DA lacks evidence to charge man in fatal stabbing

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco district attorney said late Friday that there was not enough evidence to charge the 21-year-old man who was jailed in connection with the fatal stabbing of Dodgers fan Jonathan Denver after a confrontation triggered by team rivalry.

Michael Montgomery of Lodi was booked into jail just before 5 p.m. Thursday, after San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr announced that he had made “implicating statements” during questioning. However, Montgomery’s father, Marty Montgomery, told media outlets that his son had phoned him sobbing from police custody to say he had committed the act in self-defense.

Police detained Montgomery and an 18-year-old man for questioning not long after the Wednesday night post-game slaying, but released the younger man Thursday. Although they had booked Montgomery, they said earlier Friday that they were still eager to speak to two other people who were part of Montgomery’s group, as well as to any witnesses to the fight.

Police were also seeking any video of the incident spurred by a “back and forth” over the Dodgers-Giants rivalry.

The dearth of any independent evidence, however, led Dist. Atty. George Gascon to reject the case hours after receiving it from police investigators.

In a 6 p.m. statement, Gascon said his office had an obligation to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in lawful self-defense. It is vital for our office to have independent corroboration of the incident in order to meet our ethical obligation to charge this case.”

Although police had “provided us an initial investigation” Gascon said, “not all witnesses have been interviewed, nor have any independent witnesses of the incident been interviewed. We have requested this and other evidence be collected before we can make an assessment on whether charges should be filed.”

Montgomery was expected to be released from jail as early as Friday night, though a spokesman for Gascon said the timing was the purview of the Sheriff’s Department. A sheriff’s spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

In his statement, Gascon extended “deepest and most heartfelt condolences” to Denver’s family and said his office was “extremely concerned about the loss of life and want to make sure justice is served.” However, he said, “in order to meet our ethical obligation in charging this case, we must have a good faith basis to believe we can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Denver, his brother, father — an avid Dodgers fan who works ballpark security in Los Angeles — and two others left the game in the eighth inning and went to a bar before encountering Montgomery’s group, police said.

According to Suhr, an initial fight broke out after a verbal “back and forth” about the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, but ended without serious injuries. Soon after, Denver was stabbed during a second altercation after one group — it was not clear which — followed the other.

Marty Montgomery, 47, told the Lodi News-Sentinel that his son told him the altercation began when Denver, wearing Dodgers gear, yelled “Giants suck!” at Montgomery’s friend, who was wearing a Giants cap. The dispute soon escalated, and Montgomery told his father that Denver threw a chair at him before Montgomery stabbed Denver to defend himself.

“He’s freaking out,” Marty Montgomery said of his son. “He’s like, ‘I saw [Denver] die in his dad’s arms.’ “

Gascon’s decision to send the case back for further investigation reflected lingering questions that many are asking.

Denver’s grandparents released a statement that described Denver and his father, who was present, as “calm, level-headed personalities and … not the type to initiate an altercation.”

In their statement, Robert Preece Sr. and Anne Marie Preece asked for privacy and said that, “until we have some time with our son, we will not have clear details on what ensued — only that everything went bad very quickly.”

Their son is Denver’s father, Robert Preece, who with Denver and Denver’s brother had planned Wednesday’s get-together at the Giants-Dodgers game as a celebration of Preece’s 49th birthday.

It had taken a while to plan, the grandparents said, but the reunion finally came together. Preece traveled north from Alhambra, the boys south from Fort Bragg, in Mendocino County.

“They had a great time at the game, sending pictures to family and friends throughout the evening,” Denver’s grandparents wrote, saying that the group “walked a few blocks from the stadium for a birthday drink.”

The Preeces described their grandson as “a gentle, kindhearted soul who loved his brother and his family very much.… Jon was our grandson, a son to Robert, a nephew to our five daughters, a cousin to many, and an uncle.”

He was “always smiling, and that is how is we will forever remember him,” they continued, adding that the incident reveals “a symptom of a society whose values seem to have deteriorated over time. There is a loss of respect for human life, of family values, honesty and of the benefit of differing opinions.”

Marty Montgomery had his own questions.

“How do you explain the loss of somebody else?” Marty Montgomery asked in the interview with the Lodi newspaper. “I don’t know what happened for real. All I know is what (my son is) telling me. But just the whole situation of (Denver) dying over just a few words — it just doesn’t make sense.”

–Joseph Serna and Lee Romney