One Last Hug

by Bruce McEwen, March 23, 2011

After he's done maybe ten years in the state pen for voluntary manslaughter, the otherwise law-abiding Samuel Campos will be deported to Mexico.

Campos might have happily lived out his days here in Gringolandia if he hadn't gotten drunk and tried to shoot his girl friend's dog while she was holding it.

Campos fired once and missed the Chihuahua.

Campos fired twice and mostly missed the Chihuahua again, the bullet grazing the tiny dog's nose.

But that second bullet struck Josephine Navarro full in the chest, and a few minutes later Josephine Navarro, 41, was dead.

These events occurred last fall in a motor home parked north of Willits.

Campos was so drunk he probably can't remember what happened, and here he was last week in the Mendocino County Court House to pay for Josephine's death with part of his life.

As Campos waited for District Attorney David Eyster to arrive in the courtroom, he quarreled with his lawyer, Chief Public Defender Linda Thompson. Ms. Thompson could be overheard telling Campos that he needed to stop getting legal advice from his cellmates. She told him the DA was making the best offer he could possibly hope for, and he ought to take it. By the time DA Eyster arrived, Thompson had apparently prevailed. She said Campos was ready to plea to Voluntary Manslaughter and admit the Special Allegation that he’d used a firearm to commit his voluntary manslaughter, and the whole package would “expose” him to 21 years in prison.

But there was a problem. Samuel Campos couldn't make up his mind about what to do. He’d said he'd been ready to plea once before, but then changed his mind at the last minute. Maybe that’s why he had lost his first lawyer. The DA was tired of Campos's indecisiveness. If Campos didn’t take the bargain now it would be withdrawn and the charges would revert to Second Degree Murder, and Campos would be facing twice as many years in prison.

Judge Richard Henderson declared, “Alright Mr. Campos, you’ve heard the plea agreement. Is this what you want to do?”

The translator translated, and Campos, faced with getting out of jail when he was sixty and getting out of jail when he was seventy, said Si, give me the voluntary manslaughter deal.

“And you understand that this will count as a strike offense, meaning any subsequent crimes you may commit will be impacted; that you will essentially have to serve twice as much times as you would otherwise?”

The translator translated again and Campos said he understood.

“Also, you will have to serve at least 85% of your sentence and you could be deported and barred from re-entry into the country.”

DA Eyster interrupted: “He’s on an ICE hold, judge, and he will be deported as soon as he’s released from CDC, and he will be permanently barred and excluded from the country.”

The judge asked Campos again if he understood. Campos understood, but he wanted to ask a favor, Could he hug his daughter one last time?

The daughter was a pretty young woman who looked like every pretty young woman anywhere would look if the father she loved was going off to prison for a long time.

Judge Henderson looked like he was about to do the human thing when DA Eyster said....

“No, judge. There’s security issues, for one thing. And I want Mr. Campos to stay focused on this plea. We’ve had problems with this before.”

The previous DA, Meredith Lintott, would have hugged Campos herself.

Judge Henderson agreed that the security issues were valid. This sort of thing just wasn’t done. Prisoners were allowed no contact whatsoever with family or friends inside the courtroom. They were not allowed to speak to one another or even wave. Henderson asked if Campos was allowed to have visitors at the jail. He was.

“We’ll make arrangements for your family to visit you at the jail,” Henderson said. “Now, how do you plea to the charge of voluntary manslaughter?”

Guilty.

“And do you admit the special allegation, the use of a firearm?”

Yes.

“Do we have a factual basis for the plea?”

“We do your honor,” DA Eyster said. “On the date charged the defendant caused the death of his girlfriend. As a consequence of a dispute or quarrel, a circumstance which mitigated the charge of second degree murder, in that he was shooting at a dog she was holding and she died as a result.”

