By the end of Matt Graves’ four-week long marijuana cultivation trial, the opposing lawyers were at each other's throats. The jury was so tired of the back and forth a couple of them had slept through parts of the proceedings.
Judge Richard Henderson sometimes seemed to enter a trance-like state of his own. It resembles sleep, but just when you think he's gone off into slumberland he's leaning down at his courtroom, all ears.
When Deputy DA Katherine ‘Kitty’ Houston gave her closing argument, she tartly dismissed the defendant as a bald-faced liar, a bad hat, not worth her time, and then went to work on her opponent, defense attorney Keith Faulder, denouncing him as if he were Mr. Graves' co-defendant.
For his part, Faulder, sotto voce, had lobbed insults at Houston until Judge Richard Henderson fixed a cold, hard stare on Faulder and said, "You're going to make me move on you, Mr. Faulder, and you're not going to like it."
Ms. Houston is a careful, thorough prosecutor who knows the law inside and out, going about her work with the dispatch of the cool professional.
Mr. Faulder is a brilliant, fearless guy who is sometimes a little too bold for his own courtroom good.
As the attorneys sniped at each other, their mutual contempt threatened to disrupt the proceedings.
Mathew Graves had spent the late fall day of November 6th, 2008, handcuffed to a chair in the sun. Ms. Houston said the cops had brought Mr. Graves outside so he could be “more comfortable, and enjoy the fine weather. It was a nice autumn day.”
Which had to have been a stretch given the normal circumstances of a Bell Springs police raid.
Mr. Faulder for the Defense said the cops brought their captive Mr. Graves out of the house not to sit him down in the sun but so Graves could watch his property being hauled off. With the suspect occasionally helping the cops with operating instructions, and using Graves' own forklift, the parade of Graves' confiscated gear commenced.
The cops, with Graves watching, used Graves’ forklift to load Graves' property onto Graves' trailers which were coupled to Graves' trucks which were then driven off Graves' property.
For most of the afternoon Faulder showed pictures of things the cops took: A backhoe, D-3 Cat, DitchWitch, Unimog, compressors and generators, ATVs, pickup trucks, camp trailers, fuel tanks, and many hundreds of gallons of fuel to run all the equipment, along with cases of oil, oil filters, batteries and any number of useful things for the operation of a construction company.
The prize it seemed was the Mercedes Unimog, a fancy dump truck, which Graves says he'd mortgaged his Island Mountain property to buy.
A lot of assets were seized. If Graves doesn't get them back, they become the property of law enforcement.
Graves said Special Agent Peter Hoyle taunted him the whole time, striding in and out of his house and through Graves flowerbeds in his WaffleStomper combat boots, saying things like, “We’re taking you down, boy! We’re taking everything you got, punk. We’ll take your kids, too! You’re going down.”
For the famously terse Hoyle, these remarks would represent a kind of State of the Union address.
As they were loading up the power generators for the house, Hoyle reputedly remarked to Graves, “Good thing you have back-up solar panels, ha-ha-hah!”
People who’ve never seen the sunny side of the cops beyond a speeding ticket will scarcely believe that officers of the law can behave in such an unprofessional manner, which may account for Ms. Houston's careful exclusion from the jury of all persons who had ever been busted, really busted.
From the beginning of the Graves trial, it was assumed that Faulder would dance circles around Houston. But Judge Henderson evened things out by constantly ruling against Faulder/Graves, albeit making most of his rulings outside the presence of the jury.
Remember the guns Special Agent Hoyle found? The assault weapons? The weapons cache Hoyle stumbled onto the moment he arrived? It turns out their owner had filed a claim to get his guns back. And guess what, the owner was not Matt Graves, it was a Laytonville guy known as Motorcycle Mike. Motorcycle Mike said he owned the arsenal found at Graves' place.
Judge Henderson decided this document demanding the return of Motorcycle Mike’s guns should be kept out of evidence. There was no reason, the judge ruled, that the jury should ever see it.
Graves month-long trial ended last week, but at press-time the jury was still out. This was Graves’ second trial, the first one having ended with a hung jury, and every precaution has been taken to ensure that his jury doesn't hang again. Jury selection had taken a very long week with perhaps as many as 320 Mendo voters carefully scrutinized before the magic number was seated.
One of the judge’s instructions was that the jurors were to avoid making certain inferences. The judge’s rulings were on points of law, he said, and the jury was not to speculate as to why they were all, well, ah, er in favor of the prosecution.
