Convictions

by Bruce McEwen, January 13, 2010

Grams the Crankster

Grams the Crankster

You'd think she was Ma Barker the way the DA’s Office has ballyhooed the conviction of 68-year-old Nancie Henthorne of Covelo. It's not as if Ms. Henthorne hadn't convicted herself, readily admitting to possession and sales of methamphetamine and to being the owner of a Derringer she kept in her home.

A grandma in the crank business? In Covelo?

If the old lady had kept a rocket launcher on her front porch she wouldn't have had enough home protection in that neighborhood.

The presence of drugs, large amounts of drugs, in a courtroom has a kind of hallucinogenic effect all its own, and there it was, enough dope to drug an entire town for a month laying there on the evidence table with the old lady's tiny gun, as if that thing would stop some thug coming through the door with his Uzis and Glocks, the weapons of choice of the home invaders who roam Mendocino County.

Deputy DA Katherine Houston picked up Grandma's tiny silver pistol and said, “Derringers are silly guns, almost like a toy. I certainly never saw John Wayne with one. More like something you’d see tucked into a garter. But it’s a real gun, and it was loaded with real bullets.”

Ms. Houston had emphatically removed her glasses to make her point that Grandma had been armed, and armed is dangerous, the thinking goes.

Convincing as Ms. Houston may or may not have been, it was Judge Richard Henderson who nailed down Grandma's conviction with the special allegation of the pistol. He told the jury that the prosecution didn’t have to prove anything but the availability of the gun. *Why* the defendant had the gun was irrelevant. Simple possession of it and the drugs in the same place at the same time was enough.

Out of the presence of the jury, Judge Henderson told defense attorney Justin Petersen what the instructions would mean.

Petersen said, “I’m going to argue that she had the gun for her own personal protection. Only.”

Henderson said, “I’m not going to allow any argument on that.”

“But I just wanted to point out—”

“Counsel: move on!”

“Yes, your honor. On the other issue, then?”

The other issue was a few Vicodin pills on the dresser in Grandma's bedroom where the Derringer was also kept. The DA wanted the old lady to take a fall for the gun on this one, too. But despite the judge’s instructions, the jury found her not guilty on this count, perhaps reasoning that if the DA insisted the Derringer was an “upper” gun, it couldn’t also be a “downer” gun.

They did convict the old lady on the money, though. Proceeds from drug sales was counted at more than $31,000. Some of the money was found in Grandma's house, the rest in her safe deposit box. Petersen tried to suggest that some of the money had been from a restaurant the family operated and from some rentals that came with the restaurant property. The restaurant and the apartments hadn't generated enough income for an old woman raising the small children left to her care by her feckless children so she turned, in desperation to drug sales, and isn't that a familiar story these days?

Which isn't to say that methamphetamine isn't a plague and a curse on Round Valley and everywhere else it takes root, and this old woman was only one of several dealers in that drug and drink-ravaged community.

Sentencing is set for February 19th. Grandma is looking at nine years in state prison.

That afternoon when I caught the bus in Ukiah for the return trip to Boonville. A little girl got on with her grandmother. The child was maybe four. Her grandmother looked older than she probably was — older, heavy and tired-looking. They'd been to WalMart. The two of them carried their shopping bags on board and sat down behind me.

The little girl asked, “How long will my mom have to stay here?”

The grandmother whispered, “Your mom didn’t do anything wrong, don’t worry.”

The bus loaded more passengers and got underway.

“Only thing your mother did was she didn’t have a driver’s license. She needs to fill out some papers and everything will be all right.”

The grandmother snapped the child's seatbelt and changed the subject.

“So, you got your food stamps today, that’s great!”

The child said, “Um-hum. We were out of everything. Can I have a soda or something?”

The old woman looked through the sacks.

“I guess the sodas are still in your mom’s car,” she said.

“Did they arrest my mom?”

“Yes. She was supposed to go to court. They had a warrant.”

“How will we get the car and the rest of the food?”

“Oh, look at those horses!”

The child looked at the horses.

“Are you afraid of horses?”

“No. I like horses. But my mom…”

The woman put her arm around the child. The bus passed more horses and the woman and child talked about the horses. They wouldn't get back to Point Arena until after dark

“Do you want some gum?”

“Those aren’t horses, Grandma,” the kid said.

“I know,” the old woman said. “They’re jackasses.”

If you have difficulties with the justice system your food stamps are stopped.

This three-person, all-female family had set out from Point Arena in a car that had been impounded with their groceries in it.

The child’s mother, a Ms. Rios, was in the dock the next morning.

Judge Clayton Brennan has taken over the main arraignment calendar, and Public Defender Linda Thompson, who had previously handled Ms. Rios’ legal entanglements, soon had her client released on her own recognizance. Mrs. Rios had promised the judge she wouldn't drive until she got her license reinstated. She would also have to get her food stamps reinstated as well.

Last winter a homeless Fort Bragg kid called “Lucky” traded a pack of smokes for an old BB gun. The cops said the gun was stolen, and Lucky’s food stamps were stopped. It took three months for Public Defender Tom Croak to get the cops to run the fingerprints on the gun, which proved Lucky innocent of the charge of receiving stolen property. By then Lucky was rail-thin.