Ms. Thompson added: “It needs to be mentioned that Mr. Campos was intoxicated at the time. He was very intoxicated and frustrated with the dog — they were in a remote area and he had been shooting at a bear. The dog had somehow interfered. He was very frustrated by this time. The dog was lying by the girlfriend on the bed and continued to bark. He fired and struck the dog, and it still continued to bark. He fired again and then realized he’d hit his girlfriend. He took her out to the vehicle and tried to drive her out, to get medical attention, but realized he was too intoxicated to drive. He then took her back inside and left to get in an area where he could get cell phone service. By the time he was able to get any help it was already too late.”

Ms. Thompson seemed to think these were mitigating circumstances.

The chihuahua, by the way, is doing well in a new home.

Sentencing was set for May 6th at 9am.

Eyster said he’d be asking for the full 21 years.

Thompson said she’d be asking for six.

Was the DA heartless in denying the poor man a chance to embrace his daughter?

“I’ve learned from experience,” Eyster said. “You can’t do that. He [Campos] would only come back later and say he had to take the plea so he could hug his daughter. This is why the judge always asks ‘Have there been any promises made to you in order for you to make this plea — other than what’s been discussed in open court?’”

“That’s why you gotta make it clear,” Eyster emphasized.

Will he be able to hug his daughter at the Jail?

“I doubt it,” Eyster said.

* * *

The face of the Courthouse is changing. Many old faces are gone, many new ones appearing. Richard Johnson, the One True Green, died last week. The cause of death was officially declared to be congestive heart failure, but those who knew him well say it was the booze, traditionally an occupational hazard for journalists. Johnson was a regular fixture at the many pot cases that went through the courts. He always sat with his notebook on his knee, and hurried after the defense lawyers to get their take on the cases. He only followed the pot cases, mostly those of people trying to be in compliance with whatever the local law was at the time. There were a lot of pot cases so I saw a lot of Johnson, not that I knew him much. Maybe if I were a pot person we'd have gotten to know each other.

But pot prosecutions have changed too.

The second-to-last big pot prosecution of the Lintott administration — that of Mr. Matt Graves, Wuerfel being the other — went down to defeat a week ago, and it’s too bad Johnson couldn’t have been there to see it. The Wuerfel matter staggers on.

Speaking of which, defense attorney Keith Faulder — a figure of considerable inspiration to the rest of the local defense bar these days for his uphill victory in the Graves case — said he may be able to get Graves off on the one charge prosecutor Kitty Houston did nail him on after a month-long trial — “felon in possession of ammunition.”

It seems that some of the jurors Faulder has spoken with were under the impression that Graves knew for months that the ammo was in his shop. This was not the case. Graves had only just discovered it. And why wouldn't he be telling the truth? No point in keeping ammo around if you can't possess the guns to go with it.

But it’s no surprise the jury was confused because the judge and prosecution did everything in their power to minimize and distort any and every scrap of evidence working to Graves' favor.

The Courthouse was relatively quiet last week, if not absolutely dead. The two visiting judges filling in for retired judges Jonathan Lehan and Ronald Brown are both right out of classical antiquity. First there’s the Honorable Michael Brown, a contemporary of Socrates; and then there’s Judge William Lamb, from Cicero’s day. Judge Michael Brown is having a particularly hard time adjusting to the modern world, and after a series of difficult courtroom incidents the Public Defender refused to subject any more of her clients to Brown’s haphazard brand of justice. The old boy isn't much for defendants.

Judge William Lamb hasn’t sat on the bench for something like 20-odd years. One of the bailiffs who is himself nearing retirement remembers Lamb from before Judge Lehan’s appointment in the early 90s.

The cases both these judges have been handling are limited to the ones where the lawyers have worked things out among themselves and merely require an official intermediary to get it all on record. It looks like their honors Richard Henderson and newly appointed Ann Moorman will be doing all the heavy lifting in the criminal courts until new appointments are made.

One Response to One Last Hug

  1. Boston Bob Reply

    March 24, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Bruce,

    Keep up the great reporting!

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