DON'T EXPECT ANY HARD TIME FOR LOCAL AIDS ACTIVISTS
Former prosecutor says DA's felony charges won't stick
By Tanya Pampalone
The San Francisco Examiner 30 Nov. 2001
Although District Attorney Terence Hallinan said he plans to prosecute
controversial AIDS activists Michael Petrelis and David Pasquarelli on each
of the 15 felony counts they are charged with, one local expert said the two
men will walk free.
Former federal prosecutor Jerrold Ladar said it is unlikely the pair will be
convicted of any of the felony counts they are charged with, which include
criminal conspiracy, stalking and making criminal threats.
The activists were arrested Wednesday as they left a San Francisco courtroom
and are each being held on $500,000 bail.
While the charges facing the men could add up to eight years in prison,
Ladar, who has watched the criminal justice system in San Francisco for more
than 30 years, said he expects the felony counts will be reduced to diversion
or to misdemeanors because no one named in the cases was physically injured.
The tactics of Petrelis and Pasquarelli have disturbed many in the AIDS and
public health community for years.
But in the past month, the harassment has escalated.
The two have sent mass e-mails with the home phone numbers of local and
federal public health officials and reporters and editors from the New York
Times and the Bay Area Reporter, resulting in a spate of harassing, obscene
and threatening phone calls-- and even death threats, according to at least
one government official.
Court documents say a bomb threat was made to the Chronicle earlier this
month, which has been attributed to their campaign. The renegade activists
said they believe articles about the rising number of syphilis cases among
gay men in San Francisco and the rise of unsafe sexual practices among gay
men are inaccurate.
Ladar, now a criminal defense attorney in private practice, admitted that the
atmosphere in San Francisco has changed since the terrorist attacks on the
World Trade Center -- especially on the alleged bomb threat.
Now, he said, "people are scared and judges react to that." But even with
Sept. 11 attacks, he doesn't expect that the two will do hard time.
"(Hallinan) is not the only one that has yelled about these kinds of
offenses," he said.
While the DA might genuinely desire to pursue all the counts, once all the
facts are in it could be difficult to pursue all the counts, he said.
The men were arraigned on all charges Thursday and pled innocent, according
to assistant District Attorney Machaela Hoctor.
Hoctor secured 10 criminal stay-away orders to protect Chronicle reporters
and DPH employees, although temporary restraining orders, which are issued in
civil court, were already in place.
The stay-away order prohibits Petrelis and Pasquarelli from having contact
with the victims through mail, phone, or a third party other than an
attorney. It also bars them from coming within 150 yards of them and orders
them not possess any weapons.
A bail hearing will be heard today, but Hallinan told The Examiner on
Wednesday that the DA's office isn't planning to budge on the bail amount.
In addition, the University of California, San Francisco said it would file
temporary restraining orders in the next few days on behalf of at least five
employees to protect them from Petrelis and Pasquarelli, according to Marcia
Canning, UCSF chief campus council.
Canning said faculty and staff in the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies and
the AIDS Research Institute have been victims of harassment by the men.