Man Arrested Over Homeless Attacks Freed

     SAN DIEGO (CN) — A man who was scheduled to be arraigned Monday afternoon for the attacks on homeless men that left three dead was released by authorities citing lack of evidence connecting him to the grisly crimes.
     Anthony Padgett, 36, was released from San Diego Central Jail after “exculpatory evidence” led investigators back to the drawing board.
     “As much as it is our duty to put the right person in jail, it’s also our duty to present factual cases to the District Attorney’s office,” San Diego Police Capt. Dave Nisleit told reporters at a Monday afternoon news conference.
     Nisleit said authorities thought Padgett resembled a man captured by surveillance footage they believe is responsible for the murders. Padgett’s criminal history — he was convicted of setting a fellow transient on fire in 2010 and sentenced to four years in state prison — also led investigators to zero in on him as a suspect.
     Padgett was picked up by police in Chula Vista last Thursday after a four-day crime spree left San Diego’s homeless residents and advocates on edge. He was initially booked on murder, attempted murder and arson charges.
     Nisleit declined to detail what evidence — or lack thereof — pointed authorities away from Padgett as the suspected killer. He did say, however, the crime lab worked around the clock over the weekend which led them to make the decision Monday morning to release Padgett with no charges.
     Though Nisleit reiterated authorities will not call the attacker a “serial murderer,” and are instead referring to the incidents as a “series of murders” committed by the same person, he said they believe the person captured on surveillance footage buying gasoline at a San Diego convenience store is the person responsible for the murders.
     He said finding the killer is “priority one” for the police department.
     Twenty-three-year-old Dionicio Derek Vahidy was the most recent attack victim. He was found on fire across from the federal courthouse downtown at around 5 a.m. on July 6. A towel he was sleeping under was doused with flammable liquid and set ablaze, authorities said.
     He died in the hospital Sunday afternoon.
     The crime spree started over the Fourth of July holiday weekend when on July 3 the body of 53-year-old Angelo De Nardo was found on fire near the train tracks in the Clairemont neighborhood. An autopsy determined he had been killed before being set on fire, according to authorities.
     On July 4, two other victims were found in beach communities along the San Diego coast. Manuel Mason, 61, was found bleeding near the Valley View Casino Center in Point Loma just before 5 a.m. Less than an hour later, Shawn Longley, 41, was found dead at the Robb Athletic Field in Ocean Beach, about three miles away from where Mason was attacked.
     Mason is the only surviving victim and remains in critical condition, Nisleit said Monday.
     There have been no additional attacks targeting homeless people since Vahidy was attacked July 6, according to Nisleit.

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