SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — A homeless man was acquitted by a San Francisco jury in the accidental death of an elderly Glen Park resident two years ago. Peter Rocha was found not guilty of murder and all felony charges in the death of Leo Hainzl on March 25, 2020.
Rocha was convicted on one count of misdemeanor assault for swinging his crutch toward Hainzl during a brief confrontation between the men near the entrance of Glen Canyon Park where Hainzl was walking his dog.
Deputy Public Defender Will Helvestine argued and medical evidence and witness testimony showed that Hainzl suffered a mortal fall when he tripped on a curb and hit his head on a hill on Elk Street. He was more than 30 feet away from Rocha at the time he fell.
Rocha, who was 53 at the time, was later arrested at the Glen Park BART Station and charged with murder. A press release from the SF Public Defender’s office describes Rocha as a military veteran and former martial arts teacher “whose life drastically changed in the early 2000s when he began suffering from mental illness.”
He reportedly lived outdoors in the Glen Park area for several years where he is recognized by neighbors. According to the SF Public Defender’s officer, Rocha was sitting on a bench in the park on March 25, 2020 when Hainzl came down the path walking his dog.
Witnesses describe a commotion of barking and voices and then saw Rocha swing his crutch in the air. One witness testified that the crutch did not make contact with Hainzl. Two witnesses saw the men separate from one another uninjured.
One of the witnesses called 911 when she saw Hainzl trip and fall as he was looking back up the hill for his dog. Hainzl, who was about 30 feet away from Rocha when he tripped, died a few hours later at the hospital.
At the time of his arrest, Rocha made headlines and was detained without bail. He was charged with murder, despite evidence this had been an accidental death, according to the public defender’s statement. He was eventually found competent to stand trial.
Rocha is due to be released from jail and apparently plans to seek medical help from the Veterans Administration.