Court Case Updates

by Bruce McEwen, September 9, 2009

Aaron Vargas is the young man who shot and killed Darrell McNeil in Fort Bragg last year for what Vargas said was McNeil's predatory child molestation of not only Vargas but other Fort Bragg-area children. Vargas's trial for murder will begin the last week of September. Attorneys on both sides seemed to anxious to get out of the Courthouse for the Labor Day weekend, postponing a bail hearing for Vargas until Tuesday after the holiday.

Vargas' steadfast family and friends were, as always, out in front of the County Courthouse with “Justice For Aaron” placards.

The Vargas case should of course be tried in Fort Bragg's Ten Mile Court, a structure sold to the County as a big travel-time cost-saver for Coast residents when it was built by local developer Dominic Affinito who leases it back to the County in a sweetheart deal disproportionately benefiting Affinito. The idea at the time of construction was that Coast people and cases would be spared long commutes to the County Courthouse in Ukiah. But ever since, and purely for the convenience of the court, and for the political purpose of sparing the local judge voter unhappiness with controversial decision-making, high profile cases especially, are moved to Ukiah, a round-trip of some two and a half hours for Coast residents.

Mr. Vargas shot McNeil, a long-time Fort Bragg business owner, as McNeil's wife looked on. The shooting, carried out with an antique cap and ball pistol, occurred in the McNeil home on Sherwood Road. McNeil's wife has since said she thought her husband “had it coming.”

McNeil, many people insist, was a known child molester, but a child molester somehow beyond the reach of local police. McNeil had not only abused Vargas and other young boys, he had reportedly taunted the now adult Vargas with remarks that he would soon commence molesting Vargas's son.

Having shot McNeil with a Civil War-era handgun, McNeil bled to death on his dining room floor as Vargas and Mrs. McNeil watched. When McNeil was confirmed dead Vargas allowed Mrs. McNeil to call the police. Vargas calmly cleaned his ancient weapon as he waited for the police to arrive.

Kenny Rogers, a former resident of Westport and a former chairman of Mendocino County's moribund Republican Party, was recently convicted of a very odd shooting for hire. Rogers did not do the shooting. He was convicted of somehow persuading a former employee to fire shots into the front door of a Westport political rival. The gunman, Richard Peacock, has been sentenced to 71 years-to-life for the shooting, during which the owner of the home was not injured. Peacock has steadfastly refused to implicate Rogers in the shooting. Rogers will be back in court with his new lawyer on Friday to begin arguments that his trial was unfair.

Also in court last week was Glenn Sunkett. Sunkett, a black man from Oakland with felony priors, was recently convicted of several crimes related to home invasion pot robberies on the Mendocino Coast during which victims were threatened with a blow torch to their private parts. Sunkett awaits sentencing. He was defended by Public Defender Linda Thompson. Known around the Courthouse as “L-WOP Linda” for incompetent defenses that put her clients in prison for the rest of their lives, was of course unable to persuade a Ukiah jury that Sunkett was not the black man involved in the blow torch robberies. (L-WOP is code-speak for “life without the possibility of parole. Thompson's best known L-WOP victim is Tai Abreu whose two confederates in a Fort Bragg murder pled guilty to avoid L-WOPs. But Thompson, who seems to think she has persuasive powers equivalent to Clarence Darrow's, talked Abreu into going to a jury with a non-case based on Thompson's cockamamie reading of the self-incrimination statutes. Abreu got a one-day trial and, at age 20, was shuffled off to the state pen without the possibility of parole for the rest of his days. His two partners in crime will do about 20 years and return to their homes in Fort Bragg. The dead man, a gay Los Angeles man named Donald Perez, remains dead.)

Across the hall in Judge Henderson’s court, Assistant Public Defender Eric Rennert whispered to me that he was about to try the constitutionality of medical marijuana laws. And where could that argument be more appropriate than in a Mendocino County courtroom? The case involves three defendants, Douglas Crowe, Gabriel Araiza, and Christopher Fenk. Look for his one to begin October 2.

The case against the Dos Rios Gang of Four: Daniel Goode, Michael Church, Eugene Fedorov and, in the translation from Chinese to English, the “Ruler of Hell,” a certain Ms. Luo Yao, seems to have the DA’s office baffled. The Ruler of Hell and her three confederates were caught growing pot near Dos Rios late last month. The inevitable gun was also found and duly reported as if the discovery of a gun on a Mendocino County property is an indication of criminal intent although there are few addresses in this County where a gun wouldn't be found — multiple guns typically. The DA, perhaps reluctant to take on the matriarch of Satan's royal family, hasn't yet filed charges against Ms. Yao and Associates.

The case of the week, as courtroom hacks like me call the big new ones, was the three Norteños who took out a couple of esses a few days ago in a bloody street fight in South Ukiah. One of the victims had an eight-inch slash across his chest and two stab wounds in the back; the other suffered a blow to the head with a rock. Anderson Valley’s Deputy Walker was called in on this one because Ukiah was short officers. Walker photographed the wounds and said the chest slashing looked like the work of a box cutter. The three defendants: Rafael Valencia, Alejandro Ruvalcaba and Rogelio Zapaté pleaded not guilty, and the three tiers of public defender alternates will be back in three weeks trying to make a deal with the DA’s office.

I went to Fort Bragg on Monday to look for some of the street people I used to know there. I’d heard a rumor that the Fort Bragg Police had conducted a “sweep” of the homeless. I went to all my old haunts and couldn’t find a soul. Assuming they’d been arrested for minor vagrancy trifles, I looked for ’em on the docket all week but none of their names appeared. I guess they got their ears nailed to a plank and were sailed out to sea. I got out of there just in time.

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