The Worst Turkey Day Ever

by Bruce McEwen, December 14, 2011

Defense attorney Keith Faulder is a long-time friend of DA David Eyster. Faulder is also a former senior prosecutor. Faulder said recently, “I told Dave if he’s going to keep filing these shit cases, then he should try them — and not pass them on” [to the deputy prosecutors].

Faulder was referring to a case involving a fight between neighbors wherein the wife had started the fight but had called her husband to come finish it. But when wifey saw that hubbykins was losing, she called the cops. This case was passed on to Deputy DA Beth Norman who passed it on to the newest hire in the office to sort out. Wifey and Hubbykins had claimed to be the victims but in fact had been the aggressors.

Another dispute between neighbors got passed on to Deputy DA Shannon Cox. The jury’s still out on whether this one is a “shit case,” but it sure smelled like one by the time the trial ended last week.

The defendant, Armondo Galindo, and his girlfriend, Sharina Farnsworth, had just finished their 2010 Thanksgiving dinner at their Redwood Valley home when their neighbors, Jessica and Jimmy Walker, invited the couple over for a second dinner. Galindo and Farnsworth had already eaten, but the invitation seemed so warm and friendly it would have been rude to refuse.

Jessica and Jimmy Walker's children and extended family were present for the celebratory second meal, as were Dennis McMahon Sr. and Dennis McMahon Jr., good friends of the hosts. How exactly the dinner deteriorated into a drunken bacchanal, then on into a melee, nobody seemed to know. Or could remember. Everyone had a different story, but when the cops arrived the holiday dinner looked like a battlefield.

Deputy Darren Brewster testified, “I saw a male subject holding a rifle, so I pulled out my gun and told him to drop it. He did so and I put him on the ground and cuffed him. Then I went inside the residence where I could hear screaming and yelling, and it was utter chaos. Various people were there, some seriously injured, others screaming and yelling for help, but they were all highly intoxicated. One individual was bleeding from his ear, another had a laceration on his neck. People were on the ground bleeding and others screaming for medical aid. I told Officer Stolfi to get all the witnesses together and keep them there while I went to look for the suspect.”

That “suspect,” everyone agreed, was Armondo Galindo.

“I went down the road in the direction they said the suspect lived and encountered a truck parked in the road. I also observed a female face-down in the grass. I didn’t know if she’d been shot or what so I began giving her medical aid and it soon appeared that she was highly intoxicated and had passed out.”

The unconscious female was Sharina Farnsworth.

Deputy Brewster also found an old yard-tool handle, maybe off a rake or hoe, about four feet long. This, the deputy entered into evidence as the likely weapon wielded by Galindo.

Ms. Cox asked the deputy about Ms. Farnsworth.

“How did you know she was drunk?”

“She couldn’t sit up or stand. It was a cold night and she was lightly dressed and had on no shoes.”

“Did she have any injuries?”

“No. Other than her clothes were disheveled and her hair was messy, she seemed okay. She said she was fine and didn’t need any medical aid. So I left someone to take care of her and went to look for the suspect.”

According to their testimony, hostess and host Jessica and James Wright were supposed to be taking care of the dangerously drunk Ms. Farnsworth — this, they told the jury, was why they hadn’t let her leave their home with her boyfriend, Mr. Galindo, the man suspected of putting the blood in the cranberries.

Jessica Wright said Galindo had precipitated the violence when he had suddenly stood up, not to propose a grateful toast but to strike his girlfriend in the face. Nobody else seemed to remember this singularly loutish incident, but Farnsworth had testified that host Jimmy Wright had "put the moves on her" during dinner and that she had wanted to leave. “I felt uncomfortable with that,” she said.

Ms. Farnsworth proceeded to get so drunk she was soon immobilized. Mr. Galindo asked for help carrying Ms. Farnsworth to his Jeep so he could take her home. No one would help.

The logistic puzzle presented by a nearly comatose Ms. Farnsworth seems to have been solved when she staggered off for home on her own, not quite making it to her front door when she passed out. Galindo, meanwhile, had become very angry and had jumped in his Jeep and roared off not for home but aiming the vehicle at his host. James Wright said he had to dive out of the way of Galindo's Jeep when Galindo tried to run him down. Then, Jessica Wright said Galindo tried to run her down but she'd jumped behind a tree. Jessica Wright said the Jeep hit the tree, but there was no evidence of a vehicle hitting that tree or any other tree in the area, and no one else had seen Galindo try to run down Mrs. Wrights, although McMahon, Sr. said that Galindo's Jeep had run over his foot and shattered it.

