Lights Out Gang Member Bails

by Bruce McEwen, February 17, 2011

Garrett A. Bonner, 18 years old and up to his eyeballs in felonious mischief that could send him to state prison, came to court under guard Monday afternoon to see if he could get his bail reduced.

No dice.

Bonner is the youngest of the three young men who held up Guerrero’s Tire Shop in Boonville a few weeks ago. From the looks of things so far, Bonner’s troubles are very similar to Eldon Hogan’s, another 18-year-old chronicled here two weeks ago whose criminal career began and ended with armed marijuana robbery in Redwood Valley.

Hogan, who had no criminal history, came within a whisper of going to prison, but his being a local boy with a strong family behind him probably gave him the advantage he needed to avoid that fate. The facts of his participation also worked in his favor. He was the wheelman while the other mopes ran into the house with guns. He'll do County time. Hogan was, however, packed off to San Quentin for an evaluation where he was beaten up and otherwise roughly handled, seems to have scared him straight. He kept a diary of his experiences and, well, the kid definitely does not care to go there again as an inmate.

Bonner may not be so lucky. He’s from out of town, and the judges want to discourage everyone — especially out-of-towners — from home invasions, which have plagued the Northcoast for a decade now.

Like Hogan, Bonner seems to have been the driver of the escape vehicle while the two older guys he was with whacked the four guys with guns and threatened to kill them as they relieved them of their jewelry and 18 pounds of processed marijuana. Young Mr. Bonner also seems to have been driving his mother’s car.

Mom is not happy.

Ms. Porter was in court when her son Garrett Bonner was arraigned the other day. She made it clear to her son just how displeased she was with him.

Ms. Porter was in court again Monday for the bail hearing, and so was the boy’s father, though it wasn’t obvious that the handsome and nicely turned out parents were still a couple. You had to wonder how a kid with no history of criminal behavior and apparently successful parents got sucked into this bonehead Boonville caper.

It was surmised at this paper's home office, “Obviously, the kid had his mom’s car and the two ex-cons he was with, the co-defendants, Ford and Patterson, both state prison parolees, had talked the kid into running a dumb errand with the promise of adventure and quick cash.”

Bonner’s mom and dad have retained Jeffery Fletcher, of Sacramento to handle the case.

Mr. Fletcher has appeared in Ukiah before. He, too, is an impressive fellow. Intellectually nimble and articulate, Fletcher had argued a Marsden Motion that the public defender, Linda Thompson, was not competent to defend Glenn Sunkett, also a black man from the East Bay and also accused of a home invasion pot robbery, that one in Fort Bragg.

Fletcher’s stint as Sunkett’s lawyer was succeeded by the current DA, C. David Eyster. As a private attorney, Mr. C. David Eyster, handled Sunkett’s motion for a new trial — which was denied by Judge Ronald Brown, who has since retired because he is suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Attorney Fletcher knows the ropes at the Mendocino County Courthouse almost as well as Eyster, and he argued eloquently for young Mr. Bonner's bail reduction. But Deputy DA Scott McMenomey prevailed in convincing Judge David Nelson to deny the motion. After all, the Boonville robbery was an armed robbery. Whatever Bonner's degree of involvement, he got himself into the big time when the people with him pulled their guns.

So Mr. McMenomey, the same prosecutor who so rigorously strove to get Eldon Hogan put away, was going to be prosecuting Garrett Bonner. McMenomey, to say the least, is not a bleeding heart.

Bail hearings are of particular interest to crime reporters, for two reasons. One is that you get an early glimpse of each side’s case — sure, the reporter has sensational headlines on the radio and in the dailies to go by, law enforcement’s take on the incident; and later you get the lawyers, the defendants, and then the victims, all ready to bend your ear — “Come on, man, listen to my side of the story!”

Your typical defendant will lie. Everybody knows it, including the judges, but there's nothing like seeing everyone involved in one place at one time, a sneak preview of what's to come.

But the second reason I like a bail hearing is it goes to the heart of the matter: Money. Does the defendant have enough to get himself out of jail while he waits to be tried? If he does, he probably also has enough money to buy himself some legal talent.

If he doesn't have money, he'll soon see a small, rather odd-looking woman who comes to visit him at the County Jail. She will say, “Hi, I'm your public defender.”

And he'll say to himself, “I'm screwed.”

I came to the Bonner hearing late – almost too late.

It was on the calendar for Department B, where I dutifully appeared, doffing my cap to an almost empty room. A lone prisoner sat in the dock. An old — previously young, I should say — Silver Shadow Rolls Royce of a judge, typical of the rash of visiting judges attending the courts this spring, His Honor Robert Baysinger, presided. The DA was there, and a junior lawyer from the Public Defender’s office, Jessica Hoagland. Shortly, I realized I’d been duped; that the big case was upstairs.

I climbed the five flights to Department H, to where the hearing had been removed by someone scribbling it out with a heavy marker on the docket, in time to hear Mr. Scott McMenomey say he sympathized with the family, but was more concerned with public safety. This was in response to Mr. Fletcher’s remarks concerning young Bonner’s little sister, who needed in-home medical attention which her big brother had been administrating while mom and dad were at work.

Bonner's parents had arranged for the money to be ready in the event attorney Fletcher got the bail reduced to $75K, but they had enough snap on hand even if Fletcher failed.

Fletcher argued that there was no gun recovered from the vehicle and the claims of the victims were suspect because they’d minimized the amount of pot ripped off as maybe a couple of pounds when it was actually more like 18 pounds.

Moreover, the lawyer continued, none of the victims had any injuries that resembled the kind usually associated with pistol-whippings.

Still, McMenomey maintained resolutely the $200k bail was low to begin with.

“It should be a million point one,” he said.

“Slow down,” Judge Nelson said, flipping through some pages on his desk before he darted into his office for a big book.

It turned out that there was no bail schedule for robbery in concert of a business — McMenomey was quoting the bail schedule for robbery in concert of an occupied residence, home invasion.

Bonner’s folks were there, doing everything they could. Their son's little sister needed him desperately. Their boy had been a fool. The kid realized he’d made a very stupid mistake, and he may not be able to survive paying for it in the state pen. He didn’t look like a tough guy or even a moderately tough guy. He looked like what he is — a scared kid.

Judge Nelson said, “We don’t have a bail schedule for Second Degree Robbery In Concert, but the current amount does seem fair. I realize there was not a gun in the vehicle when they were apprehended, but by then they’d gone some distance with opportunities to dispose of it. The motion for bail reduction is denied. I want to put this on for setting the prelim March 3rd.”

Garrett Bonner’s next move will be a visit to San Quentin for an evaluation. He might want to read Eldon Hogan’s diary of Hogan's trip to San Quentin for what to expect. Meanwhile, his folks put up the money and he’s out on bail.

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