Courts

Sunday, April 3, 2016

TL;DR: Five Things You Need to Know from This Week's Cover Story

Posted By on Sun, Apr 3, 2016 at 12:21 PM

cover-033116.jpg
Busy week? We get it. Here are five things you need to know from this week’s cover story, “Sanity on Trial.” They might even entice you to read the whole thing.

The abrupt resignation of Yurok Tribal Chair James Dunlap last month amid revelations about a murder case in his past, coupled with the ongoing trial of Gary Bullock on charges that he murdered St. Bernard’s Catholic Church pastor Eric Freed, has thrust the insanity defense into the local spotlight. In this week’s cover story, we take a look at the not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) defense, what it means and what happens after someone has been acquitted and deemed to be legally insane.

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Saturday, April 2, 2016

New Trial Denied, Sentencing Scheduled for Littlefield

Posted By on Sat, Apr 2, 2016 at 9:42 AM

Timothy Littlefield
  • Timothy Littlefield
A Humboldt County Superior Court judge denied Timothy Floyd Littlefield’s motion for a new trial yesterday, leaving the McKinleyville man facing eight life sentences after his 2013 convictions on 11 child molestation charges.

In December, the California First District Court of Appeals found Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney abused his discretion in granting a mistrial in the case and sent it back to Feeney for further proceedings. Yesterday, Feeney heard arguments from Russ Clanton, Littlefield’s defense attorney, and prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Andrew Isaac before ruling that the guilty verdicts reached in September of 2013 — which jurors came to after just three hours of deliberation — stand, according to Isaac.

Isaac said Feeney then asked both sides if they were prepared to proceed to sentencing, but Clanton said he was not and indicated he intends to appeal Feeney’s ruling denying his motion for a new trial in the case. Feeney then set sentencing for April 6, though that could be postponed if Clanton follows through with his planned appeal.

Littlefield was arrested in February of 2009 on allegations of repeatedly molesting Jane Doe, his then 8-year-old stepdaughter. He was brought to trial in 2012 but that ended with the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting him on all counts. The second trial saw unanimous guilty verdicts on all counts, though the validity of those were brought into question by Clanton’s motion for a new trial, which argued that they should be thrown out because a juror mistakenly placed the burden of proof on the defense — not the prosecution.

For more information about the case, view past coverage here.
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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Whitethorn Woman Faces 10-Year Prison Term for Environmentally Destructive Grow

Posted By on Sat, Mar 26, 2016 at 2:50 PM

The scenic King Range National Conservation Area. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • The scenic King Range National Conservation Area.

A Whitethorn woman has pleaded guilty to charges of depredation against the property of the United States, admitting to doing more than $100,000 worth of environmental damage to federal lands as a part of her marijuana cultivation operation.

Melinda Van Horne entered the plea Wednesday, according to a press release, and is free on bond awaiting sentencing in July, when she faces a maximum term of 10 years in federal prison.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

'They've Got me Dead to Rights': Opening Argument Given in Bullock Case

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2016 at 12:45 PM

Gary Lee Bullock.
  • Gary Lee Bullock.
Over the course of 45 minutes this morning, the Humboldt County District Attorney's office gave jurors a preview of the evidence it will present in the coming weeks in an attempt to prove that Gary Lee Bullock tortured and murdered St. Bernard Pastor Father Eric Freed on Jan. 1, 2014.

In an opening statement that was notably devoid of emotional or dramatic appeal, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Isaac explained that he plans to call a total of 11 witnesses and wrap his case next Friday. Bullock’s attorney, Kaleb Cockrum, declined to give an opening statement today, and instead reserved the right to do so before presenting the defense’s case later in the trial.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

TL;DR: Five Things You Need to Know from This Week's Cover Story

Posted By on Sun, Mar 13, 2016 at 11:36 AM

cover-story.gif
Busy week? We get it, and we're not judging. Here are some highlights from “Judged” to get you caught up.

Two respected local judges were recently thrust into the glare of the media spotlight when the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished them for failing to decide their cases on time and, perhaps more importantly, submitting false affidavits to the state and receiving their salary in violation of California law. Humboldt County Superior Court judges Dale Reinholtsen and Christopher Wilson now find themselves under investigation by the California Attorney General’s Office, which is weighing whether to bring criminal charges.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Jury Selection Underway for Bullock Trial

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2016 at 12:13 PM

Bullock
  • Bullock
Jury selection is underway for the trial of Gary Lee Bullock, who faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted on charges that he tortured and murdered St. Bernard’s pastor Fr. Eric Freed on New Year’s Day 2014.

