San Diego Homeless Attacks: Police say they may have the wrong g - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

San Diego Homeless Attacks: Police say they may have the wrong guy

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Citing new evidence that casts doubt on the suspect's culpability in the case, authorities Monday afternoon set free a man arrested in connection with a spree of assaults that left three homeless men dead and a fourth gravely injured in various San Diego neighborhoods.
Anthony Alexander Padgett, 36, was released from jail shortly before he was expected to appear in court in connection with the attacks, during which two of the victims were set on fire.

RELATED: San Diego Homeless Attacks: Third victim dies
When announcing the arrest of Padgett -- who is homeless himself -- on Thursday, San Diego police Capt. David Nisleit repeatedly stressed that detectives had legitimate probable cause to jail him, even though they still had much work to do to build a solid case.
"As we continued (investigating) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, throughout the weekend, we discovered exculpatory evidence, which does not give me confidence moving forward with Padgett still in custody,'' Nisleit said during a briefing this afternoon.

RELATED: San Diego Homeless Attacks: Victims identified
The captain declined to disclose the nature of the new findings.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' staff agreed that releasing the suspect from custody was "the appropriate decision'' in light of the developments, Nisleit said.
"But with that said, in an hour, or tomorrow, we could get new evidence that might point the finger back to Padgett, or to someone new,'' the captain said.
In a prepared statement, Dumanis said her office had been consulting with homicide detectives and would "continue to assist SDPD (personnel) in any way we can during their ongoing investigation into these heinous crimes.''
"Our common goal is justice for the victims in this case and the safety of San Diego's homeless as the investigation continues,'' she stated.
Police had believed that Padgett was the person videotaped by surveillance cameras while buying gasoline at a convenience store shortly before the burning body of the first victim was found. Detectives remain convinced that the man depicted in the images is the killer, Nisleit told reporters.
Padgett's ``strong resemblance'' to the subject in the footage, coupled with the fact that he had been convicted of committing an assault similar to the recent attacks, led detectives to conclude that they had good reason to jail him, Nisleit said.
"I could not risk not taking him into custody and leaving him out in the community,'' Nisleit said. "God forbid he murders another person. So, again, this was done with the utmost priority on keeping the public safe, and I believe it was the right decision then, and I still believe it was right decision now.''
Authorities have concluded that the man depicted in the store video killed 53-year-old Angelo De Nardo, whose burning body was found the morning of July 3 in an open area off the 2700 block of Morena Boulevard in Bay Park; 41-year-old Shawn Longley, found dead at a park on Bacon Street in Ocean Beach the following day; and 23-year-old Dionicio Vahidy, who was gravely injured early Wednesday morning in the area of Broadway and State Street in downtown San Diego and left with a towel burning top of him. Vahidy died in a hospital
Sunday afternoon.
The same assailant also is believed to be responsible for an attack that severely wounded 61-year-old Manuel Mason near Valley View Casino Center in the Midway district shortly before 5 a.m. on the Fourth of July.
In 2010, Padgett was convicted of assault and mayhem for setting a sleeping fellow transient ablaze in Chula Vista and was sentenced to four years in prison. He blamed drugs for the attack and claimed that he only intended to scare the victim.
Like he has done consistently over the last week, Nisleit issued a plea to the public for help in identifying and tracking down the man responsible for
the brutal attacks.

RELATED: Friends of victims speak about homeless attacks
"As I've stated all along, it's just a matter of time before we (contact) the (right) person, and the person has seen this video and those photos, and we develop information that leads us to identify this person, and then (make) his arrest,'' he said.
The police captain also stressed once again that the case "remains the No. 1 priority for the San Diego Police Department.''
"You will continue to see additional (staffing) resources throughout the city as we continue to work this investigation around the clock,'' Nisleit said.
Anyone with information about the attacks is asked to call San  Diego County Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477 or contact the agency online at Tipsters may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.




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