Nor were the jurors to consider any of the venomous and, at times, absurd verbal sparring of the two lawyers.
The likelihood that Graves was selling weed certainly seemed plausible. Twenty-seven pounds of bud had been found in his house. Graves said it was for his own use and for his neighbor's use.
Faulder brought in the neighbor, Mr. Chris Hollinger, a cancer patient with whom Graves had a written agreement to supply marijuana. Hollinger said that after the eradication of his own garden by pot raiders the previous month, he purchased marijuana from Graves.
Ms. Houston didn’t believe it. She said Graves had hired his neighbors to grow marijuana for him. The marijuana in Graves’ house was what Ms. Houston characterized as “circumstantial evidence” of Graves’ commercial growing operation.
You could safely say that all of Graves' Bell Springs neighbors in every direction were in the bud business, so why pick on Matt? Why he seems to be the only one of these Bell Springs layabouts with any ambition. He had a gas station, a health food co-op, a construction company. A man with so much enterprise will naturally inspire the resentment of a bunch of shiftless hippies, which explains why there’s a series of cases pending in civil court to get restraining orders against Graves, and some of these Graves'—hostile neighbors seemed to have become what the cops call “confidential informants.”
Motorcycle Mike’s petition to get the guns back being disallowed, Faulder put Graves on the stand so Graves could explain who the guns belonged to. Faulder displayed a photo of the boxes of guns where they were found.
Faulder: “Did you and I go to this spot, the place depicted in the photograph?”
Graves: “Yes, we found it.”
Faulder: “Is it on your property?”
Graves: “No, it’s not.”
Faulder: “Do you know who these boxes of guns belongs to?”
Graves: “Yes. Mike Tomata.”
Faulder: “Who is Mike Tomata?”
Graves: “A guy in the Bay Area who builds custom motorcycles, Motorcycle Mike.”
Faulder: “How did you know these were his guns?”
Graves: “He told me.”
Faulder: “What were they doing up there?”
Graves: “He had been up there shooting.”
Faulder: “How did you know this?”
Graves: “I saw him as I was driving down from the shop; he was going the other way and he said” —
Houston: “Objection, hearsay, your honor.”
Faulder: “Your honor, it doesn’t go to the truth of the matter just to show how my client knew how they came to be there.”
Henderson: “The objection was sustained, counsel.”
Houston: “I want it stricken from the record.”
Henderson: “Ladies and gentlemen, you are to disregard the last question and answer.”
Faulder laughed bitterly and resumed his interrogatory.
“How did Mike Tomata come to be in the area?”
Graves: “He called me and asked if he could” —
Houston: “Objection, hearsay.”
Faulder: “But, your honor”—
Henderson: “The objection was sustained.”
Faulder’s laughed again, the laugh sounding even more bitter than his first. He said, “Did you give Mr. Tomata permission to come up to your property?”
Houston: “Objection, lacks foundation.”
Faulder’s laugh went up the scale.
“Let me ask you this,” Faulder said: “Do you know where Tomata is now?”
Houston: “Objection, relevance.”
Faulder’s laugh had become a grim grin.
“Do you know how to contact Tomata?”
Houston: “Objection, relevance.”
Henderson: “How is this relevant, counsel?”
Faulder: “To show why we were unable to subpoena Mr. Tomata, your honor.”
Henderson: “The objection is sustained.”
Faulder: “Judge, you’re making it impossible for me to explain to the jury this very important set of facts.”
Henderson: “The objection was sustained, counsel.”
Faulder: “Did you ever speak to Mr. Tomata’s attorney?”
Houston: “Objection — judge, could we have a sidebar?”
The attorneys hurried to the bench. A long unhappy quarrel ensued.
No more discussion as to the true ownership of the guns was allowed.
The cops said Graves had made a run for it the day of the raid. Faulder asked his client about the running away episode.
Graves: “I wanted to call my son, who was getting out of school, and warn him not to come into this mess. They wouldn’t let me. They wanted his truck. They kept taunting me, saying I’d never see my kids again. I guess I lost it and started running.”
Faulder: “Who caught you?”
Graves: “Officer Kalinowski, a big guy, about six-six.”
Faulder: “What did he do when he caught you?”
Graves: “He hit me in the face.”
Faulder: “Is that why you were bleeding?”
Faulder: “Why did he hit you?”
Graves: “He wanted me to get down.”
Ms. Houston started her cross examination.
“So Mr. Graves, let’s talk about your kids. You have four, is that correct?”
