Couple accused in murder to stand trial

September 4, 2008 1:07:05 PM PDT
A San Francisco couple accused in connection with the December death of their housemate will stand trial on charges of murder and accessory to murder, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled today.

Judge Robert Dondero found that evidence presented by prosecutors at the preliminary hearing of Richard Carelli and Michele Pinkerton, both 38, was sufficient to show "probable cause" in the Dec. 22 death of 49-year-old Leonard Milo Hoskins at their Mission Terrace home.

Carelli has been charged with murder, and Pinkerton as an accessory to murder. The couple remain in custody on $5 million and $1 million bail, respectively, and will return to court Sept. 18 to set a date for trial.

Larry Pope, a neighbor across the street from the Lamartine Street residence where both Hoskins and Carelli and Pinkerton were living, testified during the preliminary hearing that he saw Carelli confront Hoskins in the driveway that night.

Carelli struck Hoskins in the head with a piece of wood and dragged him into the garage where Carelli and Pinkerton were living, Pope said.

Pope said he heard the sounds of fighting inside the garage and then saw Carelli emerge, bloodied. He said he thought Hoskins had won the fight, but never saw him again.

Hoskins' body was not discovered until Feb. 1 when Carelli's van was opened in a police impound yard following a homicide investigation that began in January.

By late January, Carelli and Pinkerton had already left the home in another vehicle and a warrant was issued for their arrest. They were found in April in Baja Mexico with their two young girls, the subjects of a custody battle with Pinkerton's family, who say Pinkerton and Carelli both were addicted to methamphetamine.

Pinkerton's family has been granted custody of the girls and her family members have appeared in court to support Hoskins' family.

A San Francisco medical examiner testified during the hearing that she was not entirely certain how Hoskins died, and could only rule Hoskins' death "probable asphyxia with blunt force trauma."

His body was found in the van wrapped in a sleeping bag, blankets, towels and a pillow, with a cinch-sack over the head. Duct tape was wound around his head and wadded up on his chest, which could indicate it might have been used to cover his mouth, the medical examiner said.

Toxicology tests revealed the presence of methamphetamine in Hoskins' system at the time of his death.

Carelli's attorney Rebecca Young maintained that the medical examiner could not rule out the possibility that Hoskins had died as a result of a heart attack precipitated by the assault.

Young said Pope's testimony indicated Carelli and Hoskins had engaged in mutual combat inside the garage.

Young argued the evidence presented by prosecutors during the hearing at best only indicated manslaughter, and not "a willful, deliberate, premeditated killing."

Assistant District Attorney David Merin argued the killing was murder, the result of "a conscious decision" by Carelli, and said that wrapping up Hoskins' body and leaving it in a van for a month was "not what a reasonable person does in the face of a medical emergency."

Pope also testified that he heard Pinkerton screaming inside the garage and that she sounded like she was trying to stop the fight, which her attorney Tony Tamburello contended indicates against Pinkerton being guilty as an accessory.

Tamburello said there was no evidence presented at the hearing that showed that Pinkerton drove with Carelli to Mexico to avoid prosecution, but rather she went there in order to have her two children with her, he said.

Merin contended that Pinkerton was last seen driving the couple's white Mercury sedan away from the home "in a hurry."

Pinkerton also tried to cover up what had happened on the night of the fight by trying to invite Pope to a Christmas prime rib dinner, Merin said.

Pope testified during the hearing that he was incredulous when Pinkerton came out of the garage minutes after the fight and made the request.

Pope declined the offer. "I took it for granted it was for my last dinner," he said.


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