No, They Were People

by Bruce McEwen, December 7, 2011

Willie Braxton Williams went down last week. He's been a Courthouse fixture for many years, the recipient of vast stores of leniency and judicial understanding, but he finally went down, which just goes to show that even the nicest, most likeable criminals, sooner or later, go down.

Now 56, Willie Williams is the nicest guy you’d ever care to meet. Even the toughest prosecutor in the DA’s arsenal of flinty prosecutors, Kitty Houston, the scourge of every dope-smoking, coke-snortin’ junkie, tweeker, and prescription-drug addict with a 707 area code… even Kitty had to admit she had a “sort of” a soft spot for Willie Williams.

“I very much like Mr. Williams, too,” Ms. Houston confessed as a teardrop appeared in the corner of her eye. “I’ve always liked him. But this was an open plea, and the proprietor of the convenience store where he cashed the checks is out over $2,842 dollars because he, too, liked Mr. Williams, and, like the probation officers, he trusted Mr. Williams.”

Tim King of the Probation Department seconded Ms. Houston. “That’s true, your honor. This is on him. We trusted him, we recommended the grant of probation and now, well… It’s all on him.”

“It’s a sad case,” the prosecutors unanimously sang while privately marveling at the venal genius of a cool-handed con-artist coyly manipulating the whole sentimental pack of them.

Atilla Panczel of the Public Defender’s office seemed less reluctant to pack Willie Williams off to the state pen.

“There’s no reason not to go forward your honor,” he said.

Panczel was speaking to Judge Richard Henderson who has recently been jostled out of his own courtroom, Department A, the Main Calendar Court, by newbie Judge Anne C. Moorman. Judge Henderson, on his way to an assignment in Family Court was enjoying a workaholic’s vacation, hearing every kind of matter, including the matter of Willie B. Williams.

Willie ‘Willie B.’ Williams certainly had access to talent. His highly artistic niece had drawn the bogus checks he'd cashed, but drawn them so only the endearing Willie Braxton could actually cash them. Give him credit for family values. Willie B. had kept the enterprise in the family.

Ms. Houston bade the court hearken back to the olden days when Willie Williams first put “the schmooze” (as they call charm at the DA’s and the PO’s meetings over lattes and croissants at Schat’s Bakery before these cases go into court) on the Honorable Judge Ronald Brown, retired these past many months to fight cancer full-time.

“Judge Brown took that risk a long time ago,” Ms. Houston said, referring to the first of many breaks for Willie B.

But Judge Henderson is not one for the gush-gush. He's more of an Old Testament guy, more of a commit-the-crime, do-the-time kind of guy.

Henderson was tersely to the point.

“I’ve read the report from Probation and am ready to follow the recommendations.”

The recommendations were for five dreary years in prison.

Mr. Williams turned with alarm to his public defender, Mr. Atilla Panczel. Willie B appeared to be in a state of shock.

Panczel said he’d been led to believe only two years would be recommended.

“My client is not a threat. He’s not a violent offender. The public does not need to be protected from his addiction. We were always talking about probation in these discussions. He was just being honest with probation and they’ve turned it around and took that to mean he wasn’t taking responsibility. In fact, there was another person, Ms. Brazil, who was involved and he was just being honest!”

Willie B's candor was clearly haunting him now, He looked desperately to his young lawyer like a drowning man looks at a life raft just out of reach in a frigid sea.

Panczel sawed more earnestly at his violin.

“Your honor, we were prepared for something else entirely. The DA’s shift, the five years in prison, is a horrible waste of resources. So I want the court to consider the options. It was not what the legislators had in mind with Realignment to put him in prison for five years for a drug offense.”

Ms. Houston said, “I would dispute that the DA offered another grant of probation. I am handling this case for Deputy DA Elizabeth Norman who is away, and I remember that Judge Brown offered an open plea, but he [Williams] refused to go to rehab.”

Mr. King of Probation added, “I thought he wanted treatment and that was why we had taken the extreme step of granting the probation. The court gave him 180 days with day-for-day credit for time served if he did it in a residential treatment program.”

“Judge Brown took that risk and he violated his probation before any of that happened, and on it went.” Ms Houston was adamant. “Mr. Williams was still operating like an addict, ripping people off for drugs, and while he was on probation he got arrested, and gave us a story about these checks: If he’d go cash ‘em for his niece, he’d get a portion. He knew the checks were no good; he knew he was stealing from the convenience store.”

Ms. Houston took a breath and glanced over at Williams, who was dutifully hanging his head in contrition at his sorry self.

“Now,” she said, “if we’re going to accept the story — that he didn’t know it was a scam — fine. But he went back to the bs story! That’s why Ms. Norman changed her position. I would be in the same position, myself. At the last grant of probation, he was told it would be the last he’d get. He said he was going to go straight, and what happened? The store is out $2,842.82! He ripped off a businessman who had always been nice to him.”

Panczel said, “On page five, the first paragraph, we see that Mr. Williams was very pleasant and cooperative with Probation. He said he was suspicious of the checks, but trusted his niece, so he cashed them anyway. And it’s only later that he says he takes responsibility and says ‘Now, I know the checks were fictions’.”

My niece made me do it?

Judge Henderson considered a moment before replying:

“Still, it seems at variance with what he told the Officer Lundstrom.”

Houston readily agreed: “The Probation office formed the opinion that it wasn’t credible.”

