Published May 26, 2000 by Michael G. Mooney, Bee Staff Writer

The man accused of choking little Fatima Khan and leaving her for dead in a Modesto trash bin was acquitted of all charges Thursday. Trevor Allen Moncrief, 22, was charged with multiple felonies, including attempted murder, torture, kidnapping and assault with intent to commit great bodily harm, in the April 14, 1998, attack on the girl.

Moncrief likely would have spent the rest of his life behind bars had he been convicted. Instead, a Stanislaus County jury found him not guilty.

"I'd like to thank the jury for paying very close attention and working very hard," said defense attorney Robert Forkner. "Justice prevailed. Unfortunately, it took two years of my client sitting in jail before justice prevailed."

Moncrief was still in the Stanislaus County jail Thursday night, where he has been held since his arrest. A jail spokeswoman said San Joaquin County authorities asked that he not be released pending an investigation into a possible probation violation.

Forkner said Moncrief was on probation after a Stockton burglary conviction when he was charged with the assault on Fatima. Forkner said he expects the probation violation charge to be dropped.

Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley said her office was unhappy with the verdict. She said the investigation into the attack on Fatima would not be reopened.

"We all believe (Moncrief) did it," she said. "The verdict does not change our minds to that."

At least one member of the jury also believes Moncrief probably was responsible for the assault. But the juror, who asked not to be identified, said there simply was not enough evidence to convict Moncrief beyond a reasonable doubt, as required under the law.

"I just wanted people to know we're all sympathetic to the Khan family and the little girl," the juror said. "We had an overwhelming belief he did do this, but we didn't have enough evidence to convict him. There were several reasonable doubts. We couldn't do it."

The juror was troubled by the girl's changing story. She initially told police that a woman had choked her. A day or so later, she changed her story and blamed Moncrief.

At the time, Moncrief and his mother lived in an apartment above the apartment Fatima shared with her family at the Stonebridge Apartments on Braden Avenue in north Modesto.

Moncrief used to hang out with some of the children and young people who lived there, including Fatima's older brother.

During the trial, Forkner argued that Fatima's family helped the girl, then 7 years old, concoct the story against Moncrief.

"I believe the girl's family probably did tell her what to say," the juror said. "But I didn't find (Moncrief's) story credible at all. There were too many inconsistencies."

Moncrief testified in his own defense and denied attacking the girl. He told the jury and Judge Glenn A. Ritchey Jr. that he lied to police in his earlier statements because he was afraid he would be blamed for the assault.

Jury members also were concerned that there was not more physical evidence, the juror said.

The prosecution said Moncrief enticed the girl into his apartment -- his mother was not home -- under the guise of teaching her to fight. Once there, prosecutor Linda McFadden said, Moncrief choked the girl and then tried to strangle her with a rope.

After the girl passed out, McFadden claimed that Moncrief loaded her into a large cardboard box and carried her out of the apartment. The prosecutor said Moncrief took the box to the trash bin and dumped it. Fatima was discovered by a man rummaging for cans.

Forkner tried to poke a number of holes into that theory. He said no one, other than Fatima's sister, ever saw Moncrief carrying a box from his apartment that day. The lawyer also was critical of the Police Department's failure to preserve the contents of the trash bin as possible evidence.

The jury got to see a videotape and still pictures of the crime scene. But without the box or fingerprints or blood samples, there was little to tie Moncrief to the crime scene other than 32 hairs.

The hairs were discovered on the rope McFadden said Moncrief wrapped around Fatima's neck. Only six of the hairs, however, were similar to the girl's hair. The juror said that wasn't enough.

"I wish it could have come out differently," the juror said, "but I think we did a really good job. We followed the judge's instructions on the law (and) we all came out with the same verdict."