Jurors deliberated less than full day before convicting a former San Francisco 49er of misdemeanor domestic violence against his ex-boyfriend who was left with broken facial bones after a dispute last year over table manners and underwear at a Menlo Park Chinese food restaurant
Kwame Harris’ defense never disputed he threw punches but claimed it was self-defense.
The misdemeanor conviction splits the difference between the acquittal sought by defense attorneys who argued the victim Dimitri Geier started the physical altercation and the more serious felonies sought by a prosecution who asked jurors to consider who used the greater force.
Harris was charged with felony domestic violence and assault using force but prosecutor Brian Donnellan added the misdemeanor alternatives on Friday.
The jury deliberated about 35 minutes that afternoon without verdicts and returned Monday to continue weighing the evidence. Just after 2 p.m., the jury acquitted Harris of the felonies and found him guilty of misdemeanor counts of domestic violence, battery and simple assault, said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
While his client was acquitted of the felony charge related to the most injury-inducing blow which the defense had painted as self-defense, attorney Alin Cintean said he had hoped for an acquittal on all counts.
“We were disappointed in the verdict. Very disappointed,” he said.
Cintean said they have yet to decide whether to appeal the verdict but set sentencing for Nov. 12. Harris, 31, faces up to a year in jail.
Cintean said jurors declined to speak after the verdict so he’s uncertain how they reached their conclusion.
Harris took the stand in the five-day trial but his accuser did not. Instead, jurors heard a transcript of Geier’s testimony from Harris’ preliminary hearing before the man became uncooperative with prosecutors and also dropped a civil lawsuit against his former boyfriend. Jurors also heard from a domestic violence expert about victim reactions like those of Geier.
But Wagstaffe said he understands how the jury may have been challenged to figure out what exactly happened.
“Any time you’re dealing with relationship violence it can be difficult to arrive at a conclusion at who is telling the truth, particularly when the victim refuses to testify,” he said.
At the time of the Aug. 12, 2012, incident, the men were no longer dating but maintained a friendship and Geier stayed with him while traveling here for business. That night, prior to Harris taking Geier to San Jose International Airport, the men dined at a two-person table at Su Hong To Go. Geier poured soy sauce into a container which angered Harris who questioned his lack of table manners, Donnellan said.
Harris suggested Geier find his own way to the airport and, as the two men went to his car to remove luggage, Donnellan said Harris accused Geier of wearing his underwear — a game Geier sometimes played although not that night — and tugged several times at his pants. Geier threw two punches which Harris met by punching him in the face, breaking orbital and cheekbones which required surgery and a metal plate, according to Donnellan.
Cintean said Harris swung twice to defend himself.
Harris left and Geier took a cab to the hospital en route to the airport. Menlo Park police arrested Harris early the next morning.
Harris is free on $75,000 bail.
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