‘I Could Hear Them Talking…’
by Bruce McEwen, December 21, 2011
Rey Reyes shot his stepson dead a year ago in Laytonville. The shooting occurred on a Wednesday night, December the 1st, 2010. Reyes' murder trial began December 4th of this year.
Reyes, 51, Colin Champlin, 21, and Champlin's mother, Misty, 41, had been drinking vodka in the home the three uneasily shared when Reyes, suspecting that Colin the son and Misty the mother were about to become unnaturally close, shot Colin Champlin to death.
It had taken over two weeks to pick the jury, but the trial only lasted four days. Mr. Reyes never denied shooting his stepson to death, shooting him to death as the boy sat on his mother’s couch with a laptop on his knees and a lit cigarette between his fingers. The laptop was still on Colin's knees and the cigarette still in his lifeless hand when deputies arrived.
Reyes' defense was that he did what any husband would do if he thought his stepson was sleeping with his own mother — murder the stepson. Reyes seems to think this is a viable defense.
When the recordings from the 911 calls and the videos from the interrogations were played, it became clear why citizens with backgrounds in psychology had been excluded, although the dramatic emotions incest inspires aren't any better understood by the untrained. The thinking seemed to be that amateur psychologists might be more inclined to go easy on Reyes. Or harder. The thinking in the County Courthouse can be opaque. But all you had to say to get out of this jury was, “I’m really into psychology. It was my college major.”
One guy said he was a retired professor. Dr. L's face had the glacier-ravaged edges of jaw and nose common to medicine men the world over. A dusting of powdered snow on his pate, a glint of frost in his eye. The doctor said he'd served as an expert witness in court cases.
“The People would like to thank and excuse juror number seven, Mr. L.”
“Defense will thank and excuse juror number four, Ms. M."
“The People thank and excuse juror number five Mr. O.”
Replacement jurors were grilled on their psychological training and possible preoccupations. Finally, a non-psych jury was seated and presented with the evidence.
Picture this: A boy, just 21, in T-shirt and jeans, on his mother’s couch, a laptop on his knees, a cigarette burning in his hand, and a bullet-hole above his right eye, shot dead in front of Mom by Mom’s husband, Rey Reyes, formerly of America’s shock troops, the vaunted 82nd Airborne Division, and a combat veteran of action in Honduras and Nicaragua.
Mother, Ms. Misty Champlin-Reyes, had shouted at Reyes, “What are you doing? Did you just shoot my son!” and then she'd run out of the house screaming for someone to call 911.
“Oh my God, my husband just shot my son!”
“Okay, Ma’am, I need you to calm down and tell me who is your husband.”
“Rey Reyes, he’s ex-Special Forces or something.”
“Where is your husband, now.”
“He’s still in the house, I think.”
“Don’t go back in the house,” the emergency dispatcher warned Ms. Champlin. “Do you know where the gun is?”
“He still has it. I think he’s still in the house,” she wailed.
“Don’t go back in the house,” the dispatcher repeated and proceeded to get directions to the Reyes-Champlin home not far from central Laytonville.
As soon as the Mrs. Champlin-Reyes call was completed, a second call came in, this one from the shooter, Rey Reyes. Reyes told the dispatcher he'd just shot his stepson. The dispatcher had kept both callers on the line as long as possible and was able to get a considerable amount of information regarding the bloody event. Misty Champlin’s voice was indistinct and, in places, she sounded like two different women, one calm, the other hysterical. The jurors had been given transcripts, so they had a clearer idea of what was being said.
Then the interrogation videos were played.
“This is not a Who-Done-It,” began the homicide detective, Andrew Whittaker, as he joined Mr. Reyes in the interrogation room at the Sheriff's office. “Right now it’s a question of why.”
There's been something of an oedipal epidemic lately in Laytonville. There's the Reyes shooting and there's Steven Henry, a preacher, who'd been sleeping with his daughters for many years until one of them finally got him arrested. Mrs. Henry said she hadn't known. Rey Reyes merely suspected that his stepson had Mrs. Reyes in his carnal sights. Preacher Henry went off to prison, Reyes is likely to go there, too.
