In the pre-dawn hours of August 19, 1989, Roderick Shannon was shot to death in the parking lot of a convenience store following a car and foot chase through the streets of San Francisco, California.
The murder occurred as public pressure mounted over more than 40 gang-related killings that summer. Antoine Goff, 19, and John Tennison, 17, were charged with the murder after police said they had been identified by two girls who saw the murder.
At trial, the only witnesses were Pauline Maluina, then 14, and her friend Masina Fauolo, then 11. No physical evidence linked them to the crime. Goff, also known as “Soda Pop,” and Tennison were convicted in San Francisco County Superior Court on October 3, 1990. Tennison was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Goff was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.
Both men lost their appeals in state court and Tennison turned to federal court where he petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus.
On August 26, 2003, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken overturned Tennison’s conviction. One of the eyewitnesses, according to the judge, recanted during the police investigation, was sent for a polygraph, which was said to be inconclusive. She was put on the telephone with the other eyewitness and then reverted to being an eyewitness after being interviewed by the prosecutor. This evidence was never disclosed to the defense.
After the conviction, at a hearing on a motion for a new trial, the defense sought to show a videotape of a man wearing a hood saying that he was the killer. At the time, the prosecutor said he would give the defense something the next day that would defeat their case. The following day, on the last day of the hearing, the prosecutor turned over a tape of the same man—without a hood—in which he said he was not involved in the shooting. But this tape was made after the man had initially told police he was involved in the shooting—and that confession was never turned over to the defense.
There also were other interviews and documents that should have been turned over, Judge Wilken ruled, including records of payments of $2,500 to the two young girls who said they saw the murder.
San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan said he would not seek to retry either man and dismissed the charges. Tennison was released on August 30, 2003 and Goff was released on September 3, 2003.
Tennison and Goff filed wrongful conviction suits against the city of San Francisco. In 2009, Tennison settled his case for $4.6 million and Goff settled his case for $2.9 million.
– Maurice Possley