Can Glenn Sunkett Fire His Public Defender?

by Tim Stelloh, February 17, 2010

Glenn Sunkett, convicted home invader, would like nothing more than to fire Linda Thompson, public defender and, to hear Sunkett tell it, architect of his conviction.

Glenn Sunkett

So far, Superior Court Judge Ron Brown has ruled that he can't fire Thompson  —  even though Sunkett says he can afford to hire a private attorney to help him get a new trial. But these are desperate times. So last Wednesday, Sunkett launched a hunger strike that'll last until Thompson's booted.

“It's going to continue until I get Linda Thompson off my case and I get a new trial,” Sunkett said in an interview at Mendocino County Jail, where he's been held since September 2008. “If I don't, then someone will be responsible.”

To recap, Sunkett was found guilty last summer of orchestrating a brutal — but utterly bungled — home invasion on the coast. It was a robbery in which a trio of mostly masked black men used a blowtorch and guns to get dozens of pot plants and a ring valued at $46,000. The charges against Sunkett — who's claimed innocence all along — were many: He was convicted of multiple counts of kidnapping, burglary, robbery, false imprisonment and making criminal threats. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutor Jill Ravitch presented a mountain of circumstantial evidence and two eyewitness IDs during Sunkett’s roughly three week trial. There was the duffle bag, which had been found in Sunkett's Oakland apartment and which contained clothing and a blowtorch similar to those used during the robbery. There were the handcuff keys that matched the cuffs used on one of the victims. There were the neoprene masks Sunkett bought just prior to the home invasion. And there were the two victims who said Sunkett was one of the guys doing the robbing that night.

Sunkett took the stand and coolly explained his alibi. He'd been to the Mendo coast alright, but only to middleman 30 pounds of pot from a grower in Caspar. The GPS hadn't been with him, he said — it had been with the three runners moving those 30 pounds. Everything else found by the police was coincidental — it was stuff he said he'd used for paintballing and while working tow truck and construction jobs in the Bay Area.

The jury didn't buy it. They came back with a guilty verdict in just a few hours.

Sunkett's story had been thinly supported: Only two witnesses testified on his behalf. But that's not for lack of trying, Sunkett said. “There's no evidence of nothing that [Thompson] has done for me. No investigation. No motions. I've not talked to this woman on the phone since I've been here,” he said. “And this is stuff that she's even admitted to the court. So how are you going to say that her assistance is effective?”

Sunkett's litany of complaints are listed in a series of certified letters sent to Thompson and in documents he filed with the court to have her kicked off his case. At first, his tone in those letters was cordial — even upbeat. He discussed strategy and how they might beat the DA's office. “Hello! Just wanted to touch base with you and possibly help assist you in your preparation for my preliminary hearing set for April 1, 2009,” he wrote last March. “I'm not sure if you've ever went up against Ms. Ravitch before in a preliminary hearing or trial setting so I thought I may simply give you a few tips on her performance and strategy.” She's clever and well-prepared, Sunkett wrote — but also inaccurate at times.

But as the months wore on, his tone became desperate.

“It is now May 11.09, only 27 days before my trial is set to begin and I have yet to speak with you or meet with you since [March],” he wrote. “You have not contacted me about what evidence I want submitted at my trial, what witnesses I want interviewed and subpeoned [sic], what my alibi even is in this case. I've contacted your office MORE than a dozen times and left messages on your voicemail as well as with your secretary. My family and my civil attorney has called and left messages for you as well voicing their concern. But still, there has been no contact whatsoever by you or your office.”

Things didn't improve. During the trial, Sunkett said, he paid $2,900 out of pocket to have a cross-race identification expert flown from Reno to testify — but Thompson didn't add the expert to the witness list, so she never made it before the court. Nor did Thompson call any of the additional witnesses who, Sunkett said, could have fleshed out his alibi — like the guy he was going paintballing with, for instance. Nor did Thompson try suppressing an eyewitness ID from Dusty Miller, one of the victims; the positive ID hadn't been made from a lineup — it came only after one of the investigating detectives e-mailed Miller a single mug shot of Sunkett after he'd been arrested and charged.

A Sacramento attorney who's helped Sunkett said one of the key charges against him — kidnapping — was bogus. “That's one of the most outrageous circumstances in his case. He was convicted of four kidnappings and a kidnapping never took place,” said the attorney, Jeffrey Fletcher. “I cited six Supreme Court decisions that say what happened isn't kidnapping. But nobody cares.”

By last month, Sunkett's letters had turned from desperation to outrage.

“I want it stated for the record that I believe my constitutional rights are being violated and/or ignored by your remaining as my defense attorney on this case,” he wrote in a letter to Thompson dated January 23. “It is no longer possible for me to expect and receive justice and fairness through this current court process...By your remaining my counsel on this case you are doing me even more hardship in my fight for future relief and justice. I am begging you to disclose our longstanding conflict to the court and remove yourself from my case.”

Linda Thompson didn't return phone calls seeking comment. Her colleague in the public defender's office, Dan Haehl, said Sunkett's was a tough case to defend — though he's not familiar with the specifics of Sunkett's complaints. Thompson, he said, is committed to her job and always works hard for her clients.

At the jail, Sunkett said he's been shackled since November — even while taking a shower — and in isolation since March. Every time he shows up to court, he gets a linebacker security detail. Jail Commander Timothy Pearce didn't return phone calls seeking comment; Sunkett said he's clueless as to why this is.

Last month, the Daily Journal reported that Sunkett had planned a Wild West-style jailbreak: He'd fake a medical issue, grab a deputy's gun and presumably blast his way to freedom while on the way to court. (Sunkett was baffled by the assertion; according to the Daily Journal, the tip came from a fellow inmate.) Last September, Sunkett was in court on charges of attempting to escape from jail. A corrections officer testified that he'd found a jagged piece of metal in Sunkett's cell and a window bar being carved out. Once the officer was off the stand, however, the prosecutor asked that the charges be dismissed — which they promptly were.

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