This Halloween Story Rated PG
by Bruce McEwen, October 19, 2016
Last Halloween at a pot pharm near Dos Rios, when the costumes came off around midnight, out stepped a real monster, and a major act of violence commenced.
Parental Guidance advised for the rest of the story.
Arlon Lee ‘Al’ Strauss has been growing weed for a living most of his adult life. He’s only had one real job, a stint at Domino’s Pizza, which doesn’t pay nearly as good as the love drug business,
Strauss had moved to the Dos Rios property of Gary and Carol Parsons where the drug of choice for everyone there, he says, was methamphetamine, and he rapidly became addicted himself.
Strauss blamed the others at the property, both of the Parsons and Terry Ellison and Terry’s son, Terry Jr., along with Joseph Yandon, for his meth use. Strauss told the investigating deputies that these people were out to get him and had blamed the attempted murder of Gabrielle Miller on him instead of “a big Indian” who had really done the crime he was accused of. Strauss claimed the “big Indian” had bashed Ms. Miller’s head and face in while she stood at the kitchen sink washing up after the Halloween party. The “big Indian” then raped not the unfortunate Ms. Miller but Strauss, Strauss said.
A hundred and fifty years ago Strauss’s wildly improbable claim would have caused enough of a sensation in Dos Rios that a troop of white vigilantes would have ridden east into Covelo and massacred every “Indian” they could find.
But things have changed, and the deputies were convinced that it was Strauss who had beaten Ms. Miller nearly to death, not the “big Indian.” The cops didn’t even bother to do a rape kit on Strauss.
Gary Parsons told Deputy Elmore that Strauss was upset because Ms. Miller had teased him, about what was not revealed in court. Miller said she was only teasing, but Strauss admitted to Parsons that the teasing made him feel “kinda weird.” Parsons said Strauss had also become paranoid that people were trying to steal his rocks where he camped down by the river, and that he was a “medicine man” who conversed with spirits.
Gary Parsons informed Deputy Elmore that Strauss was infatuated with rocks and loved them as much as any geologist. He said Strauss was always concerned about people trying to steal his rocks, and that he would hurt them if they did.
Maybe he’d been given a pet rock as a kid and some other little rock hound had stolen it. Whatever the origins of Strauss’s rock obsession, Strauss seems to have come from a rocky family. His father, is serving a term in Pelican Bay.
This talk between Ms. Miller and Rock Man Strauss that so upset Strauss took place in the kitchen while Parsons was in his bedroom working on his computer. As Strauss was beating Ms. Miller over the head in the kitchen with a big rock, Parsons said he thought he heard a sound like doors slamming. Strauss had been known to lose his temper and slam doors, and had once been evicted from the property for his violent behavior. So Parsons got up from his computer to see what all the commotion was about and found Ms. Miller on the kitchen floor with her head and face smashed in, lots of blood, two bloody rocks, and a tooth on the floor.
Carol Parsons told Elmore that she and Yandon had just arrived at the property where she said she could see Ms. Miller standing at the kitchen sink through the window. She and Yandon were unloading items from their van when she heard three loud thumps. Entering the house she saw Gary Parsons running down the hallway toward the kitchen. She followed and saw Ms. Miller on the floor in a pool of blood. She put a pillow under Miller’s head and tried to call 911, but found the phone inoperable.
Joseph Yandon told the deputy he heard Carol Parsons calling his name and he too came running only to find Ms. Miller on the floor covered in blood. He turned the victim on her side so she wouldn’t choke on her own blood and went to get Terry Ellison, Sr. Together, they placed Ms. Miller in Ellison’s BMW to get her to the hospital “because they knew it would be a long time before the ambulance would arrive.” Ellison left for the hospital in Willits, and Yandon and the others went out and started yelling for Strauss because he was the last one seen with Ms. Miller.
Strauss then came running up from the river with his hands up (apparently his roommates had guns trained on him). Strauss told Yandon he’d run down to the river because he’d seen “that big Indian that had raped him a week ago standing in the shadows of the kitchen. The “big Indian” had raped him again,” he said, that night. He said he was scared, and asked Yandon what he ought to do. Yandon told him to go wait in the fifth-wheel trailer parked on the property.
