Salinas man acquitted on 2016 murder charge in Chinatown death

Salinas man acquitted in 2016 murder...

SALINAS, Calif. - A Salinas homeless man is free after murder and assault charges are dropped in a Chinatown killing case in 2016.

But prosecutors and some who work with the homeless say they disagree with the jury's decision.

"What happened there was an assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury. It did produce death," said Berkely Brannon, Monterey County chief assistant district attorney.

A blurry surveillance video showed the two, Benjamin Mboso and Brian Todd, talking, and seconds later, Todd falls to the ground. He died from brain injuries days later.

"It looks to us is kind of a one punch situation, the victim just goes down like a ton of bricks," Brannon said.

But the video wasn’t enough for jurors to convict Mboso.

At trial, public defenders argued Todd's death was not a reasonable and probable consequence of Mboso's actions outside victory mission. And the fractures in Todd's skull may have been there before altercation.

Mboso was acquitted last Friday.

Ken Cusson works at Victory Mission, where the fight happened, and he thought the outcome is disappointing.

"It was obvious to pretty much everybody that saw anything at all, who did it, and it's unfortunate the situation came out the way it did," Cusson said. "When it first happened, we probably went down in our numbers that came to us for dinner." 

But people quickly came back because they needed help, and Cusson said what happened a year ago highlights the need to clean up Salinas' Chinatown

"The only way Chinatown is going to get cleaned up is if the city is willing to enforce what they say. They come through and they clean things out … once they are gone, people come back and they start putting their stuff back again," Cusson said.

PREVIOUS STORY: A homeless man, Benjamin Mboso, 46, then living in Chinatown, Salinas, was acquitted by a jury in the July 12, 2016, death of another homeless man there, Brian Todd, according to the Monterey County Public Defender's Office.

Mboso was charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of assault by means likely to cause great bodily injury with an enhancement for having caused the victim to lapse into a coma.

After a three-day trial, a 12-person Monterey County jury returned verdicts of not guilty of second-degree murder and assault. The jury found Mboso guilty of one count of misdemeanor battery. 

Salinas police responded July 5, 2016, to Natividad Hospital, where Todd was treated for a fractured skull.

Mboso told police that he and Todd had argued over a $20 dollar debt in Chinatown. Todd owed the money to Mboso, who had attempted to grab Todd during the argument, police said.

Todd, who was intoxicated at the time, fell and hit the ground. An SPD surveillance camera in the area, captured the scene.

Mboso testified that he tried to grab Todd by the collar and Todd fell to the ground because he was drunk. The jury viewed Salinas police video footage of the incident multiple times during the trial.

Dr. Venus Azar, a doctor who treated Todd, testified that Todd's blood-alcohol level shortly after he was was admitted to Natividad Hospital, his blood alcohol level was 0.40, five times the legal limit in California.

The jury deliberated for about four hours before returning its verdicts.

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