Almost 5 years ago every parent's worst nightmare came true. My wife and I got a call from San Francisco General Hospital, in the middle of the night, with an unfamiliar voice saying, "…sorry… your son… bludgeoned… skull cracked open… not expected to live…come quick…."

This newspaper reported the story, covered the trial, reported the murder conviction and the subsequent appeal. The murderer has now been given a new trial by a decision from an Appellate Court that is so ungrounded in reality that it seems like something from a surreal Kafka courtroom, not from right here in America, right here on McAllister! Welcome to the asylum, and the men who run it.

First, a quick synopsis: The convicted murderer, one Daniel Alas, admitted killing our son, Anton Segal, in a Saturday night massacre almost 5 years ago. Alas claimed he was drunk and was looking for a manslaughter conviction. There was no evidence of that. To the contrary, eyewitnesses identified him as angry at being turned away from a strip club, returning to the scene, taking a car club from his car, leaving the car with engine running and lights on, crossing the street and, from behind, clubbing our son to death with a blow to the head that testimony variously described as a cracking sound like a gunshot and as shattering the skull like a cracked egg. Anton never had a chance. He went into a coma from which he never recovered, despite Herculean efforts from crack surgeons at San Francisco General.

Police reports (not admitted in evidence) show that on that same night of rampage, a sober Alas assaulted (with another deadly weapon) a couple in their car. The police did a good job, quickly found Alas' vehicle, inside it found Alas' blood covered car club, obtained a confession, and in a subsequent trial, Alas was found guilty of murder (2nd degree, malice aforethought), and because of his very long and violent criminal history, including prior felonies, given a maximum 36 year to life sentence by the trial judge. Brutal murder, yes. Justice done, right? Wrong.

Now almost 5 years after the murder, far from that distant sound and fury, the Appellate Court in San Francisco (where else?) found an opening through which Alas has managed to slither to a new trial, now scheduled for this September 15. The original jury, after several days of deliberation, all found Alas guilty, except for 1 juror, who said, "One man's life has been ruined. How can we ruin another man's life?" The judge, the 11 other jurors, and everyone in the courtroom who heard Judge Kevin Ryan's cautious and judicious examination of all 12 jurors, recognized that the single juror who had not wanted to "ruin another man's life" was unable to follow both California law and the judge's requisite instructions. These require that in determining the factual issue of guilt, jurors take into consideration neither prejudice nor punishment nor pity (for neither the victim nor the accused). But in fact this single juror was so prejudiced that immediately after the Judge's clear admonition not to discuss the case with anyone until a final verdict had been rendered, he immediately discussed sacrosanct jury room discussions with the defense team!

The trial Judge of course was required by law to dismiss the juror, admit an alternate juror, and after further deliberation among the newly composed jury, they unanimously agreed on the verdict: guilty of murder.

The murderer appealed and found, in the Court of Appeals (in San Francisco where else?), a sympathetic hearing. The 3 members of the Appellate Court, one of whom did not bother to attend the oral arguments, declared a mistrial and sent Alas back for another trial.

So: here comes a convicted murderer, a multiple felon with a long criminal record, remanded back from San Quentin to county jail for another trial! If he manages to dodge a murder conviction this time, he will soon be back on the streets of San Francisco once again to wreak havoc on his own community…just as he has already done 18 times in the past, over the last 24 years. On the other hand, if he does get convicted of murder again, he will appeal again…on any remote grounds in the hope that, once more, he will get another sympathetic hearing from the same tender Court of Appeals. Heads he wins, tails we all lose.

This particular criminal has been getting away with this kind of coddling for almost a quarter century and my question - finally now my question - is: How can the people of San Francisco endure such a system? How can they accept this kind of coddling of criminals? How can they bear to see things turned so topsy -turvy. With their victims punished and their criminals comforted? I write this open letter to the people of San Francisco because, as a grieving parent, I simply cannot understand a justice system which rewards the guilty and further punishes the innocent. How and why do we tolerate this?

I love my country. I support its protection of its citizens. I believe in the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But I think that the politics and policies and prejudices and personalities of San Francisco in particular have reached a point that is utterly beyond reason or comprehension. The madmen are in charge of the asylum. Only this is no Kafka fiction. This is real life, right here, right now, right in your own city. Again the question: How and why do we tolerate it?

I hope you will be interested enough, outraged enough, to follow the retrial, to let your voices be heard, to let the judicial system become aware that you're mad as hell and not going to take it any longer. Please, San Franciscans, please don't wait until you become the next innocent victim of a violent crime. This is America, the home of the brave. Let your voice be heard, let your heart be known.


James R. Segal