At about 1:00am the BMW sped through a red light in Willits at approximately 70 MPH, attracting the attention of Deputy Elmore who activated his lights and siren and caught up to the vehicle. It ran another red light as its driver frantically waved his arm out the window and continued to speed on in the direction of the old Howard Hospital. It was obvious to the pursuing deputy that this was all some kind of medical emergency. The BMW’s driver, Terry Ellison, Sr., who was known to law enforcement from “previous contacts,” had a large amount of blood on his clothes. Having had a look at the victim, Elmore escorted the BMW to Willits’ newly constructed hospital, and assisted the nearly dead Ms. Miller to the Emergency Room.
Ellison told the deputy where the “incident” had happened. Dos Rios is halfway to Covelo. It was once a thriving stop complete with a little hotel on the rail line running between Marin and Eureka.
Deputies got to the Parsons property around 2:30 in the morning. Strauss was taken from the trailer, pleading with the deputies not to hurt him, and placed under arrest. Deputy Elmore looked in the kitchen and saw a bucket of bloody water with a rag hanging out of it. There was a large amount of blood spatter on the refrigerator and cabinets. There were two bloody rocks and a tooth on the counter next to the sink. A bloody rug and a bloody pillow were found in the trash. There was no reasonable explanation offered as to why the Parsons and friends had conducted a cleanup of the crime scene, Elmore said, although it was no mystery about what happened there. Anyway, who wants to eat breakfast in a kitchen decorated by Mayhem and Gore?
A year later Public Defender Linda Thompson made a deal with District Attorney David Eyster that Al Strauss would plead to Count One, Second-Degree Attempted Murder — reduced from first-degree (because, hey, Strauss didn’t do it; the meth did!); Count Two, Aggravated Mayhem; First Special Allegation, resulting in Great Bodily Injury; Second Special Allegation, use of a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon, namely a Rock. The amount of prison time was left for Judge David Nelson to decide, within the limits of the agreed upon charges.
Ms. Thompson began by arguing that it was because of the meth that Rock Man had gone off. This line of defense was somewhat incongruous because all the public defenders from Thompson on down have been arguing strenuously for years that meth is a harmless recreational stimulant and should never have been criminalized, that criminalization is a holdover from the excesses of the Reagan Era drug war when the government started legislating morality at the impetus and under the auspices of Jerry Falwell and Newt Gingrich.
Prop. 47, which softens the criminalization of methamphetamine, was seen as a great step in the right direction, and there’s not a week goes by that one or more of Ms. Thompson’s public defenders doesn’t sneer at the perceived “dangers” of meth use, suggesting that it was Republican fat guys who didn’t understand that they could both trim down and have a heckuva lotta fun shooting up speed.
So when Thompson started out by blaming this whole “incident” on the meth her client was using, the lawyers seated in the well started pinching each other to make sure they weren’t dreaming. Thompson then stated that her client was so tweaked-out that he was hallucinating, and had been blazing for weeks on end.
“To this day, my client has no recollection of anything that happened. Now, I don’t think he’s trying to ignore the evidence, your honor. I truly believe he does not remember any of it.”
In the next breath, Thompson told the judge, “He’s very remorseful for what he’s done. In fact, he could be the poster boy for why you shouldn’t do drugs.”
One lawyer turned to another: “If he doesn’t remember doing anything, what’s he got to be so sorry about?”
DA Eyster said, “He does know what happened [Miller teased him and he went into a homicidal rage], and that’s why he gave the deputy and everybody else the story about how the fictitious big Indian did it.”
Eyster picked up a stack of photographs and walked towards the bench. He said, “Here, judge, look at this — and these are not the gory ones, these are how the victim looked after she’d been cleaned up by the medical team that saved her life.”
Ms. Miller’s brain matter was visible in some of the pictures.
Another picture showed the pools of blood on the floor and seat of the BMW.
“Here, judge, in this photograph you can see how the bones in her hand were broken as she tried to defend herself. So you see, I have to protest when I hear Ms. Thompson’s claim that this crime has many mitigating factors. There was a high degree of viciousness, callousness and cruelty involved here. And everybody says ‘Thank God she didn’t die,’ but that doesn’t help us to understand that she’s not the same person at all.”
