Opening statements begin in murder trial for 2013 SoMa shooting

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)—An 18-year-old San Francisco man was shot and killed in a fight at a South of Market single-room occupancy hotel in 2013 after he and a friend
tried to get in without paying, prosecutors said in opening statements today at the trial of two men charged in his death.

Daniel Beltran, 18, was shot and killed around 5 a.m. on July 22, 2013 outside the Henry Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel at Sixth and Mission Streets.

Darius York, 36, is charged with murder and assault charges in connection with Beltran’s death and an assault on his companion, Roger Alarcon, while Joseph Young, 35, his alleged accomplice, faces multiple assault charges.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart today said that the two men unnecessarily escalated a dispute that began when Beltran and Alarcon attempted to enter the hotel in the hopes of buying cocaine. An autopsy showed that Beltran had been drinking and tested positive for cocaine and marijuana, but Swart said it was York and Young who were aggressive.

“They were the initial aggressors,” Swart told jurors. “They were the ones who brought a handgun to what should have been just an argument.”

Defense attorneys, however, are arguing that the shooting was self-defense and that the men believed that Beltran and Alarcon were going to shoot them.

Deputy Public Defender Matthew Sotorosen, who is representing York, said that while surveillance videos captured the fight and shooting from multiple angles, they failed to capture the threats repeatedly uttered by Beltran and Alarcon.

“At the heart of this case is that a person was trying to keep himself and his loved ones safe from harm,” Sotorosen said of York, who plans to take the stand during the trial. “He acted in lawful self defense.”

Swart said the fight began when desk clerk Gary Owens, a close friend of York and Young, refused to allow Beltran and Alarcon past the hotel’s security gate, telling them they needed to pay a $10 entry fee. The hotel charges the fee at night and checks identification before allowing entry as a security measure.

When the men argued, Owens asked York for help and York ran upstairs to get a gun from a room where Young, also a desk clerk and security guard in the hotel, was staying, Swart said.

Young and York both ran down to help Owens, an older man who Sotorosen said they thought of as an uncle.

In the ensuing struggle, prosecutors allege York pistol-whipped Alarcon and then, after Young had thrown Beltran outside, fired a shot at Beltran through the front door’s plexi-glass window.

Beltran, who was struck in the heart, fled on foot, first to his vehicle at Sixth and Minna, and then down Minna before he collapsed. His friends called police and then took him by car to San Francisco General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Swart alleged that Young and York then attempted to clean up blood from the fight and destroy evidence. Owens, who defense attorneys said would be a key witness in their case, also initially lied to police, claiming that the blood came from someone with a nosebleed.

Young and York left the hotel, but were arrested later that day at the Fremont BART station after police tracked York through his cell phone.

Sotorosen said that Young, York and Owens were unaware that anyone had been killed until some time later, and were not trying to cover up a murder.

York fired at the door because he thought Beltran was coming back through at him, but did not know he had hit him, Sotorosen said.

Prosecutors had initially also charged Young with murder, but Judge Philip Moscone last August ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support that charge. The First District Court of Appeal upheld that ruling in March of this year.

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