A San Francisco jury on Monday found 52-year-old James Rickleffs guilty of first-degree murder following one and a half days of deliberation and a six-week-long trial.
Rickleffs had been charged in the killing of 28-year-old Steven "Eriq" Escalon, whom he met in the gay bar known as 440 in the Castro on June 11, 2012. Escalon's body was found the next day by a roommate, bound and gagged, his body covered in duct tape, as KTVU reported at the start of the trial.
The cause of death was ruled to be an overdose of amyl nitrite, also known as poppers — Escalon was found with a poppers-soaked rag stuffed in his mouth. He was also found to have GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid) in his system.
The trial was a dramatic one, and as SF Weekly reports, Escalon's mother Esmerelda commuted from Fresno each week to attend. Within the first few hours of opening statements, a large photo of Escalon's dead body was projected onto a screen in the courtroom.
As the Bay Area Reporter explains, coming to a guilty verdict was not cut and dry for the jury. At issue was the cause of death and whether Escalon engaged in a consensual act of BDSM play with Rickleffs, which he allegedly did. Prosecutors however said that the gag placed in Escalon's mouth partly obstructed his breathing, and that poppers had been "poured" all over it. Furthermore, Rickleffs not only left Escalon to die, he also robbed him of a laptop and his wallet, and went into a roommate's room and stole a bank card as well.
Deputy Public Defender Niki Solis argued, per KTVU, that Rickleffs had been paid $100 by Escalon to go back to his apartment to "take pictures" and presumably engage in sex. She argued that the death was entirely accidental, and Rickleffs had taken the laptop in order to hide the evidence of some embarrassing sex play he was involved in.
The jury didn't buy that, though, and concluded that Rickleffs was guilty of felony murder. Said one female juror, according to the BAR, "He walked out the door and left him to die. That was a substantial factor in his death."
Previously: Have You Seen This Guy? Wanted In Connection With Diamond Heights Homicide [SFist]