James Edward Rickleffs, 45, pleaded not guilty in the murder of Steven “Eriq” Escalon, 28, today (Thursday, September 13) in San Francisco Superior Court.
A roommate found the body of Escalon, who was gay and worked as a hairstylist, bound and gagged in his apartment in the 5000 block of Diamond Heights Boulevard at 6 p.m. June 12.
Rickleffs, who’s gay, has been charged with one count of premeditated murder and one count of first-degree residential robbery in the case.
He appeared calm Thursday as he pleaded not guilty to the charges before Judge Richard Ulmer Jr. Deputy Public Defender Niki Solis, who held her left hand on Rickleffs’ back as he stood, denied all allegations against him. The allegations weren’t specified, but court records indicate Rickleffs has previously been charged with numerous crimes, including theft and drug-related offenses. He has two strikes under California’s three strikes law.
Police have said they linked Rickleffs to Escalon’s death through DNA and other evidence. (Rickleffs has also been known as Damon Lacosta, Kenneth Lacosta, and James Radcliffs.)
Ulmer denied Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia’s motion to increase bail from $1 million to $10 million. Garcia said her motion was based on the “strength of evidence” in the case, but Solis said it would be “excessive.” Ulmer said the amount is “a little academic,” since Rickleffs is on no bail for a probation revocation, meaning he couldn’t be released even if he had the money. The probation was for a grand theft conviction.
Solis noted that the medical examiner hasn’t determined the cause of death, and “not even an official manner of death,” which would specify whether Escalon’s death was homicide or something else. Police and prosecutors haven’t indicated anything other than homicide in Escalon’s death.
The medical examiner’s office typically takes several months to release reports on deaths, as Garcia noted. District Attorney George Gascón has said there weren’t any obvious stab or gunshot wounds.
Outside the courtroom, Solis said until the medical examiner’s and toxicology reports are available, “obviously,” the case “isn’t going to move forward very quickly.”
The medical examiner has said the toxicology report, which typically lists any drugs that are in a person’s system, is “a critical component of her findings,” and, therefore, the file is critical to the case, Solis said.
She declined to talk about Rickleffs’ background, saying, “I’m not going to discuss Mr. Rickleffs’ personal life.”
Solis also criticized Gascón for “jumping the gun” by making a statement “about what he thought happened” before either side has more information. She called Gascón’s remarks “irresponsible,” but she wouldn’t be specific about which comments she was referring to. Gascón held a news conference last week about Rickleffs’ charges and the background of the case, but police had already provided most of the information.
Rickleffs allegedly met Escalon at the bar 440 Castro and took a cab with him back to Escalon’s home early on the morning he died.
Gascón has asked anyone who may have seen Rickleffs and Escalon together, as well as anyone who may have been “victimized or approached” in similar incidents to contact police.
He asked people to be “very mindful of people you meet for the first time” and learn more about them before taking them home. As apparently shown in the Escalon case, “the consequences can be very dire,” he said.
Anyone who recognizes Rickleffs or has information regarding the case is asked to contact Sergeant Scott Warnke, or Inspectors Daniel Dedet, Kevin Jones, or Robert Valverde in the homicide unit at (415) 553-1145 or after hours at (415) 553-1071. People that wish to leave an anonymous tip may call the SFPD tip line at (415) 575-4444 or text a tip to 847411 and type SFPD, then the message. The police incident number for Escalon’s death is 120 463 273.
An October 1 hearing for status of discovery has been set.