Not only had McMahon Sr.'s foot been broken, but virtually every inch of Sr.’s body had been struck by the enraged Galindo who, according to McMahon Jr., had exited his Jeep and was wielding “a galvanized steel pipe between five and six feet long.”

This pipe was never found. McMahon Sr. said he'd suffered two broken arms, one a compound fracture (meaning the broken bone had pierced the skin), various injuries to his back and neck, as well as the damage to his run-over foot and the ear which he said had nearly been removed from his head.

Dennis McMahon Jr., the one they all called “Denny,” told the jury that he went down the same road that Galindo had departed on to find his landlord, an individual identified only as “Steve,” when Galindo jumped out from behind a tree and struck him in the jaw with an “object — I don’t know what it was” — that knocked McMahon down and out. Junior guessed that his father must have come looking for him when Galindo attacked him, too. But “Dad,” as everyone called McMahon Sr., had testified that he and Denny went together to find Landlord Steve.

“When I came to," McMahon Jr. testified, "I could see Armondo beating my father with what looked like a piece of galvanized steel pipe, about five or six feet long. He was beating him unmercifully. He was screaming bloody murder. I used everything I had to try and get up, but then Armondo came to me and struck me as I was about to get up then went back to my father and continued to beat him.”

“Were you in pain?”

“Yes, I was in intense pain.”

“What did you do?”

“I had to spit out my teeth, then I dragged myself up the hill and called for help, for Jimmy and Derek [responding deputies], who came running up. Then Armondo threw the object down and started running.”

“What kind of physical pain were you in?”

“It’s hard to say. I was slipping in and out of consciousness.”

Both McMahon Jr. and Sharina [Farnsworth] said they were in and out of consciousness, McMahon Jr. because he'd been knocked out, Ms. Farnsworth from the rum-based drinks served by Mrs. Wright. Parts of their testimony on cross-examination were simply waved off with, “I must have blacked out” (Sharina) or “I kept losing consciousness” (McMahon Jr.).

“I woke up in the hospital,” McMahon Jr. said. “My jaw was broken in seven places and I had a laceration here [pointing to his hand]. I spent four days in the hospital, the doctors had to do reconstructive surgery on my jaw. My jaw was wired shut for two-and-a-half months.”

McMahon Jr. had been taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in a helicopter, and Dad had gone by ambulance to Ukiah Valley Medical Center. The medical reports from both hospitals were entered into evidence, and this is where things got interesting, because from the medical records did not support the injuries claimed by the victims.

We learned that McMahon Sr.'s ear, far from being “nearly torn off,” merely had been cut about four of five centimeters, requiring four stitches. For the alleged broken arms — one reputedly a compound fracture — Dad refused the sling the hospital offered him and no casts were needed because there were no broken bones on his arms or foot. He did have a small cut on his neck. These, then, were the extent of the “massive injuries” to the man who claimed to have had his foot run over then his whole self dragged by the Jeep, twisting the tendons in his knee, and another injury the doctors couldn’t ascertain was real.

As for Denny’s jaw, it was listed merely as a fractured mandible, no frills, no damaged or missing teeth.

But the DA wanted five counts of assault with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily injury (GBI). When the defense pointed out the discrepancy in the medical reports and the testimony of the witnesses, Ms. Cox became indignant.

“All the People have to prove,” she asserted defensively, “is that there was more than moderate or mild harm.”

So why the constant repetition of “massive injuries,” “shattered foot,” “compound fractures,” “merciless beating,” and all the rest of the bloody hyperbole?

Simply put: if the injuries are merely a few cuts and bruises on Dad, and a simple broken jaw on Denny, why, then, the defense’s contention that these guys attacked Armondo and, in self-defense, Armondo got the better of them? Had the DA filed another “shit case”?

In closing arguments Ms. Cox summed up first: “Here are the absolute, undisputed facts: Everyone at the Walkers that day had been drinking; the defendant and Sharina [Farnsworth] were absolutely drunk; he becomes angry because they will not put her in the Jeep, so he drives back and forth like a madman with little kids around trying to run everybody down. So the McMahons, Junior and Senior, go to get the landlord to get help. An altercation ensues and results in massive injuries. Denny has to be flown to Santa Rosa; Dad had his ear almost torn off his head, his arm mangled, stitches were required, a sling offered — and here’s the defendant, when the officers arrive to arrest him, asleep in his house, sleeping like a baby, and not a mark on him!”

Ms. Cox, stylish in her smart graphite suit, arranged her notes before she resumed her angry indictment of Galindo, the sleeping cyclone.

