San Diego Police Free Suspect in Homeless Killings

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San Diego police freed a man Monday whom they arrested in connection with the killings of three homeless men.

Anthony Alexander Padgett, 36, who was taken into custody in Chula Vista on Thursday but was never formally charged, was released Monday because police had found “exculpatory evidence” that made it now appear he could be innocent of the serial killings, Capt. David Nisleit said. The man was not charged.

“I don’t have any evidence to keep him behind bars right now,” said Nisleit, who heads the homicide division. “As I stated Thursday, we had probable cause to arrest Padgett … That probable cause was based on his strong resemblance to the person depicted in the video at the Shell gas station, coupled with our knowledge of his 2010 conviction of lighting a homeless person on fire.”

Police believe the man buying gasoline in the video, which was taken shortly before one attack, is responsible for the deaths and injury of homeless men since Independence Day.

Nisleit reiterated a plea to the public to keep tips coming in, saying that was the most likely way the case would be solved.

“We cannot do this alone: Public safety is a shared responsibility between law enforcement and the public,” he said. “Every single lead that comes in, we will follow up on.”

Four homeless men have been attacked, with two being set on fire.Two initially survived the assaults but one of those died Sunday, Nisleit said. The other survivor remains in critical condition.

The first three attacks occurred in a 25-hour period, July 3-4, and the fourth happened last Wednesday, when authorities found a man ablaze on the ground across from the federal courthouse downtown.

CNN-affiliate KSWB identified the victims as:

— Angelo De Nardo, 53, who was found the morning of July 3 in an open area off the 2700 block of Morena Boulevard in Bay Park. An autopsy determined that De Nardo died prior to being set on fire.

— Manuel Mason, 61, in an area near Valley View Casino Center in the Midway district shortly before 5 a.m. on the Fourth of July. He remains in critical condition.

— Shawn Longley, 41, whose body was found the same day at a park on Bacon Street in Ocean Beach.

— Dionicio Derek Vahidy, 23, who was attacked in the area of Broadway and State Street last Wednesday. Vahidy died in a hospital Sunday afternoon.

The motive for the attacks is unknown.