From the AVA Archives: Why is Billy Mayfield Still in Jail?
by Bruce Anderson, December 12, 2009
Because Jerry Brown, State Attorney General, is keeping him there.
Billy Mayfield should have been out in 2002 when he'd completed his 17-year sentence for second degree murder, not only completed it but completed it with a literally perfect disciplinary record and a college degree from U.C. Davis.
Mayfield is again up for parole. The one fact about his case contained in the usual garbled press release from the DA's office announcing his hearing is a ludicrous one, but it's out there and we'll get to it.
The DA passes these careless press releases along, and the Mendocino County media just as carelessly print them and they're carelessly read out on KZYX as if they're true, and people who know nothing what they read or hear from the press releases write indignant letters to the Parole Board demanding that the prisoner never, ever be released.
Consider the known facts of the Billy Mayfield case, the facts testified to in 1985 when Mayfield shot and killed a man named Mark Snyder.
Billy Mayfield met Bridgett Lincoln in 1978 when Bridgett came into the Mayfield family's Willits Tire Center to pick up some tires for a boyfriend. Along with the tires, Bridgett picked up Billy, and Billy and Bridgett were, Billy says, “off and on for several years before we got married at Lake Tahoe on October 23rd, 1983. We both thought it was time to settle down and start a family.”
The marriage lasted, or at least endured, for a turbulent year, until October of 1984 when Bridgett began seeing a young Willits man named Mark Snyder more than she was seeing her husband. Mrs. Mayfield had commenced staying out all night and lying non-stop about where she'd been, what she'd been doing, and who she'd been doing it with.
Willits is a small town, a very small town. Billy soon heard that his wife and Mark Snyder were being seen together a little too often, and that Bridgett seemed a little too publicly affectionate towards Snyder, seeing as how she was a married woman.
Bridgett was also seeing a lot of Mr. Crank, flying on Mr. C's methamphetamine, a chemical accelerant not known for encouraging rational behavior, especially rational sexual behavior. Meth, or crank, was all over Mendocino County at the time. Still is, and it's a killer.
All the while Bridgett was seen Mark Snyder, she kept on telling Billy that she loved him, that she and Mark Snyder were “just friends.” And Billy went on loving Bridgett and going off to work every day until the horizontal nature of Bridgett's “friendship” with Mark Snyder became so obvious that even Bridgett's love-numbed husband could no longer pretend that Bridgett was faithful to him or had any intention of being faithful to him.
Billy Mayfield said later that he knew Snyder casually “from the local party scene.”
The “local party scene,” then and now, certainly has its celebratory moments, but it's not likely to be confused with a debutante's ball. Drugs and drop-fall drinking tend to fuel the merriment, which is much more grim, finally, than any temporary jubilation the party-ers might enjoy.
The Snyders and the Mayfields couldn't help knowing each other. Like the Mayfields, the Snyders had been in Willits forever. Mark Snyder and his father were members of the Brotherhood of Operating Engineers. Mark, 29, was working mostly out of Santa Rosa but lived with his parents in Willits, just down the street from the Mayfield family's tire business.
Bridgett's adventure with Mark Snyder began to make both families very nervous, not that Billy's parents had ever cared much for Bridgett to begin with, pegging her early on as unstable and mercenary. It seems likely that the Snyders felt the same way about their son's new love interest.
When Billy could no longer ignore the reality of his wife's infatuation with Mark Snyder, Billy called the Snyder home. He asked Mark to clarify Mark's relationship with Bridgett, who was also known as Mrs. Billy Mayfield.
“I wanted to know what he was doing with my wife. I called his house and left a message that if Mark had anything to speak with me about, to please get hold of me at the shop or at my house east of Willits out toward Pine Mountain. I never did hear from him directly.”
But it was Billy's father, not Billy, who heard back from Mark Snyder. Mark returned Billy's call by telephoning the Mayfield's tire shop. Thinking that he was talking to Billy when he was actually talking to Billy's dad, a belligerent Snyder threatened to harm Billy if Billy didn't leave him alone.