Reyes was weeping by the time Detective Whittaker finished reading him his Miranda rights.
“Is there any way we can do this with out the cameras,” Reyes asked.
“That’s the way we do it,” Whittaker crisply replied, the camera rolling.
“How long have you and Misty Champlin been married?”
“About five years.”
“How long have you known her?”
“About the same. We were married soon after we met.”
“How about her son, Colin?”
“He moved in with us because he was having problems back east with drugs and his dad didn’t want to pay for him so we took him in; he just recently turned 21.”
“What kind of drugs?”
“Pills, methadone. I told him when he moved in: 'Listen, you’re gonna straighten up. I find out you’re doing drugs like you were doing back east, and you’re fucking outtahere. I don’t care if you smoke pot, drink beer, but not that other shit.'”
“So Colin moved in about a year ago?”
“How was your relationship with him?”
“Friends, at first. I told him, you start doing drugs, you’re outtahere.”
“What was his reaction?”
“He said, ‘I wasn’t doing drugs.’ I said there’s a lotta bad people in this town and you’re gonna find them, quick. But you start doing drugs you’re fucking outtahere. Well, then I find out he was fucking his own mother and that just fucking overwhelmed me tonight. I told Misty, if I find out you’re fucking your own son, I’m fucking outtahere, and she’s like saying I’m not fucking my son — what makes you say that? And I’m like saying, well, I’ve seen some signs.”
“What kind of signs,” Detective Whittaker asked.
“Well, she wears these low-cut tops and she’s got nice boobs, and she’s always playing with the dogs — and not facing me — and I’ve seen other things, too.”
“Like her son putting his hand on his mom’s thigh, and it’s just been adding up over the last nine months.”
“Did you talk about this to either of them?”
“I told her and I told him. I told them both. And she said — what? You think I’m fucking my own son! And I told her I been noticing things.”
“So they were both basically denying it?”
“Yes, and tonight we got into an argument. I said I was going to bed. I went into my bedroom and sit there and lay there listening to them out in the living room — they were watching TV, and I could hear them talking about stuff.”
“Did you hear any specifics?”
“Yes, they started talking in hushed voices, and he’s like saying, ‘He’s not going to hear you’ and she’s like, ‘Shush, he’s got pretty good ears.’ But he kept egging her on, saying like, He’s asleep.'”
“How long did that go on?”
“Maybe 10-15 minutes. Then she finally gave in and I jumped up and grabbed my gun. I went out there and I said — What? What? Are you guys gonna go out and fuck in your bedroom! And he says, 'What are you going to do, shoot me?' And I says fuck it. I’ll go to prison!”
“Obviously, this had been building up…?”
Reyes broke down crying, saying, “I couldn’t stand it anymore — my wife fucking her own son. He came to us for help, man.”
“You did what you could for him…?”
“We got him a vehicle, got him some work, and my wife was screwing her own fucking son!”
Reyes broke down, crying.
Returning briefly to the staid processes of the courtroom from the wild expedition into Reyes' taped testimony, the squirming jury had just survived a barrage of f-bombs describing the most vividly described series of sordid events most of them had ever heard.
And there was more to come.
At the defense table, as the jury watched the video, Reyes sat with his elbow on the table, his hand on his eyeglasses, partially shielding his face from the jury’s view.
Back on the video Detective Whittaker asked Reyes, “Did you ever see anything actually happen?”
“Things like a little slip up the shirt and grab the boob — I never actually saw them have sexual intercourse, but it kept going on and finally took me over the edge, okay?”
Mr. Reyes told much the same story, in greater detail and with fewer tears when he took the stand.
As for the interrogation of Misty Champlin, her video voice was hard to make out. And on the witness stand she said she kept blacking out during the interview the night of the killing. As for the suspicious coziness on the couch, just before Reyes emerged from the bedroom with the gun, Misty said she and Colin were innocently watching music videos on the laptop and talking about Colin's plans to move out and get a place of his own. She said Colin said she was in denial, and I said not about Rey, I’m not. And he said I should find somebody more like him who liked to party. And I said I didn’t want somebody who liked to party all the time.”