Panczel countered: “He’s saying: ‘I’m going to fix my life at 56 — which he’s trying to do, but not based on some test devised by Probation to pass an attitude test.”

Houston: “He fell short of a promise to stay out of state prison, and now he wants to get out of it.”

Panczel: “I don’t think that’s fair, your honor. He’s not trying to get out of anything. He had a relapse. Besides,” the young lawyer pleaded earnestly, “this isn’t the crime of the century. And remember: If he fails, your honor, you still have the power to punish him. But let’s not give it to him all right now. It seems like he’s doing way more time on this than he would have had to do before Realignment, and that can’t be what the legislators had in mind. They wanted him to do the time but not in the joint.”

Henderson: “It has nothing to do with the Realignment.”

King: “Basically, we know these people and we try to help, but when they fail it’s on them. I know Mr. Williams, and I’ve always liked him — I still do; but it’s on him.”

Houston: “I like him too. But this is an open plea, with no promises.”

Henderson: “The plea was open, and I’m going to follow the recommendation of the Probation report and sentence Mr. Williams to two years for the 11370(c.); and I’ll sentence him to three years consecutively for the prior he admitted to for a total of five years, with 205 days credit for time served.”

Judge Henderson considered the dejected Mr. Williams for a long moment before adding, “But I’d like to have this case brought back some time for re-assessment and re-evaluation, with input from the probation office at some point to see if there is some alternative to the total confinement time.”

Mr. Panczel smiled warmly at his client and whispered encouragement to him. The judge’s heart had yielded, and things were looking up again for the man everyone likes.

There wasn’t as much sympathy for Moses F. Reeves, 25, of Covelo, who seems to have a penchant for violence. In his latest case, Mr. Reeves is accused of trying to rile up a mob against police officers who'd arrived at a Covelo party to restore order.

Judge Henderson read the report quickly, having just had it handed to him, and said he was inclined to follow the recommendations and sentence Mr. Reeves to three years in “local custody,” as they call it under Realignment. He would be doing the time in the County jail rather than state prison.

Mr. Reeves’ public defender, Farris Perviance, said, “We worked real hard to get a deal worked out, but prosecution wasn’t willing to budge. I would ask the court to consider that he’s only 25 and going to get the aggravated sentence on his first offense.”

Deputy DA Rayburn Killion wasn't buying.

“We agreed at the outset to go along with the lighter sentence and Mr. Reeves was OR'd [released on his own recognizance]. The report shows what he was up to on OR — his failure to live up to the agreement, and given his record and the nature of the offense, I’ll submit it on that.”

Henderson said, “I’m going to deny the probation and impose the prison sentence. Mr. Reeves. You are statutorily ineligible for the probation and you have eight misdemeanor convictions for violence. You’ve got a severe problem with violence and anger management, and you are not a suitable candidate for probation… In fact, you’ve done moderately poor on probation over the past five years, so I’m going to sentence you to the aggravated term of three years. This situation occurred in Covelo and you put the officers in an extremely dangerous position by your actions. There was a celebration going on and you basically attacked the officers and encouraged the others to join in the attack.”

Mr. Perviance said, “Although it’s considered prison, he’s going to be in the county jail — but he’s gotta go to Lake County and face charges up there — does it matter which jail he ends up in?”

Judge Henderson said he didn’t think so.

Across the hall Judge Ann Moorman was arraigning an alleged gang of thieves — Jorge Martinez, Zeno Marcellino, and an improbable young woman named Jessica Duman, and how the fetching Miss Duman managed to get herself mixed up in this thing with these mopes remains a mystery.

Judge Moorman began with Ms. Duman.

“Ms. Duman you are named as a defendant in a second degree robbery charge with two others alleged to have taken place on the night of November 29th. Would you like to have a lawyer represent you in this case?”

Ms. Duman, looking lost, thought she would, and Ms. Catherine Livingstone of the Public Defender’s Office was appointed to represent her.

Zeno Marcellino was assigned to the Alternate Public Defender, Bert Schlosser, and Ms. Katherine Elliott was appointed to represent “the heavy” in the matter, a certain Mr. Martinez, who had been convicted for another crime on the same day of a previous year, and had been packed off to state prison. Then, in March of this year, Martinez picked up another beef. And here he is again.

Martinez seemed to be the heavy, but Deputy DA Matt Hubley was requesting that they all be kept in jail for the time being, especially Martinez, who was on parole.

Judge Moorman set his bail at $150,000. Then she said, “His first Special Allegation — is that a strike?”

“No,” DDA Hubley said.

“In that case, I’ll adjust his bail to $170,000. Now, Mr. Marcellino, tell me a little about him.”

“He lives here in Ukiah with his mother on Dora Street. I’m not aware of any kind of record.”

Hubley said, “He was arrested for having a loaded firearm in public last September; he’s 21.”

Moorman set Marcellino's bail at $25,000.

“Now, with respect to Ms. Duman…?”

“She’s 18, your honor,” Ms. Livingstone began. "She has no record, and her mother’s present in the courtroom. She fell in with these, er, gentlemen, on that date in November and, well…”

Moorman said, “I’m going to set her bail at $7,500. I’ll not OR her but I will cut her bail in half due to her lack of any record. And Mr. Marcellino, he’s to continue to stay with his mother if he makes bail. Were the victims businesses?”

“No,” Hubely said. “They were people.”

“Okay, we’ll set the prelim for December 16th and everyone’s ordered to be here.”

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