Mark Snyder might have benefited from a crash course in first causes with a follow-up course in the ethics of adultery. First lesson: Yo! Mark! You're sleeping with another man's wife. You're outtaline, and she's outtaline. You are not the victim here. Get it?
Snyder didn't get it. He seemed to think he was the injured party. He seemed to think he could sleep with another man's wife without that man asking so much as que pasa, cabrone?
One night in February of 1985, Billy discovered one of his cars parked in Snyder's garage. It was the car Bridgett drove. It was one thing for his wife to be flagrantly in the arms of another man, but it was doubly brazen of Bridgett to expect her husband to subsidize the relationship with free transportation.
That was it for Billy.
The couple filed for divorce in February of 1985, but Billy still had a bad case for Bridgett and wanted her back. And Bridgett told Billy she wanted to be back. In fact, she did come back to Billy from time to time, often spending the night with him in their old house east of Willits, loving him while she was with him, and promising they “could work things out.”
Then she'd run straight back to Mark Snyder and tell him that he was the true love of her life. And in between her estranged husband and Mark Snyder, Bridgett managed to fit in at least two other men in hot sheet encounters. She loved them, too, when she was with them.
“We discussed our marriage constantly,” Billy recalls. “Bridgett slept with me when she was at our house every week during our separation, and we talked on the phone almost every day. We even went on a weekend to San Francisco two weeks before the shooting, and right after that she told me she was pregnant, and that it was my baby because she hadn't slept with anyone else. She wasn't pregnant, and she'd had more sexual partners than just Mark and me as it turned out.”
All day on March 11th of 1985 Bridgett called Billy to tell him she loved him. Bridgett made these calls from, of all places, Billy's brother's house in Redwood Valley where she lay with Mark Snyder in Billy's brother's master bedroom that Billy's brother shared with his wife when Billy's brother and his wife were at home.
Jezebel herself would have trouble trumping this one.
Billy was haunted by her persistent calls promising Billy that he was the only man she ever loved. Billy got drunk, smoked some pot, and then got drunker with his friend Dave Telemchuck. Billy couldn't stop thinking about Bridgett. She was his wife, she'd said she loved him eight times that day. But, Billy thought, I'll bet right now she's in bed with Mark Snyder.
Which, of course, she was. And only three days before, Billy had driven over to his brother Brent's house where he'd found Bridgett in bed with a man named Ted Davis.
“I fought Davis and ran him off. Bridgett came out of the bathroom, picked up a dinner fork and stabbed me in the hand. I pulled the fork out of my knuckle and out of her hand, slapped her and left. Bridgett filed a complaint with the police then dropped it.”
Three days later, it was already well after midnight when Billy asked his buddy Dave Telemchuck if Dave wanted to go for a ride.
“Sure,” a wary Telemchuck said. “I'll go so long as we don't go to your brother's house in Redwood Valley.”
Billy drove straight to his brother's house in Redwood Valley, Telemchuck protesting the whole way. “Mark always carries a gun, Billy. Please don't go to your brother's house.”
Telemchuck knew something bad was about to happen. Two men with guns, one of the men in bed with the other man's wife.
How could something bad not happen?
Sure enough there was Mark Snyder's truck parked right in front of Billy's brother's house, and there was Bridgett's Plymouth Reliant, the car that Billy funded, both vehicles sitting out front of Billy's brother's house like they belonged there.
The people who did belong there, Billy's brother Brent and his wife, were in Ukiah. Bridgett and Mark were in the master bedroom, asleep in the marital bed of Mrs. and Mrs. Brent Mayfield.
When Billy and Telemchuck got to Redwood Valley and saw that Bridgett and Mark were in the house it was two in the morning. Telemchuck again pleaded with Billy not to do anything.
“Snyder's got a gun, Billy,” Telemchuck reminded Billy. “He always carries a gun.”
Billy, by way of an answer, backed into Snyder's truck, the first time accidentally as he turned around to leave, the second time on purpose, and Billy and Telemchuck drove home to Willits.