“Dennis McMahon, Sr. testified that the defendant ran over his foot and shattered it; he was helped back to the house. Later he saw his son walking off and followed him in the dark. He makes out the form of his son lying on the ground, so he throws himself on his son, like a grieving father would, when he is struck from behind, and his ear is almost severed from his head. Jessica hears him screaming bloody murder and calls 911. Junior awakes to find his father being massively beaten… he uses his last reserves of strength to come to his father’s aid, when he is again unmercifully struck down, and then sees the defendant go back to unmercifully beating his father. Then Denny crawls up the hill and, after spitting out his teeth, calls for help. When Jimmy and Derek {also at the party] get there they see the defendant with a long stick or pole in his hand before he takes off running.”

Ms. Cox had painted a bloody battlefield, but then her presentation changed from grim to witty.

“The defendant got up here and lied to you, ladies and gentlemen. He lied so poorly it was laughable. He said ‘I was scared for my life’ — he said this so many times it wasn’t even funny anymore. He said he was scared for his life, and yet he drove down to within a couple of miles of the Sheriff’s office on Low Gap Road, where he will be guaranteed safety but then what does he do? He drives back. They’ve put a vehicle in the road, but he drives around this barricade — oh, he’s so scared! He says they came to his house and attacked him — ‘a mob,’ and attacked him and he ‘did what I had to do,’ he says. Well, that’s some pretty amazing fighting! He shattered Denny’s jaw and ripped Dad’s ear almost off! ‘They were relentless,’ he says. Finally, he gets away and hides in the woods from ‘the mob, the masses,’ he calls them, ‘coming after me’…”

Ms. Cox chuckled at her characterization of the four men Armondo Galindo says attacked him as a "mob" and "the masses," before she continued to rip large, gaping holes in Armondo's account of Thanksgiving 2010.

“Well, if he was so scared, then why didn’t he come out of the woods when he saw the emergency lights and knew that law enforcement had arrived? ‘I knew the deputies were there,’ he said. And when the deputies later found and arrested him there wasn’t a scratch on him, no bruises to his fist.”

Ms. Cox again shifted her tone, becoming more technical this time.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk to you about Section 245 of the Penal Code, assault with a deadly weapon. We need to show that he wielded this stick or pole with deadly force that could have killed Junior or Senior, in counts three and five. As for counts one and two, the vehicle, trying to run down Jimmy and Jessica — had they not dove out of the way — would have been run down and we all know that a vehicle can be a deadly weapon. Even if he’s not successful in running them down, that is no defense. He had the ability to apply deadly force with the vehicle and with the pole or stick. The laughable claims that his was self-defense, with nothing corroborated by the evidence, is utterly absurd. We know cars kill people every day, and — whatever he used, whether it was this stick or not — he did use deadly force to create great bodily injury to both Junior and Senior. Remember, we simply have to show that it was more than mild or moderate injury. So the only reasonable conclusion you can come to is that he is guilty… and you will return guilty verdicts on all counts.”

Unfortunately for the prosecution, none of these “absolute facts” were “undisputed.”

The defense lawyer is a recent hire transplanted from Tucson. He's fresh out of law school and green as grass. T-Day 2010 occurred months before Andy Higgins arrived in Nor Cal.

Higgins was not intimidated by the preponderance of what appeared to be an irrefutable case against his client. Higgins picked up the old, gray stick and, with the evidence tag fluttering on its string, twirled it like a baton in front of the jury. That thing could not be used to break bones.

“The State,” Higgins began as he cut a deprecating glance at Ms. Cox, “has seen fit to make light of this incident. But Mr. Galindo and I are taking it very seriously. We’re not going to mock or belittle witnesses. The evidence will demonstrate the truth, so we don’t need to do that. Now, I’m not here to tell you what the evidence is; you will see what the doctor’s reports have to say about the injuries; you will be taking those into the jury room with you, and I encourage you to read them carefully, along with this stick — you’re allowed to take it along with you as well, if you wish. But I want you to take a third thing with you: common sense.”

Higgins contemplated the stick skeptically, presenting a silent tableau that said, "You mean to say this thing, not a drop of blood on it, did all that damage?"

“We are not going to make a joke of the State’s job," Higgins said, "but there are elements of self-defense here, and a lot of issues and contradictions in this case. Even the family members disagree among themselves on almost everything that happened. We hear about this madman on the loose for hours, the fight down at the fire pit, and during all this time it never occurs to anyone to call the police. These are all family members and we’re not going to call anyone Bad People, here. As for the fire pit fight, Mr. McMahon Sr. says he saw it but he also says he was in the house at the time. From the witnesses who were there we have three different versions: The Walkers even disagree, Jimmy said he was pushing Sharina down repeatedly, Jessica said he struck her, Sharina herself doesn’t remember, except that Jimmy made her uncomfortable. And Armondo says they were all dancing. Then we have the story of the vehicle driven by a madman, and again, none of the stories match. McMahon Senior said he was standing two-to-three feet to the side of the vehicle, yet it somehow jumps to the side to run over and ‘shatter’ his foot. A few minutes later he’s on his way down the road to get this mysterious individual, the ‘Steve’ person for help — one version says Junior and Senior left together, another that Senior followed behind, later. Now, as for this stick…”

Mr. Higgins swung the stick around, smacking it in his palm casually.

