Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

SOMA hate crime trial opens


Pearly Martin. Photo: Courtesy SFPD
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The San Francisco woman charged with threatening several men with a knife as they left a gay bar in the South of Market area last year had yelled "faggots" and "I'm gonna kill you, bitch" among other statements, the prosecutor in the case said in his opening remarks Tuesday.

But the attorney for Pearly Martin, 30, the defendant, said that his client had "a reason to be upset" at the time of the early morning incident at Club OMG, 43 Sixth Street.

Defense attorney John Kaman didn't say what had provoked Martin, but he said she'd smoked a blunt that night and had been "so drunk she was blacked out partially and only remembers certain events from the evening."

Martin faces three counts of criminal threats, two counts of false imprisonment, and single counts of burglary and vandalism of a police car. The first six counts carry hate crime and use-of-a-knife allegations.

"This is a hate crime case," Assistant District Attorney Ben Mains told jurors. "This is a trial about being comfortable with who you are and feeling safe about who you are, and how it is a crime to take that away from somebody."

Mains said that during the April 25 incident, which started as the bar closed around 2 a.m., Martin had yelled statements at the victims, at least one of whom was in drag, including, "You ain't got no real tits, you faggots," "I'm going to cut you," "I'm gonna kill you, bitch," and "My boyfriend has a gun."

He said the incident started as the men, who'd been "celebrating their identities" at the club, encountered Martin outside "walking back and forth. ... She was yelling. She was angry."

Martin pulled out a pocketknife, waved it around, and threatened the men with it as she yelled, Mains said. The men went back inside the bar, but Martin and some of her friends banged on the door and screamed, he said.

Two of the men fled the club and got into a car nearby, locking the doors, but Martin followed them, continuing to yell while trying to slash the vehicle's tires, Mains said.

The three other victims ran to the single-room occupancy hotel about a block away where at least one of them lived. Martin, still wielding the knife, chased them and cornered them in the lobby, where she kept shouting, according to Mains.

Mains played surveillance video that showed Martin in front of the club walking around and holding a knife, with several people nearby. The knife was hard to see in the video, and there was no audio, but Martin's movements indicated she was yelling at people.

Mains also showed video footage from the hotel lobby where Martin appeared to be confronting people.

As responding police officers detained Martin, she kicked the window of the patrol car and broke part of the window frame, Mains said.

"She actually bent the whole thing," he said, displaying a photo of the damage. "That's how angry she was."

In his opening statement, Kaman referred to the 1974 Muhammad Ali-George Forman Rumble in the Jungle heavyweight fight, where Ali used his "rope-a-dope" strategy of letting Forman "beat the crap out of" him and exhaust himself for seven rounds before knocking Forman out.

"You haven't heard the whole story yet, and you won't hear the whole story until I've put my witnesses on," Kaman said.

He said the statements Mains attributed to Martin were "pretty much accurate," but he questioned whether her comments rose to the level of a hate crime.

"The only that that happened that night was yelling," Kaman said, adding that Martin hadn't actually used the knife and no one had been injured.

He acknowledged that Martin's statements may be "shocking," and "You may already feel motivated against Ms. Martin."

"Everybody has a right to feel comfortable in their own skin, particularly in San Francisco," Kaman said, and the allegations against Martin are based on the victims' "choice of sexual orientation."

But he said, "Ms. Martin is not biased or prejudiced against gay people," and Martin, who's African-American, is a member of "a vanishing minority" in San Francisco.

Kaman suggested that the victims had been drinking in the hours before the incident and said, "After seven hours of drag queen shows [they] were pretty high themselves," which affected their perception.

He also noted that while Mains said Martin had chased people, the video footage didn't show anyone running.

Horace Chapple, 57, a friend of Martin's, said outside the courtroom recently that she's "a good person. Everybody has their faults. I don't think it's a hate crime."

A woman who said she's Martin's mother agreed to speak to the Bay Area Reporter just before opening statements Tuesday, but Kaman told her, "Don't talk to him. He's not on your side."

Martin, who's been in custody since her arrest, wore a dark suit in court as she listened to opening statements. Her bail is set at $300,000.

Superior Court Judge Sharon Reardon is overseeing the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks.




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