Graves: “Yes, that’s right.”
Houston: “And you encouraged your older children, Tyrell and Sensi, to go to college?”
Faulder: “Objection, your honor. There’s no relevance.”
Henderson: “I’ll allow it.”
Houston couldn’t repress a gloating smirk in Faulder’s direction. She said, “And how much did that cost, $40-50,000 each?”
Faulder: “Objection, your honor”—
Graves: “It was a little cheaper the second year, after they found a house a bunch of them could share. But, yes, that sounds about right, Ms. Houston.”
Houston: “Now, when Tyrell graduated didn’t you pay for kite-boarding lessons?”
Faulder: “Objection, relevance, your honor.”
Graves: “Yes, that’s right we went to kite-boarding lessons in South Carolina.”
Houston: “And this cost about $13,000?
Graves: “Yes, Ms. Houston. It was a special family deal."
Houston: “And the next oldest, Beau, isn’t he going to college, as well.”
Graves: “Yes, in Santa Barbara.
Houston: “What about Billy?”
Graves: “He’s still in high school; he wants to go in the Marines.”
Houston: “But Beau went to school in Santa Barbara?”
Graves: “Yes, Ms. Houston.”
Houston: “And now he lives at home and works at the gas station in Leggett.”
Graves: “Yes, that’s right.”
Houston placed a picture of a bedroom on the screen: “Whose bedroom is this?”
Graves: “That’s Tyrell’s room.”
Houston: “When was the last time it was used?”
Graves: “It’s been months, I guess, since the last time he was home.”
Houston: “So this is how his room was left?”
Graves: “I don’t know. I haven’t been up there since I built it, Ms. Houston.”
Houston: “So you don’t know how that bag of marijuana ended up in there?”
Graves: “I don’t, no.”
Houston: “You knew that Billy smoked marijuana, didn’t you?”
Graves: “Billy doesn’t smoke too much.”
Houston: “Are you aware that the police found a small amount of marijuana in Billy’s truck?”
Graves: “I sometimes use that truck and all my trucks have some marijuana in them.”
Houston: “So you purchased that truck for your company?”
Graves: “No, that one I bought for Billy.”
Houston: “So that truck was paid for?”
Houston: “Was there a truck that Beau drove?”
Houston: “Who paid for that truck?”
Graves: “I did.”
Houston: “And I take it you kept up the insurance and all that.”
Graves: “Yes, that’s right.”
Houston: “And the white Ford F-350, is that paid for?”
Graves: “I’m not sure, I own a lot of vehicles, Ms. Houston. I’d have to check on that.”
Houston: “And the Airstream trailer, who owned that?”
Graves: “I bought that for the construction company, for when I was away on jobs.”
Houston: “How much was that?”
Graves: “I don’t know, but I think somewhere around $40-50,000.
Houston: “I see.”
There were other trailers, a ‘Toy Hauler’ and a wind-surfing trailer that Graves said belonged to his girlfriend, Julie Holman.
An inventory of the ATVs came next, which cost from $5,500 to $15,000 each. Then the Mercedes Unimog for $125,000. Graves said he went to Kamloops, British Columbia to buy it, having mortgaged a property for the money. His payments had been $8,000 a month. It had been paid off just before it was seized. He said he used it to haul water, among other things, for his construction company.
Then Houston asked about the 27 pounds of marijuana found on his kitchen floor. He said he had bought it from his neighbors for Chris Hollinger.
Houston: “How much did you pay for it?”
Graves: “Ten thousand dollars.”
Houston: “Where did you get the money?”
Graves: “Out of my drawer.”
Houston: “So you got this 27 pounds of marijuana from your neighbors on Bell Springs Road… Who were they?”
Faulder: “Objection, your honor.”
Houston: “You know the names but you’d rather not say?”
Graves: “I don’t want to drag them into this, no.”
Houston: “So they gave this 27 pounds to you?”
Graves: “Well, they didn’t give it to me, it was a front.”
Houston: “So it would be worth $55,000, more or less, and you were supposed to give them something of value in return, either work or money. They were trying to help you out with your obligations to Chris Hollinger. It was untrimmed and you thought that was a good price. And you said if it were trimmed it would amount to about seven or eight pounds and last about two weeks.”
Graves: “I think you’re mixing the questions up, Ms. Houston. I would figure that it was about two pounds a month that Chris uses.”
Houston: “Which neighbors did you buy it from?”
