Monday, February 17, 2014

Updated: Questions Follow Pleas in Stabbing Case

Posted By on Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 4:18 PM

click to enlarge Juan Joseph Ferrer - HUMBOLDT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Humboldt County Sheriff's Office
  • Juan Joseph Ferrer
It looks like the Humboldt County district attorney’s race is hitting stride.

In case you missed it, a 35-year-old Arcata man may spend as little as two years in county jail for the stabbing death of an Abruzzi chef late last year and it is becoming somewhat of a campaign issue.

Douglas Anderson-Jordet was found bleeding to death at the intersection of 12 and H streets on Nov. 25, with a single stab wound to the heart. He died en route to the hospital.

Last week, the three suspects in the case — Juan Joseph Ferrer, 35, Nicholas Benjamin Stoiber, 28, and Sophie Buttercup Rocheleau, 24, — pleaded no contest to charges stemming from Anderson-Jordet’s death, a couple months after all were arrested on suspicion of murder. Ferrer pleaded to aggravated involuntary manslaughter, Stoiber pleaded to assault and Rocheleau to battery. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Ferrer will be sentenced to four years' confinement but will serve only two with good behavior, according to prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Elan Firpo. Under California’s new realignment law, he will also be spared state prison and will serve his sentence in county jail.

Stoiber and Rocheleau are unlikely to serve any jail time in the case.

Reaction to news of the plea agreement was swift, with some focused on Firpo’s candidacy to succeed Paul Gallegos as the county’s next district attorney.

“Two years in county jail? Wow… I guess I know who I won’t vote for in the upcoming DA election,” wrote one commenter on the Mad River Union’s story about the disposition.

Similar comments cropped up elsewhere, spawning others targeting some of Firpo’s campaign opponents — Maggie Fleming, Arnie Klein and Allan Dollison. On Tuesday, Dollison's campaign issued a press release stating his opposition to the plea deal. The question, it seems, is: Did Ferrer get off light? And, whether the answer is yes or no, what does the case tell us about the race for district attorney?

Here’s the quick rundown of what we know happened that night. Firpo told KIEM that all four people involved had been drinking on the night in question, and Kevin Hoover’s story in the Mad River Union indicates the defendants claimed Anderson-Jordet “had aggressively insulted Rocheleau with homophobic and racial slurs.” Hoover’s article states those claims were “partially corroborated” by an independent witness.

The confrontation turned physical when Stoiber punched Anderson-Jordet in the mouth, according to Hoover’s story, adding that, “at some point,” Ferrer stabbed Anderson-Jordet below the rib cage at such an angle that the knife punctured the victim’s heart.

Reached Tuesday, Ferrer’s attorney, Marek Reavis, disputed that version of events, saying he “would have loved” to take the case to trial. Reavis said his client, who identifies himself as a member of the LGBT community, Stoiber and Rocheleau were in the street when Anderson-Jordet approached. “All three individuals were relatively flamboyantly dressed — wearing makeup, nails painted, that sort of thing,” Reavis said. “Mr. Anderson-Jordet made some very homophobic statements, and that was immediately followed by him approaching them. He approached Mr. Ferrer in a very intense way, with his hand in his pocket, advancing in an aggressive fashion.”

Frightened, Ferrer stepped back and drew a knife from his pocket, Reavis said. “Anderson-Jordet took a swing at Ferrer, missed and fell against Mr. Ferrer,” Reavis said, adding that Anderson-Jordet fell onto the knife. “It was not an intentional stabbing.”

At this point, Reavis said, Stoiber and Rocheleau didn’t realize Anderson-Jordet had been stabbed and actually thought he was attacking Ferrer, and came to their friend’s aid. When the three left the scene, Reavis said, Anderson-Jordet followed them, yelling another homophobic slur as the three walked away. Ultimately, Reavis said, Anderson-Jordet collapsed about a block away from the scene of the altercation.

“They were attacked,” Reavis said of his client and his two friends. “None of them intended this tragic outcome. None of them wanted this to happen and none of them initiated this altercation.”

Ultimately, the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office charged Ferrer with murder, and Rocheleau and Stoiber with felony assault likely to produce great bodily injury.

Under California law, homicide is broken into two general categories: murder and manslaughter. Murder requires a state of mind known as “malice aforethought,” which can manifest in two ways. Expressed malice is the most straightforward, and occurs when someone acts with a specific intent to kill the victim. Implied malice comes when someone intentionally commits an act that is inherently dangerous to human life and does so with a conscious and willful disregard for human life.

