Sunday, October 19, 2014

'Unfit for a Free Society'

Posted By on Sun, Oct 19, 2014 at 3:09 PM

A week after Bodhi Tree was sentenced to serve 105 years to life in state prison for murdering two people in Arcata last year and shooting a third in Eureka, a pre-sentencing report made public as a part of his case file sheds new light on the 29-year-old and his path through the criminal justice system. It also underscores the multi-layered tragedy that just played out before our community’s eyes.

The report paints a picture of a man born into difficult circumstances who suffered numerous childhood traumas and was never taught to harness his anger, a problem that compounded with the onset of multiple mental illnesses as he became an adult.

“When he first entered the adult criminal justice system at age 18, defendant was the type of transitional aged youth who service providers watched with bated breath in hopes that his psychiatric condition would stabilize and his out of control behavior would deescalate,” wrote Deputy Probation Officer Jeanne Kirke. “Unfortunately, that was not the case.”

A jury recently convicted Tree of the murders of Alan “Sunshine” Marcet, 27, and Christina Schwartz, 18, at an Arcata house party on May 18, 2013, finding he fatally shot the two as they lay in bed. No motive is clear, though prosecutors argued Tree has an established pattern of behaving aggressively toward women to the point that other men come to their defense.

The probation report is filled with scores of letters from friends and family of Marcet and Schwartz mourning their loss and urging the court to sentence Tree to the maximum allowable under the law. Combined, the letters paint a portrait of two young people who were well loved, and loved well in return.

They describe Marcet as vibrant.

“He always had a smile on his face and was willing to cheer up your day,” wrote friend Ashley Proulx. “Alan later received the nickname ‘Sunshine,’ because of the fact that even in the darkest of times he was there to light up your life; and that goes for anyone who was around him.”

Schwartz is remembered in the letters as a talented young woman just entering adulthood; sweet, down-to-earth with a bubbly and infectious personality. Her loss has been devastating to many. Friend Acacia Raskin wrote that she still remembers the moment she learned of Schwartz’s death.

“I remember the sickening feeling I had in my stomach,” Raskin wrote. “I remember not being able to stand up without falling to my knees in tears. I remember having to break the news to so many of our friends. And I remember the tears and the screaming that came out of every single one of them.”

Those descriptions come in stark contrast to the picture the report paints of Tree.

Born July 5, 1985, Tree grew up in Garberville with his parents, but bounced around, living in at least six different communities by the time his mother died of an aneurism when he was 13. But Tree’s troubles began long before that, according to a letter from Kai Ferrara included in the report.

“At a very young age, Bodhi with his family sporadically came to live in my close-knit community,” Ferrara wrote, adding that Tree is about seven years his junior. “His mother had ongoing drug use and mental health issues and did not provide the adequate supervision or consistency necessary to raise a responsible human being. His family is very dysfunctional — they often lived out of a car, and weren’t cared for regularly. These conditions contributed to, but do not excuse, the violent and dangerously irresponsible character that he has been since infancy.”

Ferrara went on to describe Tree’s family’s visits to his community as “a major disturbance to our peace.” Describing Tree as someone who always had violent tendencies and trouble controlling his impulses, Ferrara wrote that he remembers Tree as a 2-year-old attacking another kid, tackling, kicking and biting him. A few years later, Ferrara wrote that Tree sustained major injuries after climbing into a pot of boiling water that he’d been warned repeatedly not to go near. During his early childhood, Tree was also attacked by dogs, leaving him with permanent scarring, according to the report.

As Tree grew older, he developed “a rude, aggressive and violently sexual outlook toward women,” Ferrara wrote, referring to one instance when Tree was 8 and threatened a girl with violent and sexual acts.

“When he started high school, Bodhi’s attitude improved somewhat, and I believed he had some potential, but I never felt safe in his presence,” Ferrara wrote. “He expressed to me that his relations with humans left him feeling strained and a feeling of violence tainted his communication.”

