- Mendocino County
- Anderson Valley
by Bruce McEwen, April 16, 2014
Child molestation, traditionally, has been a male practice. But lately in pioneering Mendocino County, home of the world's best marijuana, women have moved into the first rank of chomos. Surprised? Neither am I. In this neck of the Redwoods, women run almost everything, and new glass ceilings are shattered daily.
On March 4th Jacqueline Vanbezooyen was arraigned on two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a minor and one count of child endangerment. Earlier this year Ms. Selene Medina who, along with her co-defendant, Mr. Donald Dunakin, both of Ukiah, were arrested and charged with serially molesting and torturing their own children.
From what we know of both cases, the perva-thons were driven by the male companions of the two women, and the beyond sordid charges remain allegations.
Ms. Vanbezooyen’s alleged crimes are the more unsettling because she worked for years in local childcare facilities. Many parents in Willits and Redway know Ms. V under a different name. Investigators and the District Attorney’s office have not released that name, but they confirmed last week that Ms. V was working at a childcare facility in Redway, and hadn't worked there long, during the investigation, and that she’d spent many years providing childcare services in Mendocino County at Willits. Ms. V, now 43, is a graduate of Willits High School class of '83. So far investigators believe the sexual abuse she's charged with was “isolated to a family member under the age of 11.” That family member is Ms. V's family member, her child. The abuse may consist of a single episode which occurred while Ms. V was drunk to the point of unconsciousness, at which time Griswould forced himself on the child. Ms. V enjoyed an excellent reputation as a childcare worker.
The abuse of the child was alleged to have been on-going from 2005 to 2006 and seems to have been Vanbezooyen’s boyfriend at the time, Charles V. Griswould, 68, who had to be extradited from Manti, Utah to face Mendo justice. “Griswould had been allowed to sexually abuse Vanbezooyen’s family member while Vanbezooyen performed sex acts on Griswould,” prosecution alleges.
Right about here many of us find ourselves yearning for Chinese justice. An hour's replay of the facts after which the guilty party is jogged out back where he gets a bullet to the back of the head, and the next day his liver and kidneys are walking around in a new body.
Deputy DA Heidi Larson held aloft a sheaf of photographs and said that child pornography charges would likely be in the offing. Ms. Larson showed some of these pictures to the lawyers for the defendants. One of the attorneys shuddered at the visuals.
It appears that babysitting pays better than we think because Ms. V has hired the pricey Beck Law Firm of Santa Rosa to defend her while Griswould is represented deputy public defender, Andrew Higgins.
Higgins asked for more time, saying he couldn’t possibly be ready for his client’s prelim, which was set for April 16th, which is today, this week.
Ms. Vanbezooyen had been ordered by Judge David Nelson to stay away from the victimized minor. No surprise there. But Judge Moorman told defense attorney Beck that the restraining order protecting Vanbezooyen from Griswould would have to be sought in civil court. As for the motion to separate the two cases and the bail reduction, Judge Moorman said that would also require a separate hearing.
Deputy DA Larson was adamant about holding the line on the bail. Larson said that Ms. Vanbezooyen had used a false name while babysitting in Redway, and that her passport had more stamps in it than the US Secretary of State’s. There was some indication of international child pornography, and Ms. V would seem to be an obvious flight risk.
Judge Moorman set a date for the bail hearing and noted that if a reduction were granted, Ms. Vanbezooyen’s passport would have to be surrendered to the court.
Attorney Dan Beck said that it wasn’t really a false name his client had used, just a former married name. Still, Judge Moorman didn’t like the deceit, saying she was “concerned” that it was still “sort of a deceitful act.”
There were half a dozen shackled prisoners looking on from the dock. Griswould was sequestered way off to the side of the usual suspects. Chomos can have a rough time in custody. Griswould, a portly fellow in his late 60's, may have had a rough time in the Sheriff's van on the ride to the Courthouse from the County Jail. His attorney, Mr. Higgins, took a seat two away from his client with the deputy standing behind and between.
After a long conference, Higgins said he needed more time, that he couldn’t possibly be ready for the prelim set for April 16th.
Defense attorney Dan Beck, by contrast, had a back-up lawyer at his heels with a hand-truck full of briefs and writs all ready to go forward with the motion to sever the two cases.
Ms. Vanbezooyen’s role in the molestation of her ‘family member’ is not known beyond the depressing fact that she apparently did nothing to stop Mega-Perv Griswould from violating the child. But the psycho-dynamics of the couple's relationship can be imagined from the utterly defeated booking photo of Ms. V. Somehow the male creep got into her life, then into her head, and all the while his sick eyes were on the child. A highly skilled novelist might be able to figure it all out, but Ms. V is in a courtroom, not a novel. To be continued.