* * *

Three young Los Angeles men charged with attempted first degree murder were in court last week. They'd driven up to Mendocino County for a drug deal that went bad, real bad, especially for Mr. Robert Long of Covelo who took a round between the eyes which, miraculously, Mr. Long has survived. (I'm afraid I'd previously given the impression that these guys had made bail. They hadn't.)

New developments in this case have emerged.

Another inmate at the jail, Joshua M. Seto, seems to have information about the incident. One of the defense lawyers for the L.A. Three, who are named Jacobs, Walker and Blackwell, Alternate Public Defender Barry Robinson said a certain “Jackie had showed up at Seto’s mother’s house with a large wad of cash. He was hot to get out of there ’cause something bad had gone down.”

In other words, it may have been the L.A. Three who got robbed, not Mr. Long and his partner, Jackie, as had been the assumption from the known facts of the case which boiled down to three young black men from Los Angeles appearing at an agricultural home in the hills of Covelo.

Chief Deputy DA Jill Ravitch objected. “We’re not trying this case, your honor. This witness may not even appear at the trial. We shouldn’t be going into extraneous facts before the trial even begins.”

Mr. Seto, who may or may not know facts pertinent to these events, faces felony charges in Mendocino County. But there was something about Mr. Seto being in a fight at the jail where he awaits extradition to Oregon to face sexual assault charges. Alternate Public Defender Robinson doesn’t want to lose his witness to Oregon. Seto, however, was waffling on his willingness to testify in the case and would be unlikely to respond to a subpoena.

Robinson said, “These jail fight charges have a way of disappearing. I’m concerned we’ll lose jurisdiction over Mr. Seto. I don’t think the court loses anything by setting bail.” Robinson wanted bail for Seto so Seto couldn’t disappear into Oregon's legal morass.

Judge Henderson said, “I don’t think there’s been any showing that Mr. Seto won’t honor the subpoena. I’m going to deny the motion to set bail and order that Mr. Seto be here for the Preliminary Hearing set for the 19th.

* * *

Special Agent Jason Cox was on the witness stand in Judge Ron Brown’s court testifying about a duffel bag full of money found in Ole Persson’s car. SA Cox’s dope dog had found the money because, apparently, the money smelled like dope. Mr. Persson’s lawyer Robert Boyd was concerned that the dog had scratched the paintwork on Persson’s car.

“I don’t know if the marks were from my dog,” Cox said. “He’s a Shepherd, and they’re lazy. When he alerts to drugs, his work is done and he wants his treat.”

“Does the dog scratch when he alerts?”

“Yes, but he’s so lazy, I can just wipe the scratches off with my hand. He only scratches the dust.”

“He didn’t scratch the clear coat?”

“No. In fact, I’ve since gone and looked at the car, and there’s no scratches.”

“Are you sure it’s the same car? Is it possible the car you observed is a 2006, not the 2009 in your report?”

“The license plates matched,” Cox said.

“Was the dog up on the hood of the car,” Mr. Boyd asked.

Cox laughed at the thought of his minimum effort canine jumping onto the hood of a car.

Boyd was unamused.

“So,” he said indignantly, “is it your testimony that the dog was not up on the hood?”

“I don’t recall the dog being up on the hood. As I said, he’s too lazy.”

Mr. Boyd was doubtful of the dog’s lack of ambition and wanted to pursue the subject of canine gymnastics, but it was well into the noon hour and Glen Sunkett had appeared in the middle of a muscularly numerous jail escort. Sunkett allegedly held a blow torch to the crotch of one of his alleged victims to persuade that Fort Bragg man to give Sunkett the dope and the cash. Sunkett has been convicted of that particularly gnarly series of events. He was scheduled for a Marsden hearing, an attempt to get a lawyer other than Public Defender Linda Thompson.

A great many deputies transport Sunkett who, it seems, is a very tough guy with serious “anger management issues,” as any one of Mendocino County's several hundred therapists might say. The judge didn’t want Sunkett's big bicep escort detail to have to make a second trip to the courthouse with Sunkett so he asked if it was agreed that he could postpone the crucial issue of whether or not SA Cox's dope dog had scratched the paint job on Mr. Persson's car.

Reluctantly, Mr. Boyd and his client agreed to give the floor to Sunkett and his NFL kickoff team.

Sunkett’s hearing was closed to the public. I don't know if he got Thompson off his case.

* * *

Tim Stelloh adds:

Glenn Sunkett, the Oakland guy convicted last summer of orchestrating a brutal home invasion at a coast grow just north of Fort Bragg,  apparently got the Ukiah courthouse locked down last Friday, according to the Daily Journal:

Sunkett was overheard telling a fellow inmate at the county jail he planned to fake a medical issue, grab a deputy’s gun and try to escape during transport to a prior court hearing, according to Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office deputy and courthouse security officer Art Barclay.

Consequently, more deputies were on-hand and more precautions were taken than usual on Friday, he said. Sunkett was escorted into the courthouse via a different route than inmates usually take, and entrances at the northern end of the courthouse were closed briefly to public access.

Sunkett—who presented himself in court as a misidentified black man in a lily-white county — has a long history of felonies; he’s also complained loudly about Linda Thompson, the public defender who got him convicted, and about conditions at the county jail, where he’s being held.

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