According to the probation report, Tree’s criminal behavior began not long after his mother died and he wound up in the hospital for alcohol poisoning at the age of 13. From there, Tree had a long string of arrests ¬— on suspicion of theft, burglary, drunk in public, petty theft, public intoxication and sexual battery. After becoming a ward of the state, Tree absconded to Alaska, where he was soon arrested for driving drunk without a license. While in custody there, he became paranoid and delusional, exhibiting “disorganized thought patterns,” according to the report, and would be diagnosed with mental illness — psychotic disorder, cyclothymic disorder and schizo-type personality traits — for the first time. According to the probation report, a psychiatrist strongly recommended he be placed on anti-psychotic and mood stabilizing medications. Tree’s father refused.

Tree was arrested as an adult for the first time in 2004, when he was found delusional, disoriented and confused in a Fickle Hill Road home when the residents returned from a vacation. Prior to pleading guilty in the case, Tree spent three months in a state mental hospital after being determined unfit for the court proceeding. A few years later, Tree was again arrested, this time for severally beating a developmentally delayed acquaintance he accused of disrespecting him. Again, Tree spent months in a mental hospital after being declared mentally unfit to stand trial.

In late 2011, Tree drank more than a pint of whiskey and got behind the wheel of his friend’s Lexus, ultimately leading police on a high speed chase that reached speeds of 100 mph. He was arrested after crashing multiple times and attempting to run down a police officer. He pleaded guilty in the case in 2012 and was sentenced to three years in state prison, but returned to Eureka in April 2013, owing his early release to California’s new prison realignment law.

During the six weeks Tree was out of prison before being arrested for murder, he met with his probation officer nine times and had checked himself into a clean and sober house within a week of his release. Tree also met twice with county mental health staff, who diagnosed him with a mood disorder, impulse control problems and alcohol dependence, as well as histories of anti-social personality disorder and schizophrenia. Tree refused to take psychotropic medications, according to the report and, at some point in early May, absconded from the safe and sober house and began drinking heavily and showing up at the home on Arcata’s Eye Street where he ultimately gunned down Schwartz and Marcet.

The probation report concludes: “While defendant’s plight in life is unfortunate, no misfortune bestowed upon an individual could ever mitigate the hauntingly cold blooded violence defendant demonstrated when he committed these heinous crimes, which have left our community shocked and dismayed. Nor could such a plight ever mitigate the unfathomable anguish defendant inflicted upon his victims and his victims’ next of kin. There is no doubt that defendant’s psychiatric related cognitive deficits and distortions coupled with his devastating acts of vengeful violence have rendered him unfit for free society.”

Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Elan Firpo, who prosecuted Tree’s case, said there’s no question it’s tragic for all involved. Tree has been deeply entrenched in the justice system his entire adult life, Firpo said, but sadly it was unable to rein in his proclivity for violence and aggression. And, up until the very end, Firpo said Tree showed no remorse for his crimes. She recalled a moment during Tree’s sentencing hearing when Schwartz’s mother was addressing the court, talking of the loss and heartbreak she’s endured in the wake of her only child’s violent death. At one point, Firpo said, Schwartz asked Tree — who sat through the hearing fidgeting with his handcuffs, his eyes trained downward in front of him — to look at her. Firpo said Tree mumbled, “no,” and didn’t move. Tina Schwartz then told Tree she would be praying for him, Firpo said.

In his letter to the court, Ferrara concluded with a plea to the judge.

“I believe it is the responsibility of our justice system to protect its citizens from people as dangerous as my childhood friend Bodhi Tree,” Ferrara wrote. “With the delinquency of his parents, I have always felt like an older brother to him, wishing the best for him and wanting to help. However, as all of his past friends have individually learned, there is no safe place near him. When he is on the street, he is a free roaming threat to whoever has the misfortune and responsibility of his presence.

“As a kid, Bodhi needed constant supervision, which his parents were not capable of providing. As an adult, Bodhi needs constant supervision, and only our jail system can provide the kind of safety we citizens need. It is an incredible misfortune that two beautiful innocent lives have been lost, and we must use this experience to prevent further imminent harm. I worry that Bodhi Tree will be out on the streets in 10 years’ time. We citizens need to be safe for longer than that.

“Please, do not allow him freedom, ever.”

To read more about Tree's past, and the role of probation reports in our justice system, read

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Thadeus Greenson

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

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