A man accused of fatally strangling a gay San Francisco man in the Mission district earlier this year will stand trial for the killing, a judge ordered this week.
Roland Pouncy, 42, is charged with murder and robbery in the death of Richard Sprague, 47, whose body was found at about 7 a.m. February 19, hours after neighborhood residents ignored his cries for help, police have said.
After a preliminary hearing Wednesday, November 21, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charles Haines ruled there was enough evidence for Pouncy, who’s in custody and appeared in court, to stand trial on both charges.
Dr. Christopher Happy, an assistant medical examiner, testified that the cause of Sprague’s death was manual strangulation.
Abrasions on Sprague’s forehead and arms, along with other evidence, indicated that he had struggled with his killer, Happy said. The injuries were “either from fighting the assailant or hitting items that were by the decedent at the time,” he said.
Dave Nielsen, 60, Sprague’s partner of almost 20 years, has said that Sprague told him he was going to buy cigarettes at about midnight the day he died. Happy said it was difficult to determine the exact time of death but he estimated Sprague, whose body was found outside 125 Julian Street, had died as late as 4 a.m.
Kimberly Sylvester, of the San Francisco Police Department crime lab, testified Wednesday that she’d matched Pouncy to the killing after analyzing DNA samples from Pouncy’s fingers and Sprague’s neck, among other evidence.
A police officer said that when he located Pouncy near the 16th and Mission BART station, hours after Sprague died, Pouncy had Sprague’s Wells Fargo debit card with him.
Under examination by Deputy Public Defender Stephen Rosen, Happy confirmed that Sprague’s body, which was found blocks away from the home he shared with Nielsen, showed signs of “substantial drug intoxication.”
[Updated Sunday, November 25]: In an email exchange Sunday, Nielsen said Sprague had psoriatic arthritis and both of his hips had recently been replaced. Sprague had been taking morphine and hydrocodone that had been prescribed to him, he said.
“Richard was actually taking himself down off of the drugs because he did not like the effects even though he remained in a high amount of pain all the time,” Nielsen said.
The full medical examiner’s report wasn’t immediately available[End update].
Rosen sought to find weaknesses in the testimonies of Assistant District Attorney John Rowland’s witnesses, but offered little argument when Haines indicated how he intended to rule. Rosen said prosecutors only have to meet “a very low standard of proof” when cases are in the preliminary hearing phase.
Nielsen, who’s said Sprague was “fun and outgoing,” and “extremely caring,” attended the first half of Wednesday’s hearing. Outside the courtroom, he said the ordeal has been “hard on the whole family.”
Pouncy is next due in court December 5 for arraignment.