There were enough assault weapons to arm a platoon of marines. Laid out in front of the jury box, there they were in all their lethal splendor, a gun guy's dream — 22 hand held killing machines:
Two Street Sweeper automatic shotguns with big drum magazines; two Uzi submachine guns; a Bushmaster AR 15; a Mack 10; an M-4; and several other automatic rifles and pistols, enough firepower for a medium-level Afghan warlord, and way more than enough to make your average Mendo peacenik juror go weak in the knees.
What kind of gun junkie could desire all these assault weapons?
Street Sweepers, Uzis and Bushmasters are not designed to guard hearth and home or to defend a marijuana grow. These babies are designed to kill large numbers of people real fast.
The long table loaded down with weapons was likely to make an unfavorable impression on the jury, and the lawyer for defense, ace Ukiah attorney Keith Faulder, wanted them removed.
Earlier in the week, Faulder had conceded, 'stipulated' in lawyer talk, that the guns were indeed assault weapons and that there were lots of them. But stipulating that there were a bunch of guns is a lot better than having them sitting there in front of the jury when you're trying to convince a jury that your client is merely one more outback ag guy who just happens to collect guns like some people collect stamps or miniature whiskey bottles.
Mr. Faulder’s client was a Mr. Matthew Graves of Leggett, the northern suburb of Laytonville. This was Mr. Graves' second trial for cultivation of the peace drug and his second time around for possession of a firearm by a felon. One gun or a hundred if you're a felon, it's the same charge in the blind eyes of Lady Justice.
Mr. Graves' first trial had ended in a hung jury. Apparently, Judge Richard Henderson didn’t want that to happen again because he overruled Faulder’s objection to the display of weapons, saying they were part of the case, and they'd stay right there for everyone to see.
Faulder continued to insist that the presentation of the weaponry had “no probative value,” meaning that the display was not relevant to the meat of the charges against Mr. Graves. Faulder said it was being done “just to inflame the jury.”
Faulder also noted that it was doubly unfair to the defense since he was not going to be allowed by the judge to present his client’s medical marijuana recommendations.
But Judge Henderson would not relent.
“I’ve made my ruling,” the judge said and told his bailiff to bring up the jury.
Mr. Graves stood in his dark suit and bright tie looking a little bit like a grammar school principal proud of his student exhibits on the first day of a science fair.
As the jurors filed past the guns their eyes tended to go wide.
Also wearing a dark suit was Special Agent Peter Hoyle, the man who had found the weapons. Deputy DA Katherine ‘Kitty’ Houston called Hoyle as her next witness. Deputy Gupta, who had been in charge of the raid on the Graves property back in November of 2008, had already testified. Gupta’s testimony had been about the main structure on the Graves property, a large garage, and some of the ATVs, a backhoe, a dump truck, and other vehicles. The Graves place was in the Foster Creek drainage south of Leggett, home of the Drive-Thru Tree.
When Gupta’s team had arrived there was a carpenter at work inside the garage. This individual was allowed to collect his tools and leave. There were grow lights, ballasts, and other items used for indoor marijuana grows, Gupta said. The raid team was giving the garage a good look, and was considering a load of potting soil in the dump truck when Special Agent Hoyle called out.
Hoyle had found a weapons cache down by the creek.
When Ms. Houston called Hoyle to the stand, Faulder again complained.
“This is a surprise to me,” he said. “I was not notified that Special Agent Hoyle was going to be the next witness.”
The cagy, articulate Hoyle is never an easy witness for a defense attorney, especially a defense attorney who wasn't ready for him. The legendary cop is a load on the witness stand.
Faulder was hurriedly checking some photographs, which he complained had been presented to him out of order. Judge Henderson didn’t comment on Faulder’s complaints. Hoyle was sworn in and Ms. Houston asked how he’d found the guns.
“Deputy Gupta asked Deputy Hendry and I to look around to see if we saw anything of interest.”
“And what did you see?”
“I looked over an embankment and saw a black plastic bag and a suitcase-type item.”
The suitcase-type item turned out to be a military weapons case, and the plastic bag on top of it contained a rifle. The weapons case, and another even larger case stashed behind nearby trees, contained the impressive assortment of weapons displayed in the courtroom.