“If this stick was found at the scene nearby where Deputy Brewster found Sharina face down on the ground, then where did it come from? When Jimmy and Derek came down the hill to rescue Junior and Senior form the supposed beatings, Jimmy saw Armando take the stick — or whatever it was — with him. And they didn’t bring it with them, because they said they were unarmed. So where did it come from? How did it get there?”

Mr. Higgins put the stick on the defense table.

“What is realistic and reasonable?” he asked the jury. “If you really had someone driving around like a terror, with little kids in the yard and everything, would you really let it go on for hours? Would you say, ‘Come on, give him a chance to settle down’? Or would you call the police? But what do they do? They park a car in the roadway. Then they say they were going down to get this Steve guy. No one ever talks to Steve, no one even takes a flashlight, although we’re told it’s pitch-black out… Does that make sense?”

Higgins picked up the stick again.

“And then there’s the deadly weapon. The McMahons say it was a three-quarter-inch piece of galvanized steel pipe about five to six feet long. That’s a pretty precise description for a pitch-black night with no flashlight in a remote area off a dirt road. And I don’t think you’ll hear anybody say they searched for this five-to-six foot long steel weapon. Jessica says she only wanted to help Sharina so she mixed her a drink — only one, Sharina says — and then Deputy Brewster finds her passed out, so drunk she remembers practically nothing and could hardly sit up. Does that sound reasonable?”

Higgins set the stick aside again.

“Mr. McMahon Sr. says he couldn’t see the blockade in the road, but he saw his son go down the road past it… Is that reasonable? Kind of detracts from being the innocent bystander, doesn’t it? He can see his son going down this road and decides to follow on a ‘shattered’ foot. The stories just don’t match. Too many stories, too many intoxicated people. There’s no way you will be able to find my client guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Did he hit them? Yes, he said he did — but the weapon, that’s a little more problematical. Even with the descriptions not matching, there is the problem of how it [the stick] got there. One thing we know from the testimony and evidence is that Armondo did not bring it with him. So you can conclude that someone else brought it to the scene. Now, a torn ear — that’s regrettable, even if the tear, as it says in the medical report, was only five or six centimeters long. But is it unreasonable that such an injury could result from a fistfight — with all of them intoxicated? Could a well-placed or lucky punch fracture a jaw? You decide. Just because an officer looked at his hands and saw no injuries doesn’t mean he didn’t hit someone. And the State would like you to believe a thorough exam was done, but Armondo was merely arrested and charged with what the family accused him of, after they attacked him and he got the better of them.”

Again, Mr. Higgins referred the jury to the medical report. McMahon Senior claimed he suffered two broken arms, one a compound fracture, and that he refused casts because he “wouldn’t be able to wipe my ass.” There were no broken arms in the report, and a sling was offered for the “mangled” (Ms. Cox’s terminology) arm, but refused. As for McMahon Junior “spitting out my teeth before I could call for help” the report said there were no damaged or missing teeth. A shattered foot? — nothing about it in the report. Shattered elbow? Nothing in the report. Torn tendons in the knee from being dragged by the Jeep? Nothing in the report.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Higgins said, “It didn’t happen. As far as the injuries go, is it possible to get a broken jaw, a torn ear, some cuts and bruises in a frenzied fight? Absolutely. Which brings us to self-defense. They took it to him [Armondo] that night — or, they were going to talk to this Steve-individual, which we never hear a peep from. It’s time to state the obvious, ladies and gentlemen. They — somebody — took this stick with them and went to Armondo. He’s at home now, not having the best Thanksgiving, and these people came after him. He got the better of them with his fists — there was no steel pipe, the officers didn’t even bother to look for one. The truth is the McMahons went to get Armondo and he got the better of them. Then, when reinforcements came, Jimmy and Derek, Armondo fled into the woods. Later he went home, went to bed and was subsequently arrested.”

Ms. Cox presented a rebuttal, mostly repeating her previous lament that the injuries must surely have been dealt with the old gray hoe handle or some such “deadly weapon.”

The jury went into deliberations and Monday morning the verdict was in. Not guilty on all charges except the stick, assault with. The jury believed the stick was the weapon.

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