* * *
Last week we left Mr. Charles “Max” Sperling hanging in a real mess, albeit of his own making, which seems to be the re-occurring pattern of the guy's life. Sperling had been convicted of domestic abuse and being a felon in possession of a firearm, also managing to pick up another DUI on his way to court one morning.
The scene of the Sperling saga was the Creek Side Cabins just off Highway 101 north of Willits, a very busy nest of very busy people "well known to law enforcement," as law enforcement summarizes frequently visited addresses.
Sperling’s live-in girlfriend, Shannon Thom, had got on the stand and denied that lover boy had abused her, but failed to convince the judge, so it was no surprise that she would try to hide the gun that lover boy may have used to punctuate a beef with other Creekers. When the cops showed up at the Creek Side Cabins on last Veteran’s Day, November 11th, Ms. Thom was seen by Deputy Cox hiding the gun.
Shots had been fired and somebody called 911. Deputy Jason Cox was first on the scene. He said he saw Ms. Thom take a rifle from one cabin and move it to another cabin where she hid it under a bed. Confusing as life can be at Creek Side Cabins, it was even more confused that day as tenants seemed to be trading domiciles. Adding to the confusion, Creek Side also has its own numerical system. Cabin One might suddenly become Cabin Four, Cabin Two might be Cabin Eight and so on. In any case, Creek Side was on the move, whatever the cabin numbers, and during which Sperling got into a beef with Jeremiah Martin who fired a shot at Sperling’s legs. Sperling ran to get his own gun, which seems to have been the property of another man named Andrew Smith.
Ms. Thom was on the stand. Deputy DA Beth Norman asked her, “Did Deputy Cox say he was going to arrest you for concealing evidence?”
“No — yes, I mean, but I didn’t know it was evidence. I told him I didn’t know where the gun came from.”
“So even though you hid it under a mattress you didn’t know where it came from? And why didn’t you just say it was Andy Smith’s, if that’s whose it was? Why go run and hide it?”
“Objection, your honor. Counsel is badgering the witness,” Public Defender Ray Wood said.
“Objection sustained,” Judge Moorman said.
“Did you tell Deputy Cox whose rifle you thought it was so he could go and talk to Mr. Smith, who was right there?”
“I dunno. I guess I was scared.”
“And you never asked Smith if it was his?”
“And Smith still had some of his property in the cabin you were moving into?”
Mr. Wood for the defense asked, “Until that day you were living with Mr. Sperling in cabin number five?”
“And several people were moving that day?”
“Where was Jeremiah?”
“In the back yard in a tent.”
“So Andy was moving from cabin three into cabin one?”
“And Juanita Lopez was living with Mr. Smith?”
“So were you moving stuff into Cabin Three while Andy and Juanita were moving stuff out?”
“Yes. It was an on-going process.”
“Now, you mentioned Jeremiah fired a gun at a group of people. Who was in that group?”
“Me, Gary Parsons, and Max [Sperling].”
“Why was he shooting at you?”
“I don’t know. He was mad, I assume.”
“Hadn’t he been arguing with Max, though?”
“Yes, but everything had calmed down at that point.”
“What was the argument about?”
“Jeremiah was in a hurry to get moved into a cabin.”
“Had you seen Max with the gun?”
“Were you doing any work on the cabin?”
“I had painted the kitchen and living room.”
“And Jeremiah fired his rifle a little while after that?”
“When did you first see the police?”
“When I walked out with the rifle.”
“Ms. Norman asked, “Did you make eye-contact with the officer?
Andrew Smith was called. He said he was moving that day from Cabin Three to Cabin One. “I was just getting off work and everyone was moving that same day. They were painting and they wanted me to help move stuff. Then Jeremiah came out and fired his rifle at me and Max.”
“Did you have a rifle?”
“Yes. A pistol and a rifle, an old .22 bolt action.”
“At any time had you seen Max in possession of it?”
“Did Max and Shannon know where it was?”
“Yes. They’d seen it a week earlier… I knew Shannon had seen it in the closet.”
“So you are assuming Max knew where it was there because Shannon had seen it?”
“When the police showed up, did you ever deny owning it?”
“And in fact, you went to reclaim it the next day?”
DDA Norman said, “How long have you known Max?”
“How long have you had the rifle?”
“About a year and a half.”
“But nobody ever talked about the gun?”
“No. I just bought it cause it was old.”
“So how did Shannon come to see it?”
“She was painting in there, a week before, and she was helping Juanita pack.”
“So you’re saying Shannon saw the gun a week before?”
“She could have, I dunno.”
“Why hadn’t you moved your guns before this all happened? I mean these are guns were talking about here.”
“I was working, and it was not a big deal.”
