You could have cut the air with the edge of a manila folder inside Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson's courtroom last Wednesday. It was about 10 minutes to 10 a.m., and everyone waited with held breath to hear the jury's verdict.
The defendant, former Blue Lake Police Chief David Gundersen, leaned forward in his chair. He'd been in jail since Feb. 8, when he was arrested and charged with spousal rape and other offenses. Heck, Gundersen had likely been holding his breath since the day before, when the jury had reached a verdict. For a variety of reasons, the judge had postponed the reading of the verdict to the following morning. And then, the morning of the verdict reading, there'd been further delays after Watson had accepted the pile of papers from the jury foreman via the bailiff, looked them over for a few dead-silence minutes, then gently instructed the jury to go back to their quarters and fill out the forms correctly.
Now they were back. Beside Gundersen sat his attorney, Russell Clanton. A few seats over sat the District Attorney team, with DA Paul Gallegos leaning back in his seat, leg crossed over knee, as Judge Watson scanned the verdict forms for the second time.
The audience sat deathly quiet, except for a couple of fidgeters whose chairs creaked. There were more than 50 onlookers, including several DA investigators and several Blue Lake residents -- one of whom had half-cracked, loudly, in the lobby before the reading, "Well, let's just hope he doesn't come back to Blue Lake and shoot us all." About 15 news people trained their cameras on the players. Cameras aren't usually allowed in Humboldt County courtrooms, but the Times-Standard had asked to be allowed to take photos and Watson granted the request.
Finally, Watson began to read the verdict -- first admonishing the roomful that there would be no outbursts, no thumps of applause. As he read, Gundersen remained seated forward; and Gallegos now sat forward, ramrod straight and on the edge of his seat.
The jury found Gundersen not guilty of 24 counts of felony spousal rape with the use of an intoxicant (his accuser, wife Darcie Seal, had in a pre-trial hearing retracted her accusations, instilling doubt); not guilty of felony attempting to dissuade a witness; guilty of 11 counts of misdemeanor battery (for taking nude pictures of Seal without her consent); guilty of violating a court order; and guilty of two felony weapons charges: unlawful possession of a firearm silencer and unlawful possession of a submachine gun.
Gundersen, allowed to leave the courtroom first, walked out with his attorney, his mouth a straight line. Gallegos likewise exhibited little emotion.
This Monday evening, after his bail had been reduced from $1.25 million to $50,000, Gundersen was let out of jail. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 22. At most, he faces three years and eight months. He also might still have to stand trial on rape charges related to another alleged victim.