SAN FRANCISCO -- Prosecutors in San Francisco have dropped all charges against two men accused in the murder of famed private investigator Jack Palladino two years ago, citing a lack of evidence.
Palladino, whose clients included presidents, corporate whistleblowers and Hollywood moguls, died Feb. 1, 2021, outside his home after suffering a brain injury resulting from a drive-by attempt to rob his camera, San Francisco police said at the time.
The 76-year-old man fell and hit his head, but not before snapping photos of the two men driving by. Police used the photos to track down and arrest the men.
But the district attorney's office dismissed the case Tuesday after a witness admitted he never saw one of the men, in the passenger's seat, attempt to steal the camera through the car window, the San Francisco Public Defender's Office said in a statement. Also, the suspect's DNA was not found on the camera, the office said.
“The prosecution did the ethical thing in dismissing these charges, as none of the physical evidence corroborated the early assumptions reported by an unreliable witness,” said Kleigh Hathaway, a deputy public defender who represented the driver.
Randy Quezada, spokesperson for the district attorney's office, said the goal of the office is “to prosecute cases ethically, fairly and impartially."
The dismissal has disappointed the Palladino family, said longtime family friend and lawyer Mel Honowitz. He said circumstantial evidence clearly showed the men attempted to steal Palladino's camera, resulting in his death. But there was no video of the moment that Palladino made contact with the men, he said.
“There's no question in our minds, and it’s our opinion the two defendants were in fact the killers of Jack Palladino,” Honowitz said. “We understood the decision by the district attorney. We don't necessarily agree with it.”
Hathaway's client said he drove away because Palladino was yelling at them through the window and also hit the car with his hand, she said. Palladino lost his footing and fell, the office said.
The public defender's office used the case dismissal to highlight a massive trial backlog at San Francisco Superior Court that has kept suspects in jail pending trial. The trial was set for September 2021.
Records show both men were released from a San Francisco jail.
Palladino was a colorful figure whose high-profile career spanned more than 40 years. Clients included Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, which hired him to thwart women who were coming forward to claim they had had sex with the future president.
He was also the investigator for the family of a 14-year-old boy who won a multimillion-dollar settlement from Michael Jackson after accusing the entertainer of molesting him. Jackson was never charged with a crime in that case.
This story corrects previous versions inaccurately stating charges were dismissed Wednesday.