Misty Champlin was horrified at what her husband had done, but between the time of the shooting and the trial her attitude had softened. She said she’d often been in contact with Reyes at the jail. However, she denied talking about the case with Reyes and said she'd been in touch with him because she “needed help with running the place,” presumably the home on Meadow Lane outside of Laytonville.
Back to the night of the shooting...
“So you were talking about his [Colin's] leaving?”
“Yes. He was supposed to move out the next day.”
“Do you remember telling the detective that he was supposed to move out in a few weeks?”
“I kept blacking out when I was talking to the detectives.”
A more coherent view of the situation was provided by the victim’s father, James Champlin, who was called to the stand by Deputy DA Elizabeth "Beth" Norman.
Mr. Champlin had come to Ukiah from his home in Phoenix. He had been divorced from Misty Champlin since Colin was a three-year-old, he said. After the divorce, young Colin only saw his mother once every two years, at most. James Champlin and his wife Barbara had raised Colin, and he was trying to get his son into rehab, but the boy had contacted his mother and soon after Colin was living with Mom and Mom's husband, Rey Reyes.
“Was he happy, did he seem to be enjoying himself?”
“Very much so,” the bereft father said. “Whenever I called, which was at least once every Sunday, he told me how great he was doing.”
Mom had gotten Colin a job trimming weed, and Colin soon had a car, pocket money and, hey, don’t forget the guns; guns are fun. It wasn't clear if Mr. Champlin was aware of the source of his son's apparent happiness in California.
Colin's father had never let him play with guns. In Florida, Colin had been expected to go to college in Fort Meyers, but then he got to using prescription drugs, Oxycontin — and that’s when the trouble started.
“In October of ’09 he admitted to stealing to get Oxycontin,” Mr. Champlin testified. “I worked with him for weeks and finally got him into an inpatient treatment program, but after only four weeks he left and disappeared. He came back later and told us he’d had discussions with Misty and she was going to allow him to come out here.”
“Did you ever introduce your son to guns?”
“A little, but we never had any guns in the house.”
“Was he ever violent?”
“No, but I was concerned.”
“Why were you concerned?”
“Because I was Colin’s father. He sounded great on the phone. He and Rey were making him a bed, and as far as I could tell everyone was making an effort to get along.”
“How often did you talk?”
“Once a week, at least. But also we’d email each other, and communicate on his Facebook page.”
“Did you talk with him around Thanksgiving time?”
“Yes, and he sounded great. He was making plans to move out after the first of the year.”
“Did you ever get a chance to visit him?”
“Did you have plans to visit?”
“Yes… Sorry [Mr. Champlin had begun to cry.] We were planning to come out here December 10th, but he was killed on the first.”
“Did you talk to Misty over the next few days?”
“Yes, about making arrangements with the funeral home, and that kind of thing. We worked together pretty well, but…”
“But then things changed?”
“Yes, over the next few weeks her viewpoint changed on what happened to Colin.”
“What was her tone like?”
“Very accusatory, a combination of blaming me for the way he’d been raised — and then she started posting some very nasty stuff on his Facebook page, so we finally had to shut it down.”
Ms. Norman put a photo of the father and son, taken before he came out to Mendocino County, on the screen for the jury to see, and said she had nothing further.
Farris Perviance III of the Public Defender’s office rose to question Colin's grieving father.
“I’m very sorry for your loss. But just to clarify, you live in Phoenix now, but this happened in Clearwater, Florida, correct?”
“Yes, in ’09, he attended classes in Fort Meyers and Clearwater.”
“Did he drop out?”
“He came home in the middle of the semester.”
“And he thought you would put him in lock-down for the problems with the Oxycontin?”
“He was confused.”
“Would it be fair to say he hadn’t resolved his Oxycontin problems when he moved in with Rey and Misty?”
