Sheriff's ex-girlfriend to testify at his spouse-abuse trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2012 12:14 AM
Sheriff's ex-girlfriend to testify at his spouse-abuse trial

By Laird Harrison

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An ex-girlfriend who has accused San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi of bruising her arm will be allowed to testify for the prosecution in his spousal-abuse trial, the judge ruled on Monday.

The ruling came after the judge listened for several hours on Friday and again on Monday to Christina Flores' accounts of several heated arguments that Flores said she and Mirkarimi had while they dated from November 2007 until December 2008.

It was during one such quarrel, which she said was sparked by her discovery of another woman's underwear at his house, that Flores said Mirkarimi cornered her in a hallway and grabbed her arm so roughly that his hand left a bruise.

Mirkarimi is accused of similarly hurting his estranged wife, Venezuelan television actress Eliana Lopez, on December 31.

Also on Monday, Mirkarimi's defense lawyer, Lidia Stiglich, asked that the trial be moved out of San Francisco, arguing that extensive local media coverage of the case has prejudiced potential jurors against the city's top elected lawman.

Mirkarimi, 50, has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of domestic violence battery, child endangerment and dissuading a witness in a case that has stirred a local political furor.

A co-founder of the California Green Party and a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Mirkarimi was charged on January 13, five days after he was sworn in as the city's first new sheriff in three decades.

The charges stem from a New Year's Eve quarrel between Mirkarimi and Lopez in which he is accused of grabbing her so forcefully by the arm that he left her bruised. The two had argued that night over Lopez' plans to take their 2-year-old son on a trip to her home country.

Lopez, 36, has since spoken out in her husband's defense and has declined to press charges against him. Her attorneys have even sought to keep prosecutors from introducing as evidence a 45-second video clip of a bruise on Lopez' arm and statements she made to the neighbor who shot the video, Ivory Madison.

Appearing in court on Monday before Judge Garrett Wong, Flores said she was moved to tell her story to the police and the news media after hearing that Lopez would not testify against her husband. Flores told the judge she worried that other women could fall victim to Mirkarimi's violent temper if he were not brought to justice.

"I think that next time it will be worse," she said.

Through his attorney Mirkarimi has admitted dating Flores but has denied ever abusing anyone.

Flores recounted four occasions over the course of their relationship in which she said Mirkarimi was "verbally abusive" toward her. In one of those instances, the fight she said was precipitated by her finding another woman's underwear, Lopez said Mirkarimi also became "physically abusive."

Flores said the fourth and final argument she recalled erupted when Mirkarimi admitted he had engaged in a "one-night stand" with Lopez and that she was pregnant with his child.

Arguing that Flores should be barred from testifying, Stiglich noted that Flores had waited almost four years to come forward with her accusations, suggested that her quarrels with Mirkarimi amounted to lovers' spats, and said she seemed to be motivated by a desire to "get even" with the sheriff.

"Merely stating that they fought about different things at different times does not meet the definition of domestic violence," she said.

But Wong ruled that jurors should be allowed to hear Flores' accounts under oath and decide the merits of her testimony for themselves. "This evidence is extremely probative," he said. "It shows the defendant's propensity to physical rage."

He told attorneys for both sides to return to court Tuesday morning to continue with jury selection. But how long it would take for opening statements to be presented depends on how Wong responds to Stiglich's request for a change of venue.

Proceedings also could be delayed by the outcome of Lopez's appeal of Wong's decision to admit the video clip over the objections of her attorneys, who have argued it should be excluded from the trial as confidential.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Tim Gaynor)