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Key witness in burning death
dies of overdose

By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service

March 8, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A key witness in the burning murder of a homeless San Francisco woman died of a drug overdose Monday while under witness protection, a representative of the district attorney's office announced today.

Assistant District Attorney Harry Dorfman said that while the death of the unnamed woman is a tragedy, the trial would continue as expected with other witnesses and evidence.

The woman was to testify that Leslie Jill May, a 49-year-old homeless woman, was dragged into a car by two women in the Tenderloin district on Jan. 12. May was later doused with gasoline and set on fire in a parking lot at Monster Park.

Prosecutors say the attack was over her boyfriend's $150 drug debt.

Mia Sagote, 30, and Leslie Siliga, 29, have both pleaded not guilty in the murder and concomitant charges. Dorfman said that on the day before she died, Sagote robbed May behind a dumpster, leaving her naked and penniless.

When May complained to police, according to Dorfman, Sagote and Siliga went to teach her a lesson.

It took the medical examiner's office over a month to identify May's charred remains.

The district attorney's office quickly became concerned that witness safety could be compromised. Some members of Sagote's family had a history of violence and drug dealing, and could easily seek out May's friends and intimidate them, according to the prosecutor.

On Feb. 8, nearly two weeks after Mia Sagote was arrested, her brother Sefo Sagote was taken into custody after police pulled him over in the Double Rock area of the Bayview district with a shotgun and crack cocaine in his car.

Sefo Sagote had already been convicted of felony drug-dealing charges and in 2005 was thrown in jail in Santa Clara County for shooting at an inhabited enclosure.

But Dorfman said it wasn't Sagote or any other people involved in their drug-dealing ring that got to this witness, it was the witness herself who proved to be her on worst threat.

When she agreed to go into a voluntary witness protection program, the district attorney's office obliged and even offered to help her kick a longtime addiction to crack and heroin.

She was housed in a different county and received methadone and kidney dialysis treatments.

The witness refused supervised care in a treatment facility, according to investigators with the district attorney's office, who checked in on her daily.

When they found her dead, they had an autopsy performed, which concluded that she died of a "swelling of the pulmonary system," consistent with a drug overdose, according to the district attorney's office.

An official copy of the report has not been made available to the public.

"The tragic reality is that many of the witnesses with whom we work are victims themselves of drug addiction," Dorfman said. "Unfortunately, this woman's longtime addiction caught up with her before she could achieve justice for her friend."

District attorneys' offices throughout the state run relocation programs and they are funded by the State of California's Department of Justice.

Both Siliga and Mia Sagote are scheduled to be in court Friday at 9 a.m. in department 11.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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