San Francisco

Sixth Golden Gate Park Murder Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

NBC Bay Area

A woman arrested in Arizona last month in connection with the death of a homeless man at Alvord Lake in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder and other charges.

Sahmanntha Rundstrom, 19, who also goes by the name Serenity, is one of six people charged in connection with the May 24 death of 66-year-old Stephen Williams, whose body was found by a gardener lying face down in the lake near the park's eastern end around 7 a.m.

Prosecutors allege Williams was beaten and tortured over a period of several days before he was knocked unconscious and dumped into the lake.

Rundstrom, a small woman with short, shaggy bleached blond hair and a soft voice, was arrested on Aug. 23 in Flagstaff, Arizona. She is charged with murder and conspiracy, and bail is currently set at $1 million.

Rundstrom had given different names to local police, but was identified after a San Francisco District Attorney's Office investigator working with homicide detectives saw her post on Facebook about being in the area and contacted local authorities, according to Flagstaff police.

Defense attorney Jose Umali today said Rundstrom, who was born in Nebraska and raised in Oregon, was a "free spirit" who was frequenting Golden Gate Park at the time of Williams' death. He described her alleged role in the crime as "extremely minimal."

"My client is innocent, absolutely, and the evidence they have against her is extremely weak," Umali said. "I've handled a lot of homicide cases and this is the weakest I've seen, maybe ever."

Prosecutors plan to file a motion, to be argued on Sept. 28, to consolidate Rundstrom's case with that of four other defendants, Stephen Billingsley, 19, Niki Williams, 36, Ian Severa, 23, and Michael Grasso, 26.

Another defendant, Robert Tannehill, 35, has had his case severed from the others because he declined to waive his right to a speedy trial, according to prosecutors. He was ordered to stand trial at a preliminary hearing on Aug. 23 and his next court date is Sept. 29.

Umali said that although the defendants may be charged on the same complaint, some have made statements implicating each other, meaning that a trial judge may eventually need to either exclude those statements or choose to try the defendants separately.

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