Because of the notoriety of the crime and the projected length of the trial — it’s expected to stretch into April — it will likely take some weeks to empanel the 12-member jury and a handful of alternates.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Faith in the System: Arreaga's Public Defender Reflects on Murder Acquittal

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 3:46 PM

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It was an emotional moment in a Humboldt County courtroom this week when Jason Arreaga was acquitted of murder charges stemming from a 2014 double slaying.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

'A Wake of Destruction:' Warren's Probation Report Sheds New Light on Cruz Waiver

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 5:19 PM

Jason Anthony Warren
  • Jason Anthony Warren
By the time a Humboldt County Superior Court judge agreed to release Jason Anthony Warren from jail on Aug. 24, 2012 to allow him to get his affairs in order prior to being sentenced to a six-year state prison bid for illegally possessing a firearm, the then 27-year-old Warren had already amassed a criminal record that included 18 run-ins with the law.

After being released from custody by Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna at the request of his defense attorney — and without any objection for the district attorney’s office — Warren failed to show up for his sentencing hearing two weeks later. Then, on Sept. 27, 2012, Warren tortured and murdered Dorothy Ulrich in her Hoopa home before driving to Eureka and intentionally running down three joggers from behind, killing Suzanne Seemann and seriously injuring the other two.

A pre-sentencing probation report filed after Warren’s conviction details how he was born into poverty, the son of a heroin addicted mother and a father he never met in Eureka, and that he has been in trouble with the law since the age of 6. The report also brings into sharp focus old questions about why Cissna agreed to let Warren out of custody in August of 2012, and why the district attorney’s office didn't oppose Warren’s request.

According to the report, Warren was born Sept. 20, 1984, “the product of a casual relationship between his mother Lynn Ann Warren … and Terry Hartman.” However, the report notes that Warren’s mother was married to another man — Paul Warren — at the time of Jason’s birth. “Defendant said he never met either man.”

When Warren was 5, his mother — who the report notes was a heroin addict from the age of 15 — was sentenced to serve two years in prison for drug possession and Warren went to live with his maternal great aunt, Lillian Hickey. While Warren spent his early years in Eureka, he moved out to Hoopa with Hickey at the age of 9. According to the report, Hickey supported herself and Warren with the assistance of a federal welfare program.

By the time Warren relocated east, he’d already been in trouble with the law. According to the report, shortly before his 7th birthday, he was contacted by police for dumping liquid soap all over the bathroom of a Pro Sport Center and attempting to steal a knife from the store.

After the move, Warren seems to have gotten in an escalating string of trouble: at 10, he was contacted for throwing candy at a residence; at 11, he was arrested for taking Hickey’s car without her permission and joyriding; at 12, he brought an unspecified weapon to school and tried to sell it, and later was arrested for stealing several items from the Bayshore Mall; at 13, he was caught placing a 40-ounce bottle of beer under his coat and trying to steal it from Ray’s Food Place in Hoopa.

It was after Warren’s 14th birthday that his behavior began to turn violent, according to the report. In December of 1998, he assaulted someone at Hoopa High School. After the assault and battery, he was removed from Hickey’s care and retained as a ward of the court, which sent him to live at Crystal Creek Regional Boys Camp for an unspecified amount of time. It doesn’t seem to have done much good as he was arrested two months later for again assaulting someone on school grounds — this time twice in one day — and resisting an officer. This led to another unspecified stint at Crystal Creek.

Three arrests followed in 1999, for stealing some basketball shoes out of a student’s locker at Hoopa High, for throwing a rock at a car and for marijuana possession. In February of 2000, he was arrested for throwing someone to the ground, kicking them in the head and repeatedly hitting them in the face with a closed fist. A month later, he pulled a knife on a fellow student at Hoopa High, leading to his first stint in juvenile hall, according to the report.

In 2001, before Warren’s 17th birthday, he was arrested for burglary — breaking into the Klamath-Trinity Unified School District compound yard and stealing gas from a van — and for domestic violence and assault with a deadly weapon after he assaulted his pregnant girlfriend. She later gave birth to Warren's son who is now 14.

But all those arrests would pale in comparison to what happened on April 10, 2001, when in a fashion hauntingly similar to the murders in 2012, Warren caught a cab driven by Cid Miller. While riding through McKinleyville, Warren — for no apparent reason — attacked Miller from behind, stabbing him in the back, shoulder and chest before Miller dove from the moving vehicle. Warren then took the cab and attempted to “run down two young men on bicycles in Arcata” before attempting to run down a pedestrian near Blue Lake. For the second time in a year, Warren was sent to the California Youth Authority. While in custody there in December of 2001, Warren attacked another detainee who made some “antagonistic comments regarding [Warren’s] son,” according to the report.

According to the report, Warren was released from the academy in 2006 and resided in Eureka. His first arrest as an adult came at the age of 22, when in April of 2007 he was picked up for being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to 32 months in prison. After his release, he violated the conditions of his parole four times, according to the report.