Ms. Houston took up a legal pad and asked Graves if he recognized it. It was where Graves kept track of payments he made to trimmers at a rate of $200 per pound. Supposedly it was from 2004. Houston lifted a couple of pages and said it came to over $150,000 for about 169 pounds of trimmed marijuana.
Houston: “Is that correct?”
Graves: “If that’s what it says, yes.”
Houston: “Where did the money come from?”
Graves: “The construction business.”
Houston: “Who used this marijuana?”
Graves: “Mostly my wife. She was really sick at the time.”
The photograph of the bedroom was still on the screen. There was a turkey bag of trimmed marijuana on the floor. Inside the bag, a slip of paper with the trimmer’s name, Lupe, could be seen. The same name, Lupe, was on the notepad of trimmers who had been paid, but there was no date of when the transaction had taken place.
In her closing arguments Ms. Houston said, “If you pay trimmers over $150,000 in a season, you must know there’s more marijuana moving through this case than has been shown.”
Mr. Graves seemed to have lots of the things that money buys. The guns, she said were just more of his toys and that he’d tried to get them off his property when he heard the helicopters coming because he knew he wasn’t supposed to have them.
Houston: “We know he’s a liar,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who originally purchased them; we all know guns are bought on the black market.”
Faulder: “Objection, your honor.”
Houston: “And where is this Mike Tomata?”
Faulder: “OBJECTION! Your honor!”
Faulder: “But, your honor!”
Houston: “Why didn’t he come to claim them?”
Faulder: “OBJECTION!” Your honor, this is” —
Houston: “You need to think about that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”
Faulder: “Objection, your honor — sidebar!”
The attorneys again hustled up to the bench to talk to the judge outside the jury's hearing. When they came back, Houston was smiling merrily and Faulder was seething.
Houston: “Anyway, the ownership isn’t the issue; it’s whose possession the guns were in.”
Houston: “It’s about the knowledge the defendant had about these firearms. Even if you believe him about picking up the magazine for the Sig-Sauer, there’s not much Matt Graves didn’t know about what was going on on his property.”
Houston said she believed Matt Graves had people growing marijuana for him all over the Bell Springs area. Faulder objected that there was no evidence for this anywhere in the testimony, and Faulder was predictably overruled.
Houston: “We know he owns other property.”
Faulder: “Objection, your honor, counsel is stating as fact something that is not in evidence!”
Houston: “We know he has other people growing for him.”
Faulder: “Objection — she’s mis-stating the evidence, your honor.”
Houston: “And I think he had his kids growing for him, too.”
Faulder: “But, your honor.”
Henderson: Your objection is overruled, Mr. Faulder.”
Houston: “There’s nothing a prosecutor can do to please a defense attorney, ladies and gentlemen.”
Faulder: “You could try telling the truth.”
Houston: “Your honor, counsel must be told to keep his remarks to himself.”
Henderson: “You are not to make any more audible comments, Mr. Faulder. I won’t have it.”
Houston: “We produce a finger print to show that the defendant knew about the guns on the property, and then defense wants to know why we didn’t collect other fingerprints. There’s no pleasing the defense. The officers are strapped to these things, hanging from the helicopter, it’s very dangerous work; it’s hard work, cutting down all those marijuana plants and they can’t possibly pick up every single thing just to please the defense. They are very, very busy. But they’re never happy, these defense attorneys. Defense would blame the officers for not doing a thorough investigation, and I just want to make it clear that that was impossible; defense is impossible to please. In essence the officers were very nice to Mr. Graves, inviting him outside to enjoy the nice weather. They were nice to him and he tried to run away, and then he ran into a log.”
Oh yeah. The six foot six log.
Ms. Houston sighed and summed up:
“We brought you real evidence and we brought you circumstantial evidence. The circumstantial evidence is still valid evidence and you must adopt it. Matt Graves is a man who got caught with way too much marijuana. He tried to hide his proceeds and live the high life, but his ride was over on that November day back in’07. Thank you.”
Mr. Faulder looked like he was still ready to go, but the prosecution gets the second to last word. The judge gets the very last one.
* * *
This just in. On Tuesday, Graves was found not guilty on all but one charge. The jury said the Bells Springs contractor was only guilty of being in possession of a box of bullets, which he said someone had been left in his garage. The long-running prosecution of Graves had begun under previous DA Meredith Lintott. Graves had hung one previous jury, and this jury said he was not guilty of charges ranging from being a felon in possession of guns to cultivation for sale.