“When I got back to Willits,” Billy remembers, “I called the house, my brother Brent's house, because I knew Bridgett and Snyder were there. Nobody answered. I got my gun and went back to Redwood Valley. I climbed through a window and there they were in one of the bedrooms. Snyder had a pistol on the bedstand. He went for it and I shot him.”
Billy, not quite believing what he'd done, yelled, “Oh, my god!” and ran down the hall and right on through a glass door to his truck, “which I wrecked at the turn into my driveway in Willits. I turned myself in about an hour later.”
Bail was set at $125,000. Billy's folks raised the money by putting up their property, and Billy was released to their custody on the condition that he live with them in Ukiah while he awaited trial.
Now right about here you can be excused for assuming that Bridgett would stay far, far away from anyone named Mayfield, but…
“Bridgett would come and stay with me in Ukiah while I was out on bail, not every week but a few times. Then one day after I'd left the house to run an errand or something, Bridgett took several items, one was a dress belonging to my mother. My sister-in-law drove to where Bridgett stayed in Santa Rosa and got all the things back from Bridgett the same day. Bridgett never came back after that, and I didn't see her again, but she would call off and on, and she'd drive by our house in Ukiah without stopping. She mailed me a couple of cards telling me that she still loved me. But it was over.”
Billy pleaded self-defense.
Which it clearly was, what with Mark Snyder armed and in bed with Billy's wife in Billy's brother's house, what with Mark Snyder going for his gun but Billy pulling the trigger of his gun first.
The Ukiah jury found Billy Mayfield guilty of second degree murder, although Billy's attorney, Richard Petersen, made a strong case for lawful self-defense. Snyder would have shot Billy if Billy hadn't shot him first.
Billy got 17-years-to-life. He's been locked up for going on 24 years now.
Most adult Americans recognize that the story of Bridgett and Billy is what used to be known as “a crime of passion.” In 1955 you got ten years at San Quentin. In 1855 you weren't even prosecuted and the community wondered out loud why you didn't shoot both of them.
A crime of passion could happen to any person driven temporarily crazy by jealously, especially the kind of jealousy inspired by one-way love. A crime of passion is not committed by a criminal in the daily routine of a career in random mayhem; a crime of passion is committed by an otherwise law-abiding person who suddenly snaps. Or, as in this case, a person driven to snap.
Billy Mayfield did not have a criminal history when he shot Mark Snyder because he wasn't a criminal then, and he's not a criminal now.
17-to-life was supposed to mean if Billy got with the program he'd be free after 17 years, maybe sooner, maybe the minimum of 10-and-a-half years that would ordinarily apply in his case like his.
Billy got with the program better than any prisoner you can name in the history of California State Prison system. The late Mendocino County District Attorney, Norm Vroman, described Billy “as a Department of Corrections poster child for what a prisoner can do.” Billy Mayfield's not only been a model prisoner, he's been a perfect prisoner.
Among his many other achievements, Billy, as mentioned, has completed his college degree through UC Davis, and he's compiled the nearly miraculous prison record of not a single disciplinary write-up in all the years he's been confined. For the past three years, Billy has been appointed a lead man of the prison's optical lab, a prison-run business generating upwards of $3 million a year. "Lead man" in this booming enterprise is a crucial responsibility based both on solid technical skills and, of course, trustworthiness.
But Mendocino County, undoubtedly eager to pass the case to the state to avoid being in the middle of bad feelings between the Mayfield and Snyder families, asked the state to step in to prosecute the case. Mendocino County said it had a conflict of interest. The state agreed that Mendocino County somehow couldn't be trusted to honestly try Billy Mayfield.
When Mendocino County stepped aside, the State Attorney General stepped in to prosecute Billy Mayfield. They're still prosecuting him, sending out inflammatory press releases designed to stir up public feeling against the guy just before he goes before the parole board and showing up at every parole hearing to argue against Billy's release.
Michael D. O'Reilley, an unusually virulent state deputy attorney general who has appeared at Mayfield's last two parole hearings, told The Willits News just days before Mayfield's annual parole hearing in July of 2007, “On the face of it, I'll admit his prison record these last many years [sic] has been impressive, but there are many inmates who perform well within the structured prison setting.”
