Jurors acquit man accused of killing 77-year-old newspaper vendor

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — A jury acquitted a man on Monday accused of fatally injuring a 77-year-old newspaper vendor outside a San Francisco BART station in 2013, according to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

Mark Anthony Cassell, who is now 39, was accused of killing newspaper vendor Dallas Ayers in an attack on Jan. 28, 2013 near One Post St. outside the Montgomery BART station.

Ayers was taken to a hospital after the incident and died almost a month later from complications from a broken hip.

Colleagues said Ayers had worked as a newspaper vendor for about 30 years and was on his midday break from the stand in the BART station when he was attacked.

Prosecutors have called the incident a random assault and said the suspect picked the older man up and threw him to the ground.

But defense attorneys said witnesses saw Ayers picked up by someone in a joking manner, then accidentally dropped to the ground, and that the identification of Cassell as the suspect is flimsy.

On Monday night, San Francisco jurors found Cassell not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, elder abuse and assault likely to cause great bodily injury, according to the public defender’s office.

If convicted, Cassell faced up to 11 years in state prison, according to his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Azita Ghafourpour.

Following the assault, a witness took a blurry photo of the attacker, which police distributed in a crime bulletin that led to an officer concluding Cassell resembled the person in the photo.

Cassell has been in custody since he was arrested in March 2013.

“Like the suspect, Mr. Cassell is a Caucasian man with a beard-but that is where the resemblance ends,” Ghafourpour said. “He was an easy target because he was homeless and had mental health issues. He was swept off the street and charged with a serious crime.”

According to the public defender’s office, none of the witnesses were able to pick Cassell out of a lineup as the attacker following the incident, although one witness identified him in court a year later.

Ayers’ attacker was described as 5 feet 8 inches tall while Cassell stands 6 feet 4 inches tall, according to the public defender’s office.

“It did not take the jury long to realize this was a case of mistaken identity,” Ghafourpour said.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi Cassell said Cassell has been living behind bars because his arrest was “based not on evidence but on bias and a rush to judgment.”

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