Murder charges dropped in death of famed private investigator Jack Palladino

San Francisco prosecutors dropped charges against two men accused of murdering prominent private investigator Jack Palladino in 2021 after uncovering witness credibility issues, announced the San Francisco Public Defender's Office on Thursday.

At 76, Palladino, known for working on high-profile investigations like the Peoples Temple mass suicides and political and celebrity scandals, died from a head injury after falling in front of his home on Jan. 28, 2021. Just before his injury, he was taking photos with a large camera and snapped a photograph of two men he encountered.

Police suspected the two men, who were identified as Lawrence Thomas and Tyjone Flournoy, of killing Palladino after attempting to steal his camera, based on a witness encounter.

The witness originally told police that the two were driving on the block when they approached Palladino, tried to steal his camera through the window, and dragged him by the camera before he fell and hit his head.

During a preliminary hearing in April 2021, the witness later admitted that he never actually saw the encounter take place, and only assumed they were attempting to rob him, said Deputy Public Defender Kleigh Hathaway, who represented Thomas.

There was also no physical evidence, like DNA from the suspects on the camera, that could back the witness' story, said Hathaway.

Thomas and Flournoy were initially scheduled to have their trial in September 2021, though a backlog in San Francisco Superior Court delayed their trial for almost 19 months past the deadline for a speedy trial. The two were in jail for two years awaiting trial.

"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 Hathaway. "It's important for us, as Mr. Thomas's legal team, to help clear his name after a flurry of misinformation was reported in the wake of Mr. Palladino's death."

San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raji said he is taking legal action to prompt the court to address the 838 cases that went past their deadlines, which kept 148 people in jail without trial.

"Our defenders did the crucial work of scrutinizing the state's evidence which led to a just dismissal, but there are hundreds of people, like these two men who just spent two years in jail, suffering the injustice of waiting for their day in court," said Raju.