Then, in March of 2012, Warren was accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm and assault with a deadly weapon. After some months in jail, on Aug. 24, 2012, Warren entered into a plea agreement that was a bit complicated due to his request for a Cruz waiver, which allows a defendant who has pleaded guilty to be released from custody until the time of his sentencing in order to get his or her affairs in order before incarceration. The agreements carry the threat of a heftier sentence if the defendant fails to return to jail when they are ordered to.

Under the terms of Warren’s agreement, he pleaded guilty to both the assault with a deadly weapon and firearm charges. If he showed up at his Sept. 7, 2012 sentencing hearing, as ordered, the assault charge would be dropped and he would be sentenced to six years in state prison. If he failed to show up, the assault charge would remain and he’d be sentenced to three additional years in prison.

On Aug. 24, 2012, Warren appeared before Cissna and entered the pleas. According to an article in the Two Rivers Tribune, Deputy District Attorney Zach Curtis, who appeared at the hearing for the DA’s Office, was asked to explain on the record his reasons for not opposing Warren’s release under the Cruz waiver. He declined, and Cissna accepted Warren’s pleas, granted the Cruz waiver and ordered him released from custody, to return in two weeks time for sentencing.

He never did, and on Sept. 27, 2012, he murdered Ulrich and Seemann in what’s been described as one of the most horrible crimes in recent Humboldt County history. In his interview with a parole officer for the pre-sentencing investigation report, Warren declined to discuss the events surrounding the killings, on the advice of his attorney.

“The ripple effect of defendant’s actions have reverberated through this community and will be felt for years, if not generations to come,” the probation report states. “Two young children and their father are without the loving mother, and wife they deserved to have raise them and grow old with. Defendant’s lifetime incarceration cannot heal that void or bring back their loving mother and partner.

… Defendant has contributed nothing to this community or to society as a whole and has left a wake of destruction in his path. These victims were all accomplished, positive, productive members of this community, and this community will forever be deprived of their best efforts to create a better community for all.”

Warren, who is now at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, which acts as a reception center for the state prison system. According to Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming, the prison is currently holding Warren on his case from March of 2012. As soon as it receives his final sentencing papers from the double murder case, he will be transferred to a maximum security prison.

Editor's Note: This story was updated from a previous version to correct the title of the California Youth Authority.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Police: Teen was in Hiding When Hunted Down by Gang Members

Posted By on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 at 4:55 PM

Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez. - COURTESY OF EPD
  • Courtesy of EPD
  • Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez.
Fourteen-year-old Jesus Garcia-Romero knew his life was in danger, so he and a friend holed up in an apartment on Eureka’s P Street the night of Dec. 16, 2014, according to a court document.

The document — an affidavit in support of the arrest warrant issued for 33-year-old Nicholas Leigl for the murder of the Arcata teen — sheds new light on the case and explains in detail what police believe happened the night Garcia-Romero was stabbed to death. The affidavit also points to a motive for the killing: Garcia-Romero’s slight of a gang leader’s son.

Garcia-Romero was found dying at about 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 17, 2014, bleeding from three stab wounds to the abdomen in the front yard of a small blue house with a red door on Eureka’s 15th Street. It was cold and rainy out, and Garcia-Romero was soaked, apparently having been lying on the grassy lawn for hours. He had no pulse, according to the affidavit, but was gasping for breath. After extensive life-saving efforts, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

At a Feb. 4 press conference, the Eureka Police Department announced it had arrested four men — Joe Olivo Jr., Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez and Nicholas Leigl — on suspicion of murdering Garcia-Romero. Further, EPD officials said the four suspects all had gang ties, and that they believed the killing was gang-related. But when it came to details of the case — where the teen was killed, why, and which of the four defendants stabbed him — officials were silent.

The affidavit in support of Leigl’s arrest, which is a part of his public case file, answers some of those questions. The affidavit begins with EPD detective Ron Harpham stating that he believes there is probable cause to believe Leigl murdered, and conspired to murder, Garcia-Romero.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

UPDATED: DA: No Death Penalty in Gang Murder Case

Posted By on Fri, Feb 5, 2016 at 10:53 AM

Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez. - COURTESY OF EPD
  • Courtesy of EPD
  • Clockwise from top left: Joe Olivo Jr., Nicholas Leigl, Joe Olivo III, Mario Nunez.
UPDATE:
Eighteen-year-old Joe Olivo III, one of four men accused of the gang-related murder of a 14-year-old Arcata boy in 2014, will be tried as an adult in the case, according Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming.

Olivo III, who police identified as a Sureño gang member, was arrested Feb. 2 in San Luis Obispo and is being charged with the Dec. 17, 2014 slaying of Jesus “Smiley” Romero-Garcia. Now 18, Olivo would have been 17, or possibly 16, at the time of Romero-Garcia’s killing, making him a juvenile in the eyes of the court, which judges defendant’s juvenile status by their age at the time of their alleged offense not when they are charged.

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