Hoyle named some of the weapons: “Two Street Sweepers, two Uzis, a Mack 10, an M-4, various handguns.”
“What did you do next?”
“I called Deputy Gupta, and once he took custody of them, I left.”
Faulder asked, “Did you take any notes that day?”
“Did you write a report?”
“So there’s no documentation of anything you did that day. Did you do anything with the weapons after turning them over to Deputy Gupta?”
“You didn’t try to find the owner of the guns?”
Hoyle said that was Gupta’s concern.
“But if it were you,” Faulder persisted, “wouldn’t you try to find the owner?”
“Well, first my procedure would be to see if they were stolen. Then, for the handguns, to see if they were registered.”
“Is there a database to find out who the owners are?”
“Yes, you can find out the first owner, but obviously they change hands.”
Mr. Faulder had nothing further. It's wiser to get Hoyle on and off as quickly as possible, before he turns the questions around and sends them pinging off the defense attorney's head.
Ms. Houston called Agent Beau Bilek of the DEA, who had been part of the raid on Matt Graves’ property. Beau Bilek said there was a federal side to the case. He'd taken custody of the guns from Deputy Gupta. “I was charged with processing them as non-drug evidence,” Beau Bilek said. “We were able to obtain serial numbers and began the tracing process to search for the original purchasers; then they were delivered to the federal building in San Francisco for fingerprinting.”
At this point, Ms. Houston changed the subject, asking Beau Bilek about the Graves property, the various features of the terrain and the structures on it.
Beau Bilek said he’d followed an irrigation line along an ATV trail uphill from the residence. Half way up the grade he found some water tanks next to a structure he recognized as a drying room. It was insulated and heated with propane, the whole of it hidden under camo netting. At the top of the ridge Beau Bilek had found pots and other growing supplies.
Again Ms. Houston changed the subject.
“Was Mr. Graves detained throughout the time you were there?”
“Yes. He was handcuffed, and sitting on a chair. After a while we handcuffed him with his hands in front to make him more comfortable.”
“Did something happen after you changed the handcuffs?”
“Yes. He attempted to flee. He ran into some brush, and I only saw fleeting glimpses of him as he was going down the hill. I raced after him yelling for him to stop.”
“Did he stop?”
“No. It was a very steep hill down to the streambed and after about 100 meters I caught up with him and tried to re-arrest him. Two of the others followed and we were able to restrain him. He was put in Hoyle’s vehicle and shortly after that he was removed from the scene in a patrol car.”
How could a perp possibly outrun a cop named Beau Bilek?
It had taken all week to pick Graves' jury. Many were summoned, few chosen. When the 12 jurors and two alternates were finally decided upon, it was already late Thursday morning, and with the court being reserved for other matters on Friday, the trial had to wait until next week. It is expected to last two more weeks, as the talented Mr. Faulder has said he intends to present an active defense, with many witnesses, among them some experts on medical marijuana and perhaps even the legal owners of the guns.
* * *
In other gun news, the three surviving defendants in the Laytonville home invasion that resulted in the fourth invader being shot dead, were back in court. Tyrone Bell, Noah Shinn and Christopher Shinn are being charged with first-degree provocative murder. If these Sacramento boys hadn't busted in on the pistol packin' momma who put a fatal whole in Bandit Number Four with her .357, thus making the Sacto boys responsible for their comrade's death, they wouldn't be looking at Murder One.
The preliminary hearing couldn’t go forward, however. The defense lawyers want to inspect the scene of the crime, but the lady who shot the one invader dead won’t give them permission, and she's obviously a lady who, when she says No, she means No. The lawyers are hoping to get a court order for the visit, which they might be wise to make in a humvee. The request to visit the Laytonville home of Madam .357 was put on the calendar for Friday, February 25.
* * *
A Ms. Vasquez turned out to be another sign that sanity has re-established itself in the DA’s Office. Ms. Vasquez was charged with three felonies — false citizenship documents, perjury, and filing a false tax return. The deal Deputy DA Steve Jackson offered Ms. Vasquez was that if she’d plea to the first two, he’d drop the third. She would be deported, but at least she’d get her tax return. If she came back into the country she’d have to serve five years on probation. Under the previous DA, Ms. Vasquez never would have gotten her tax return, and if this isn't a great county in a great country name another one where this kind of difference would be split into humane thirds.