Thursday, May 15, 2014

Prosecutors Weighing Death Penalty in Murder Case

Posted By on Thu, May 15, 2014 at 2:23 PM

click to enlarge A picture from Michael Youravish's Facebook page.
  • A picture from Michael Youravish's Facebook page.
The Humboldt County District Attorney's Office is still in the process of deciding whether to pursue the death penalty against a 22-year-old man accused of brutally stabbing a man to death in a wooded area outside of McKinleyville last year.

Police arrested Michael Raymond Youravish June 19, 2013, hours after finding the body of Forrest Croft Lovejoy, 33, dead of multiple stab wounds to the neck, chest and abdomen on a foot trail north of C Avenue in McKinleyville. Youravish has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of murder and denied a special allegation that he laid in wait.

A superior court judge ruled Wednesday that there is sufficient evidence to hold Youravish to stand trial on the murder charge, and prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Zachary Curtis said today that his office is still deciding whether to pursue capital punishment in the case.

During a two-day preliminary hearing this week, new details about the case emerged, including that Youravish allegedly had someone take a video recording of the attack with his cell phone and bragged about the killing.

Ricky Madonia, a friend of Youravish’s, testified Wednesday that he, Youravish and Lovejoy had been hanging out at a McKinleyville bar and that Youravish appeared drunk when they left. He said the three of them then went into the woods near McKinleyville to look for some marijuana plants they believed were planted out there. Ricky Madonia said he was playing Angry Birds on his phone as they walked single-file down a trail, with Youravish in front, Lovejoy in the middle and him bringing up the rear. He said they’d been walking for several minutes with Lovejoy and Youravish talking about the marijuana plants when Youravish turned suddenly and stabbed Lovejoy in the stomach, unprovoked.

“Forrest collapsed and Michael just repeatedly stabbed him,” Ricky Madonia testified. He said Youravish then threw him his phone and told him to videotape what he was doing. Ricky Madonia testified he was scared and in shock, and dropped his phone and began filming with Youravish’s as his friend continually stabbed Lovejoy.

“How many times?” Curtis asked.

“I couldn’t count,” Ricky Madonia said. “A lot.”

Curtis asked if Lovejoy was saying anything during the attack, and Ricky Madonia answered: “Forrest was saying that he believed in Jesus.”

He testified that he fled after the killing but Youravish came to his family’s home a short time later, asking why he’d run and calling him names. Ricky Madonia said he and Youravish then got into an argument when Youravish tried to tell his family what he’d done and show them the recording of the killing.

Tara Madonia, Ricky’s sister, testified that earlier that day she’d been roused from her home by loud voices and came outside to find Lovejoy, Youravish and another man talking in the street. She said they weren’t arguing or anything, but that Youravish was clearly angry and repeatedly made statements about how he was going to “gut a chomo,” which she said was slang for a child molester.

Mouthing “I’m sorry” to Youravish at one point during her testimony, Tara Madonia cried as she described how Youravish came into her home to calm down and cleanup that afternoon. But she said he remained animated, and took a knife from her kitchen before leaving. She said she was worried and called her brother to come talk to his friend.
Clad in an orange jumpsuit with his long black hair slicked back, Youravish showed little emotion during the hearing but could be seen smirking several times during the testimony.

Curtis called David Little to the stand Thursday, and Little testified that he was dating one of Youravish’s sisters at the time of Lovejoy’s killing, and that he and Youravish were becoming close. Little said he’d told Youravish about his troubled past, and how he’d done time in 2004 after a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon and robbery but had since worked to clean up his life. So, Little testified that he thought Youravish was lying one day in mid-June 2012 when he boastfully told him that he’d killed someone.

“He didn’t seem like that type of kid,” Little said. “I figured he was blowing smoke.”

But a day or two later, Little said he agreed to drive Youravish up to a house in McKinlevyille to get a change of clothes. When they found nobody home, Little said the pair decided to walk Little’s dog in the woods nearby. After walking for about five minutes, Little said his dog started acting really strange. “He showed an aggressive side of him that I’d never seen before,” Little said. “He started growling and stuff.” A bit further down the path, Little said, he was shocked when they came across Lovejoy’s body. Little said Youravish asked him to help move the body but he refused and left the area with his dog.

On his way out of the courtroom Thursday, Little stopped and looked at a couple sitting in the back row. “Are you the family?” he asked. The man and woman tearfully nodded and Little — a large, hulking man — leaned over and hugged them both. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.

At the hearing’s conclusion, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney found Curtis presented enough evidence to warrant a trial in the case.

If prosecutors opt to seek the death penalty in the case, it will be the second time they've decided to pursue the state's most serious punishment in recent months, as the office decided to pursue capital punishment against Jason Anthony Warren, who stands accused of killing two people in 2012. For more information on that case, Humboldt's first death penalty case in decades, see past Journal coverage here, but note that Warren's trial has been postponed. To see how candidates to become Humboldt's next DA feel about capital punishment, read the Journal's "Crime Fighters" story.

In the wake of his death, friends and family remembered Lovejoy as a kind, trusting man with a big heart who left behind a young daughter. An obituary that ran in the Times-Standard noted “he was fraught with struggles most of his short life” but that he “proved continual rejection could be overcome.” 
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