© Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
SAN JOSE — After three-and-a-half months of accusations, felony charges, court hearings, and testimonies, the Reuben Foster case reached a verdict Wednesday afternoon. The charges against Foster for domestic violence and criminal threats were dismissed, paving the way for the prized linebacker’s return to the 49ers on Thursday.
The third charge, possession of an assault weapon, was reduced to a misdemeanor. A pre-trial hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, June 6.
The implications of this case were massive: if convicted of all three felonies, Foster could have faced up to 11 years in jail, according to the Santa Clara District Attorney’s report. It was highly possible Judge Nona L. Klippen could have sent the case to a trial, which would have delayed the process even more, happening at some point within the next 60 days.
Klippen’s dismissal of the domestic violence charges was the best possible case for Foster and the 49ers.
Klippen, who presided over the preliminary hearing last Thursday, rebuked Elissa Ennis, Foster’s ex-girlfriend who accused him of domestic violence charges, during her 15-minute explanation Wednesday afternoon. Klippen started by identifying that she, the magistrate, needed ‘probable cause’ to dismiss the charges. She considered the ‘totality’ of Ennis’ wildly inconsistent and emotional testimony, along with all of the other details combined in three additional testimonies last Thursday, as well as outside sources of information, including the video depicting Ennis and another woman in a road-rage fight.
“The credibility of Ennis is an important factor,” Klippen said.
How credible could someone be who alleged domestic violence, recanted her statement two days later, and testified that she lied about essentially every accusation against Foster? How credible could someone be who had falsely accused another ex-boyfriend of domestic violence in 2011, stolen more than $8,000 and designer jewelry from Foster, threatened to sell videos to TMZ when Foster returned the Corvette he loaned to Ennis, and admitted she needed to check herself in for help?
Not very, Klippen discovered.
Klippen prefaced her statement by saying the ‘unfortunate’ reality of domestic violence cases is that alleged victims recant their claims all too often. She said it was helpful to observe the demeanor of the victim’s state in court. Ennis cried repeatedly last Thursday, at times cursing out of frustration and apologizing during others.
Klippen identified two phone calls that Ennis made to police that were wildly different in demeanor. The first came during the immediate aftermath of Foster ending their relationship. Ennis panicked and called 911. She sounded ‘frantic,’ according to Klippen. Last Thursday, Ennis said she was ‘contemplating’ what to do, as if to say she was trying to find a way to frame her story to police as believable. The second 911 call came after she flagged down an oncoming driver — Eugenio Pirir, who testified last Thursday— and politely asked to use his phone. Klippen said Ennis was ‘unusually calm’ during this call, despite the fact that it was made only nine minutes after the first call.
“If Ms. Ennis was beaten up and punched 10 times, how did she manage to collect herself in nine minutes?” Klippen said.
At this point, although early in her explanation, it started to become clear that Klippen did not buy Ennis’ original story.
Klippen shifted to the photos of Ennis, who had not visibly suffered any serious injuries that suggested she had been punched eight to 10 times — by an NFL linebacker. Klippen mentioned that Ennis has a ‘slight’ body type, meaning this type of brutal beating would have left her in a much more injured state than the photos suggested.
Klippen said there was no evidence that Ennis feared Foster would kill her, which she originally claimed he said he would do if she called the police during their Feb. 11 argument. There was also no evidence of prior abuse in their relationship.
Then, Klippen posed an overarching question: did Ennis have a motive to lie?
Ennis, 28, lived in a large home with Foster in Los Gatos. She did not have to work to support herself. She drove a Corvette and used a phone that were both given to her from Foster. Ennis testified that she stole Foster’s routing number, cash, jewelry, and designer clothes.
Ennis, as Klippen said, was “very unhappy this was all coming to an end” after Foster had ended their relationship.
“It was all about money,” Ennis said last Thursday.
After reviewing all of these details, Klippen came to a conclusion.
“The court does not find totality that probable cause is true,” Klippen said.
Klippen cited ‘insufficient cause’ to believe the domestic violence charges against Foster. The weapons charge, considered a ‘wobbler’ in California, was reduced to a misdemeanor, which is the best case Foster could have hoped for in Wednesday’s hearing.
49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have consistently said that if the charges against Foster are proven true, he would be immediately released. Foster was not allowed in the 49ers facilities throughout the legal process. If the case was dismissed, he would return to the team. The 49ers brass preached patience throughout the legal process, and it is now very clear that was the smart approach.
“The organization is aware the domestic violence charges against Reuben Foster were dismissed earlier today,” Lynch said in a statement. “As a result, he will have the opportunity to rejoin the team tomorrow. It has been made clear to Reuben that his place on this team is one that must continue to be earned. We will continue to monitor the remaining misdemeanor charge.”
About 10 minutes after Wednesday’s hearing concluded, Foster exited the Santa Clara Hall of Justice to flickering camera lenses and questions about his return to the 49ers. He did not acknowledge them with words.
He simply nodded, gave a thumbs, smiled, and rode away in a black Lexus SUV.
‘How are you feeling, Reuben?’
Foster smiles and nods his head pic.twitter.com/L3QNm0rUPA
— Brad Almquist (@bquist13) May 23, 2018
Brad Almquist is KNBR.com’s 49ers beat writer. Follow Brad on Twitter @Bquist13.