Victim Witness officers from the DA’s staff were unable to get any response from Ms. Miller in their repeated attempts to contact her. There had been brain damage and her face and head had been horribly disfigured. They can do amazing things on the operating table these days, but one wonders sometimes if they should.
Thompson felt it was a mitigating factor that Miller hadn’t succumbed.
Detective Quincy Cromer wrote the court a letter asking for the maximum sentence in order to “provide Ms. Miller and her family with some resolution for this case.”
Eyster said there was another aspect that pointed to the aggravated sentence, in that the attack came from a quarter of assured trust and confidence — from a friend.
“She was doing the dishes and had her back to him. She had told him she was only teasing when they were talking to Mr. Parsons. So he took advantage of that trust and confidence when she turned her back on him.”
Thompson repeated her refrain that it was the meth, that her client was a nice guy without the meth, and he was never going to use it again, that he wanted to teach others what a mistake it was…
“Judge,” Eyster returned, “we don’t want to send the message here that if you kill someone on meth that it will be only be a mitigated crime, and you’ll get off easy. We’ve seen him try to blame the others for his meth use, that it was all their fault, but nobody put a gun to his head, he took the meth voluntarily, and I think the court should give him the aggravated sentence.”
Thompson said, “As to my client giving a story to everyone, he was hallucinating and thought he’d been sexually assaulted by an Native American-type individual.” (That’s called “racism,” Ms. Thompson. If you listened to KZYX you’d know that. Please report to the MEC for counseling.)
There was a Native American sitting in the dock. He turned around in his seat and gave Strauss a long, hard looking over. There was something in his expression that made it plain he considered this ridiculous comment, based entirely on desperate lies, a gross libel of his entire race.
At this point Strauss read a few platitudes he’d prepared:
“I can’t begin to express the sorrow and regret I feel for the things I’ve done because of my drug use and lifestyle. Gabrielle was my friend. I cannot imagine what she and her family are going through, but if the court will only give me the chance, I would like to make it up to her by being a good drug counselor,” blah blah blah…”
Judge Nelson admitted it was a really sad case, looking blandly at Mr. Strauss.
“Especially for the victim, Mr. Strauss, and I don’t think this is a mitigated case at all, but I’ve selected the mid-term because this never would have happened if you were not strung-out on meth. So you’ll be sentenced to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for a total of 13 years. I wish you success in becoming a drug counselor because you do have a story to tell.”
Eyster wanted 16 years and eight months; Thompson was hoping for 11 years… So Thompson will see it as a victory for her office. I see it as a victory for meth, and Eyster is right: The courts keep sending the message that meth is excusable even in the most horrible cases. That’s because the judges don’t have to live with the tweakers swarming all over them like the rest of us do.
ORIGINAL PRESS RELEASE...
Arlon Lee Strauss, age 31, previously of Dos Rios and the Napa area, was sentenced Friday morning to thirteen (13) years in state prison. Absent passage of proposed changes in the criminal laws on the November ballot (i.e., Prop 57), Strauss currently will be required to serve 85% of that structured sentence. Strauss was convicted of and sentenced Friday for attempted murder, mayhem, inflicting great bodily injury causing the victim to become comatose, and the use of rock as a weapon, all occurring on Halloween night 2015. After using methamphetamine, Strauss attacked a woman — who even today he still claims was his friend — without warning or provocation. Coming at her from behind, Strauss used a rock to batter her head while she was washing dishes at the kitchen sink. The attack badly injured the woman, fracturing her skull and exposing brain matter, but she miraculously escaped death with emergency and extended medical care of the doctors and nurses at Howard Hospital and Stanford, respectively. Strauss originally claimed to investigators that an unknown Indian male had inflicted the harm on the woman and that the same mystery man had also previously sexually assaulted Strauss. DNA testing revealed the defendant had the victim's blood on his socks. The prosecutor handling the case was District Attorney David Eyster. The investigating law enforcement agencies were the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Justice forensic laboratories in Eureka and Redding. The Superior Court judge who presided over the case from the DA's filing of formal charges through today's sentencing was the Honorable David Nelson.
— District Attorney’s Office Press Release