O'Reilley also commented that he thought Billy Mayfield's presentation to the parole board was “polished, but I noticed he reverted back [sic] to blaming the victim, blaming the ex-wife. It was clear to me he hasn't learned a thing, he has no remorse,” adding an entirely irrelevant mention of two low intensity domestic violence episodes prior to Billy's incarceration 21 years ago, neither of which were sustained, but which, to O'Reilley, indicated that Billy “continues to be a threat to women.”
Most gratuitously of all, however, was O'Reilley's remark to The Willits News that the state prosecutor thought the letters to the parole board on Billy's behalf were insincere.
“I will assume,” O'Reilley said, “some of the letters have been sent in good faith by people who honestly believe what they were writing, but I think a number are sent at the behest of the Mayfield family, and I think those meaningless.”
Billy has lamented every night of his life since the single shot that killed Mark Snyder that he should have listened to his friend Dave Telemchuck and stayed home instead of driving to Redwood Valley where his wife was in bed with another man in his brother's house.
Twenty-three years later, Billy Mayfield, 51, is not the same man he was at age 28. He readily concedes that he's benefited from the many hours of counseling he's completed in prison.
Billy has sued the state to get himself out of prison. His most recent suit is supported by Mendocino County Superior Court judge David Nelson. Nelson agrees the state is now holding Billy Mayfield illegally.
Last anybody heard, she'd been married and divorced two more times.
So here comes Billy Mayfield's 2009 parole hearing, and here comes the state with a ridiculous press release that is already appearing in the local papers, a ridiculous press release that reduces the entire matter to this preposterous paragraph funneled through the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office: "The AG's (sic) Office announced this week that it opposes the parole of William Mayfield, who was convicted of killing a Willits man and was sentenced to life in prison in 1985. Mayfield has been in prison for the killing of 29-year-old Mark Snyder. The AG's Office states that Mayfield abused his wife who filed for divorce and was living with Snyder. Before shooting Snyder in bed, Mayfield let the air out of Snyder's truck tires."
A man intent upon murder lets the air out of his victim's tires so the victim's ghost can leave the premises?
Every time the DA sends one of these offhanded death notices out for local media to faithfully regurgitate, about fifty Mendocino County law and order cadres write to the Parole Board to keep the man locked up. They know nothing about these cases beyond these press releases and, of course, the local media don't bother to fill in the blanks.
And the Snyder family, right down to children unborn in 1985, show up at Billy Mayfield's parole hearing to say, "Mr. Mayfield took our loved one's life."
It's past time for the Parole Board to say to the Snyders, "Your loved one was in bed with another man's wife. Your loved one was in bed with another man's wife in that man's brother's house. Your loved one had a loaded gun beside the bed. Billy Mayfield was sentenced to 17 years to life for shooting your loved one, not life without parole."
Please write to the Parole Board that it's past time Mayfield was paroled: CSP Solano. Attention Lifer Unit. Re: Mayfield, CDC D20090, Box 4000, Vacaville, CA 95696
This story originally appeared in the March 25, 2009 issue of the AVA.
Update — October 7, 2009
BILLY MAYFIELD of Willits should have been released from prison in 2002. He'd not only done the 17 year sentence he'd received for the 2nd degree murder of Mark Snyder, also of Willits, in 1985, Mayfield had compiled a literally perfect record as a prisoner, spending all those years in the volatile context of state prison without so much as a single infraction. Not one. And he obtained a university diploma from U.C. Davis. He is not the same man who shot Mr. Snyder, his wife's lover. The shooting was what used to be known as “a crime of passion.” Most American adults understood that these things happen, that the persons involved are otherwise not criminally inclined. Since 2002, Billy Mayfield himself has been a crime victim, a victim first of the State Parole Board which, last year, finally agreed to parole him after keeping him in prison six years beyond his legally adjudicated release date. Even the Parole Board and the State Attorney General's Office couldn't think up more reasons to keep Mayfield locked up. Now, just last week, Governor Schwarzenegger himself, for no stated reason whatsoever, personally vetoed Mayfield's release. It's not right. In fact, it's a crime.