“I don’t know that.”
“How long had it been since you’d seen Misty?”
“A long time, correct?”
“Yes, a long time.”
“Had you ever met Mr. Reyes?”
“So this is the first time you’ve ever laid eyes on him?”
“So when your son was living with you in Florida, he was 20 years old, an adult, living at home?”
“And when he came to live with Rey and Misty, you called him around 2pm on Sundays?”
“Yes. I think he looked forward to that.”
“So your perceptions of what was happening here were through Colin, right?”
“Nothing further. Again, Mr. Champlin, I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Colin Champlin hadn't told his father that he went to a gun show with Rey Reyes and came back with a gun of his own. It was that gun that was stuck in the back of the waistband of his jeans as he sat dead on the couch, his laptop on his knees, the cigarette in his hand. Although Reyes had four guns under the pillows of his bed, he said he had never taught Colin about guns and had no knowledge that Colin had bought one at the gun show. He did admit, however, that he often let Colin shoot a pellet gun in the yard. Misty said she didn’t approve of Colin’s new gun and he was not allowed to bring it on the property.
Colin Champlin also probably hadn’t told his father that Misty had owned and operated a medical marijuana dispensary and then an adult store in Laytonville. Or that the pot store had been robbed and Rey had chased down and captured one of the thieves. Or that when the adult store closed, all the inventory was brought to the house, and that Rey spent a lot of time watching pornographic movies.
And Colin Champlin almost certainly never told his father that he was making his money by manicuring marijuana with his mother, and that his mother had helped Colin get a medical marijuana recommendation. Colin had been caught with a joint in high school; his father felt marijuana use had led his son to addiction to prescription drugs.
It’s also pretty certain that Colin downplayed the heavy drinking that went on in Rey and Misty’s household — drinking which Colin was allowed, if not encouraged, to participate in.
The night of the shooting, they had each had their own bottle of vodka, and they were drinking it straight, shot for shot, right out of the bottles. When Dr. Jason Trent, the county's medical examiner, did the autopsy on Colin he said Colin's blood alcohol level was 0.21 — 0.08 is the legal limit for driving. Misty was so drunk she sounded like two different people when she called 911. And Rey was too drunk to recall that he’d shot twice at the boy he'd killed with one of those shots.
But the deputy who searched the crime scene found two ejected casings and a bullet hole in the window screen just above Colin’s head.
Ms. Norman said, “You’ve had military training; do you know what a double-tap is?”
“It’s two quick shots to the head, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but I thought I only shot once.”
“Where was Misty?”
“I thought she was in the kitchen, but she came round the corner and said, What are you doing — did you shoot my son?”
“What did you say?”
“I shot him because he was fucking you.”
“What did Misty do?”
“Ran screaming out of the house.”
Ms. Norman said, “Now, you’ve always dealt with guns haven’t you?”
“How long were you in the military?”
Seven, eight months. With the 82nd Airborne.”
“Ever see any combat?”
“A little in Nicaragua and Honduras.”
“Ever compete with guns?”
“How did you do?”
“Fair to middling.”
“That’s your primary gun isn’t it — the Sig Sauer with the scope on it?”
“It’s not a scope.”
“What is it then?”
“A laser sight.”
“Oh, a laser sight. Did you know he had a gun in the waistband of his jeans?”
“Oh? You never said that before! Did you see him reach for it?”
“I’m sorry, are you now saying you saw him reach for his gun? Are you saying that now?”
“No, I uh…”
“Are you saying he reached for a gun with a cigarette in his hand?”
“I didn’t see a cigarette in his hand.”
“He’s sitting there with a cigarette in his hand, between his fingers, his hand resting on the mouse on the laptop computer, his other hand, under that one he holds a pack of cigarettes. He’s sitting there with his mom and you shoot him in the head, correct?”
DDA Norman wanted first degree murder; Mr. Perviance was hoping for manslaughter. The jury got the case on Thursday, and at this writing, we are still awaiting the verdict.