, grown closer, writing letters and speaking on the phone every couple of weeks.

Adachi keeps the Tennison- Goff trial transcripts next to his paper- covered desk. His notes on the case are jammed into a dozen overstuffed binders lining an office bookshelf. The trial exhibits are stacked in a corner. He and Stemi still discuss the case two or three times a week.

Adachi is amazed at Tennison's resilience. "I've seen him mature into a very spiritual man. For him to be as strong as he's been - that's what hits home to me now. How could he stand up to that?"

"I not only think of him as my attorney," Tennison says, "but I consider him a good friend who's giving his all to get me out. I think of him as a damn good friend."

Adachi tells me he "will never, ever give up" on his client. "I don't care what it takes. I could be 80 years old. I'll never give up."

It's a commitment that has won him praise from his peers. "You're not going to find too many lawyers with the heart Jeff Adachi has," ventures Scott Kauffman, a private defense lawyer who specializes in gang cases and death penalty appeals. "I definitely think he's doing it for J.J., but at another level it's personal. This case has caused him a lot of pain. I've seen him talk about the case - he's almost in tears."

Goff's attorney, Melton, lauds his former cocounsel: "He's been steadfast. Given the information about the case, you have to remain committed."

But what if Adachi's instincts are wrong, and Tennison did murder Shannon? If so, Adachi has wasted 11 years attempting to unchain an assassin.

To keep from obsessing over her son's fate, Dolly Tennison works herself to exhaustion. Mornings, she clerks at a department store; nights, till 4 a.m., she attends to an ailing 83-year-old woman. Seven years back Dolly fled to a small, solitary apartment on the peninsula. Hunters Point was tainted with "too many damn memories."

Dignified, her clothes and medium-length hair immaculate, Dolly looks like she's working very hard to keep her chin up, to keep darkness from closing in. Given the age of her children, she must be approaching senior citizen-<\d>hood, but she looks trim and healthy.

"It hurt like hell for them to say 25 to life for my child," she tells me, her words rushing out all at once, only to trail off just as quickly. Portraits blanket the walls of her home: chubby Buddha babies; a granddaughter in prep-school togs; son Bruce on his wedding day; J.J. in prison blues; murdered son Mike looking hard.

Dolly beckons me to take in the snapshots from her vantage point on the couch. "I think I've been glued to this spot since Mike died. I can sit here and see all my family.

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