SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)

A man convicted of first-degree murder stemming from a 2003 robbery that resulted in a death became on Monday the first person in San Francisco to have his murder charge vacated after a contested evidentiary hearing, thanks to a new state law.

After spending 16 years in jail, Emmitt Lewis -- previously sentenced to life in prison along with his co-defendant in the robbery -- will be set free, the Public Defender's Office said.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge John K. Stewart vacated the conviction during an evidentiary hearing granted under Senate Bill 1437.

The law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, reformed the Felony Murder Rule in California that previously allowed for accomplices or co-conspirators in crimes resulting in a death to also be found guilty of murder.

Under the new law, the judge was to be the same judge who convicted Lewis, 56, back in 2006, according to the Public Defender's Office.

During Monday's hearing, Stewart ruled that physical evidence showed that Lewis, a passenger in a stolen getaway truck, was not responsible for the death of 35-year-old Scott Adsit, who was loading tools onto his truck outside his Excelsior District home when the crash happened on July 7, 2003.

"The felony murder rule used to cast a wide net when pursuing convictions, without requiring prosecutors to look more closely at the evidence in each case as it pertained to individual responsibility. This case highlights the fairness of the reforms," Deputy Public Defender Niki Solis, Lewis' attorney, said in a statement.

"The California Legislature made such an important decision last year when it blunted the harshness of the felony murder rule and gave individuals like Mr. Lewis the opportunity to benefit from it," said Kristin Hucek of Keker, Van Nest and Peters LLP, also an attorney for Lewis.

The Public Defender's Office noted that while a "small handful" of people in San Francisco have been already been released under SB 1437, those individuals were released after filing a petition, reviewed by both the district attorney and a defense attorney, then granted relief based on the merits of their cases.

In Lewis' case, he was granted relief after going on to the next step of having an evidentiary hearing, public defender's officials said.

A hearing for Lewis' re-sentencing has been set for this coming Monday.

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