Friday, March 25, 2022

SoHum Man Pleads Guilty in Grisly 2020 Killing

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2022 at 5:51 PM

click to enlarge Humboldt County Courthouse - FILE
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  • Humboldt County Courthouse
A Southern Humboldt man pleaded guilty today to manslaughter in connection with the grisly February of 2020 killing of a man that he reportedly kidnapped off a rural road.

Under the plea deal, 34-year-old Ryan Tanner is scheduled to be sentenced April 11 to 39 years in prison and agreed to waive credit for the two years he has already served in jail, according to a news release from the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office. He also entered guilty pleas to 11 counts involving seven other people.

Jury selection had been underway for Tanner's trial in the death of Jason Todd Garrett, 32, whose body was found on the defendant's property.

According to testimony during the case's preliminary hearing, Tanner kidnapped Garrett after finding him working on a van near his China Creek property, taking the Garberville resident back to his house where Tanner interrogated him about being a thief and cut Garrett's throat before binding the wound with duct tape. Garrett was later shot in the head.

The witness told law enforcement that Tanner threatened his life if he didn't assist  with the killing and in burying Garrett's body and directed them to the burial site, according to the DA's release.

But, according to the DA's release, Christopher Champagne's testimony "complicated the case, because it included the false claim that Tanner also murdered six law enforcement officers in the days after Garrett’s murder."

"However, DNA evidence linked Tanner to Garrett’s murder: investigators found a cigarette butt with Tanner’s DNA close to Garrett’s grave," the release states. "Additionally, a criminalist from the California Department of Justice found DNA linking Garrett, Champagne and Tanner to the roll of duct tape used on Garrett’s neck. Around the time of Garrett’s murder, citizens of the Briceland, Ettersberg, and Redway communities had become increasingly concerned with Tanner’s behavior."

That included incidents in the days before Garrett's death in which Tanner reportedly threatened neighbors with a rifle and stole a car while armed, the release states, as well as an assault on his girlfriend with a firearm in previous weeks.

The DA's Office states that family members and victims were notified prior to the plea being accepted.

Read the full release below:

Today, jury selection in the matter of People v. Ryan Tanner (34) was interrupted when Tanner, through his attorneys Russell Clanton and Zack Curtis, sought to enter a guilty plea for the February 2020 killing of Jason Todd Garrett (age 32) of Garberville, CA along with guilty pleas for additional crimes.

At the preliminary hearing, witness Christopher Champagne stated that Garrett was kidnapped by Tanner as Garrett worked on a van along a rural road near Tanner’s property in China Creek, CA. Champagne said that Tanner then lit the van on fire and took Garrett back to his home, where he interrogated Garrett about possibly being a thief. Champagne testified that at one point, Tanner used a knife to cut Garrett’s throat and then used duct tape to cover his wound. Later, Tanner used a rifle to shoot Garrett in the head at close range. Tanner then burnt down the cabin where the homicide occurred.

During the investigation of the case, Champagne had informed Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department investigators that Tanner had threatened to kill him if he did not assist with the murder and subsequent burial of Garrett’s body. It was Champagne who led investigators to Garrett’s body, located in a hidden grave on Tanner’s property.

Champagne’s testimony during the preliminary hearing complicated the case, because it included the false claim that Tanner also murdered six law enforcement officers in the days after Garrett’s murder. However, DNA evidence linked Tanner to Garrett’s murder: investigators found a cigarette butt with Tanner’s DNA close to Garrett’s grave. Additionally, a criminalist from the California Department of Justice found DNA linking Garrett, Champagne and Tanner to the roll of duct tape used on Garrett’s neck. Around the time of Garrett’s murder, citizens of the Briceland, Ettersberg, and Redway communities had become increasingly concerned with Tanner’s behavior.

A few days prior to the murder, Tanner used a rifle to threaten his neighbors and, on another occasion, stole a car from them while armed with a firearm. Also, in the weeks prior to the murder, Tanner assaulted his girlfriend with a firearm.

Earlier this week, Judge Cockrum ruled that prosecutors would be allowed to present evidence of a prior kidnapping a year before the murder, as well as recordings of Tanner during a phone call wherein he claimed that he was the “guardian of the mountain” and if thieves came on his property, they “might end up dead.”

Including his guilty plea to manslaughter with use of a firearm for the killing of Garrett, Tanner pled to a total of eleven counts (each one is classified as a “strike”) against seven different victims.

On April 11, 2022, Tanner will be sentenced to 39 years in prison and will waive credit for the more than two years he has already served in jail. Prior to accepting the plea family members and victims were notified.

Deputy District Attorney Whitney Timm prosecuted the case with assistance from District Attorney Investigator Marvin Kirkpatrick; Deputy District Attorneys Luke Bernthal and Jessica Acosta; and District Attorney Victim Witness Advocate Velda Gooden.
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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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