Manslaughter in California is broken into two general categories: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 11 years, and occurs when someone intentionally kills another person during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion. Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, carries a maximum sentence of four years, and occurs when someone kills another without malice or an intent to kill.

The California Criminal Jury Instructions — which are given to juries to help explain the law before they start deliberating in a case — clarify the distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. “When a person commits an unlawful killing but does not intend to kill and does not act with conscious disregard for human life, then the crime is involuntary manslaughter,” the instructions state. “The difference between other homicide offenses and involuntary manslaughter depends on whether the person was aware of the risk to life that his or her actions created and consciously disregarded that risk.”

According to Hoover’s story, Firpo said she felt the deal with Ferrer was appropriate because there was evidence that Anderson-Jordet instigated a verbal confrontation that led to the fight and his ultimate stabbing, and that there was no indication Ferrer actually intended to kill him. Further, Firpo told Hoover, Anderson-Jordet’s family didn’t want the case to go to trial, where the victim’s life and actions would be put under a microscope.

Reavis said he was prepared to bring forward witnesses who would testify that Anderson-Jordet’s demeanor changed when he’d been drinking. “Unfortunately, the evidence is quite clear that Mr. Anderson-Jordet, when intoxicated, became a very different person and very aggressive,” Reavis said.

Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman said he spoke with Firpo prior to the plea agreements and she explained the issues with the case and the proposed disposition. Chapman said it’s not his place to agree or disagree with a disposition in any given case.

“All we can do is investigate to the best of our abilities and turn cases over to the DA,” he said. “Having said all that, I understood why the cases were resolved in that manner and I do not disagree with the disposition.”

Reavis said he was very confident taking the case to trial and arguing that Ferrer acted in self-defense. But, he said, Ferrer was facing life in prison and there’s an inherent uncertainty in jury trials, which prompted him to accept the plea deal. Ferrer, Reavis said, is deeply remorseful at having killed a man.

“Mr. Ferrer is not an aggressive young man,” Reavis said. “He is a very soft-spoken member of the LGBT community. He had reason to be scared. And, if he overreacted, I don’t think there’s anybody that feels it any more deeply than he. He feels terribly about this.”

All three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced April 3.

The full text of Allan Dollison's press release:

EUREKA, CA—Allan Dollison, candidate for Humboldt County District Attorney is opposed to the plea deal of Involuntary Manslaughter given out to Juan Joseph Ferrer, by DA Candidate Elan Firpo. He was charged with Murder of Douglas Allen Anderson-Jordet, after stabbing the victim in the heart.

Firpo was quoted as saying, “In hearing the evidence, it was three strangers that got into a fight that went horribly wrong,” Firpo said. “(Ferrer) didn't seek to kill Mr. Jordet.” It appears and court records confirmed that the case never even went to preliminary hearing, much less a trial so no evidence was in fact ever “heard.”

According to media reports, the following facts were shown:
1) A verbal argument escalated into a physical fight, wherein the Murder victim was violently punched by Mr. Ferrer’s Co-Defendant, which led to his teeth splitting his upper lip.
2) At some point, Mr. Ferrer then took a knife out and stabbed Mr. Anderson-Jordet.
3) Mr. Ferrer with his two friends then fled the scene, to leave Mr. Anderson-Jordet to die in the street, which he did.
4) The knife was never recovered

This by no means was self-defense. Involuntary Manslaughter is typically called an accidental killing. There was no accident, when Mr. Ferrer used a knife to stab the victim. That was Murder. Intent to kill or cause great bodily injury is obviously malice, the legal standard for Murder, not Involuntary Manslaughter. Fleeing the scene shows consciousness of guilt, a factor for the Jury.

If it is true that the victim consumed Alcohol, that is not relevant, it is not a defense to murder. You can’t just kill people just because they’ve consumed Alcohol. A pre-trial motion would have kept that from the jury as well as the basis of the verbal argument. This was Murder and should NOT have been plead down to Involuntary Manslaughter. Due to changes in sentencing laws, Defendant Ferrer cannot go to Prison. Any time must be served in County Jail.

In short, “Given these facts I would never have allowed such a plea deal. Although I have pointed out the dangerously low staffing levels are a huge problem, this plea deal rests on a misconception of Murder and the law. I have taken Murder cases to trial. Ms. Firpo has not.” Dollison stated. The DA’s Press release left out the Judge and the Defense Counsel. Mr. Ferrer was represented by Deputy Conflict Counsel Marek Reavis. The Judge is the Hon. Joyce Hinrichs.

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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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