“So you told the deputy go ahead and search—”
“No. I told the deputy I got nothing to hide.”
“And he pulls a rifle out and you say it’s not yours—”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well, did you ask for it back?”
Mr. Smith smiled at the question. Ms. Norman, Smith's smile suggested, had never been on the business end of an encounter with the police.
“No,” he said eventually.
“It never occurred to me.”
“The deputy took your rifle and you didn’t object?”
“I knew I’d never get it back.”
“But you said it was yours?”
“Yes, I did.”
“You have a daughter who is about seven?”
“No, she’s 12.”
“Alright. Nothing further.”
Christina Juscinta was called. She said she didn’t live at the Creek Side Cabins but was visiting that day. “I came to see how the moving was going and Jeremiah fired his rifle. We all scurried in different directions.”
“Did you see it?” Wood asked.
“No, but I heard it. Two shots. It happened so fast; we were all scurrying to hide. Then it got real quiet. I stayed in Cabin Three for half an hour, then came out.”
“Was Mr. Sperling there?”
“Did you at any time see or hear him threaten anybody?”
“Did you ever see him with a gun?”
“No, I didn’t.”
Ms. Norman: “How long have you known Max Sperling?”
“All his life. I’m his auntie.”
“Had you gone that day to visit him?”
“I knew everybody there.”
“Had Max been drinking?”
“They were all drinking.”
“Was Max intoxicated?”
“Not really, no.”
“You stayed in Cabin Three a half hour?”
“Was Max with you?”
“No. It got real quiet, that’s when I went home.”
Gary Parsons was called. He said he wasn’t present when the gun was fired but had only heard the shots, contradicting Ms. Thom’s story that he was in the group Martin shot at. “Max ran by and told me I had better stay where I was because Jeremiah had tried to shoot him in the leg.”
Ms. Norman said, “So you are friends with Max?”
“Acquaintances, not really friends.”
“But he came to you to warn you.”
“He came that way.”
“What did you do?”
“I went back in the cabin.”
Ms. Norman recalled Deputy Cox. Cox said Martin told him that Sperling had chased him and that Martin fired a warning shot because he was scared of Sperling. Cox also said that Martin told him Sperling was “going to go get a gun.”
Wood said, “But you found out that was a lie, didn’t you? And that Martin had brought the lethal threat to the situation?”
“Yes, I did.”
In closing Ms. Norman said, “Ms. Thom said to Deputy Cox that the defendant brought the rifle to the cabin the week before. Now, she comes to court and changes her story. But this rifle was associated with the defendant. Everything we’ve heard from these witnesses conflicts with what the deputy says. Not only that, they all conflict with each other. They say it was Smith’s gun, but when the deputies arrive, Ms. Thom runs off to hide it under a mattress.”
Mr. Wood objected to the characterization of his witnesses as liars, pointing out that Mr. Martin had been proved a liar and prosecution was relying on his testimony that Sperling ever had the gun at all, which was the whole basis for his client’s arrest in the first place. “And Mr. Smith testified that the rifle was his and went to the sheriff’s office the next day to reclaim it. All the witnesses say pretty much the same thing.”
Judge Moorman said, “I have my own recollection of the testimony, Mr. Wood. Deputy Cox said he saw Ms. Thom and made eye-contact with her. She went in and got the rifle from one cabin and took it into another where it was found under a mattress.”
Wood said, “The only evidence we have of Mr. Sperling being in possession of the rifle is from Deputy Cox, and these were not recorded. And Ms. Thom testified that No, the rifle was not theirs.”
“A lot of testimony in this case I found lacking in credibility,” Moorman said. “But it doesn’t matter who owned the weapon. It’s about whether Mr. Sperling was in possession of it. He had an altercation with Mr. Martin and told Martin, ‘I’m gonna go get a gun’ — that’s what Martin told Deputy Cox. And the reasonable inference is that when Ms. Thom saw the deputy arrive she gets the gun and takes it into a different cabin because she knows the defendant isn’t supposed to have it. Doesn’t matter who owned it. What matters is there’s sufficient evidence the charge occurred. I do believe Ms. Thom has some credibility issues. And I am reasonably suspicious that Mr. Sperling had some constructive control of the gun he told Martin he was going to go and get.”
“But Martin lied to Deputy Cox,” Wood said.
“Yes, but like I always tell my jurors, you can dismiss everything a witness says if you think he lied, or you can choose to believe some of it, and that’s what I’m going to do. Deputy Cox is the only one who doesn’t have a reason to lie.”
Judge Moorman pointed out last week that Deputy Cox had no reason to lie when she decided against Sperling in the domestic violence case. Cops have no reason to lie. If you don’t believe it just ask a judge.