A San Francisco Superior Court jury on Monday found a man guilty of murder for the 2012 death of a hairdresser who was found gagged and bound in his Twin Peaks neighborhood apartment after a night out in the city’s Castro District.
James Rickleffs, 52, killed Eriq Escalon, 28, by tying his hands with zip ties, gagging his mouth with a sock and then wrapping duct tape over his mouth. The sock had been soaked in amyl nitrite, an inhalant also known as poppers, prosecutors said.
In addition to murder, the jury also found Rickleffs guilty of robbery, burglary and petty theft for taking items from Escalon’s house after leaving him bound and gagged, including a wallet, checkbook, social security card, bank card and laptop.
“Those who bring harm to others will be held accountable for their actions,” District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement. “My heart goes out to the victim’s family, they have endured immeasurable loss.”
Escalon and Rickleffs met on June 11, 2012, at the bar 440 Castro. After meeting, video surveillance showed Escalon taking out $100 from an ATM as Rickleffs stood nearby and the pair then took a cab to Escalon’s apartment.
The following day, Escalon’s roommate came home and found Escalon dead, bound and wrapped in a blanket, according to the district attorney’s office.
Investigators learned Escalon had been blindfolded, a scarf wrapped around his head and mouth and duct tape wrapped over it, in addition to his hands and feet being tied. He was also wearing a tank top and shorts, prosecutors said.
An autopsy by the city’s medical examiner’s office revealed that Escalon died from an acute-mixed drug intoxication of nitrates and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, also known as GHB, and possibly asphyxia. During the trial, Rickleffs’ attorney Deputy Public Defender Niki Solis said that upon meeting at the bar, Escalon struck a deal with Rickleffs in which Escalon agreed to pay Rickleffs $100 to take pictures at the apartment.
Once at the apartment, after smoking cigarettes, drinking vodka, taking pictures and looking at pornography, Escalon asked Rickleffs to tie him up, Solis said.
A reluctant Rickleffs agreed, but when he went to take a shower and returned to Escalon’s bedroom, he found Escalon unconscious. Fearing he’d be blamed for the death, Rickleffs fled, she said.
The day after Escalon was found dead, officers encountered Rickleffs in the city’s North Beach neighborhood and inside a suitcase he had with him, officers found items belonging to both Escalon and his roommate. Investigators later recovered a knife with Rickleffs’ DNA on it inside Escalon’s apartment, although there was no evidence the knife was ever used.
Officers arrested Rickleffs in August 2012, after they were able to obtain a DNA sample from him. During an interview, Rickleffs admitted to tying up Escalon and taking items from the apartment.
A sentencing date for Rickleffs has not yet been determined.