Murders On Hold
by Bruce McEwen, January 25, 2017
All of the county’s current homicide cases are on hold. There’s quite a few and with one thing and another, all have stalled out.
Let’s start with a couple we thought were finished.
Simon Thornton and Marvin Johnson were convicted of murder in the Bushay Campground attack on a group of homeless folks. Thornton and Johnson apparently were part of a grim band of marginals who called themselves the Willits Mafia. They’d followed the small band of trimmigrants to the Lake Mendocino campground to recover a woman who seemed to find life with the trimmigrants more attractive than life in Willits with…. The woman was Marvin “Junior” Johnson’s ex, and when the shooting stopped two men were down, one of whom, Joe Litteral, 40 died, having taken a second bullet for his young friend, Brandon Haggett, 20, who had already been shot once. Although neither Thornton nor Johnson were the triggerman, by California’s felony-murder law, they were found guilty for taking part, and sentenced to prison.
On appeal, however, the two Willits men were granted a new trial, and this process is underway at present — has been for months on end, in fact.
Public Defender Linda Thompson is handling Thornton’s case, if that lends any insight into the reasons for the protracted delay. Ms. Thompson is also handling the case of Mario Godeniz-Gonzalez, another marijuana murder involving co-defendants Isidro Bernal-Lopez and a third guy named Edgar Contraras who has decided to testify against the other two: It was Contraras who called 911. He’d been gutshot by one of his partners in crime and left to die, after the three men had ambushed and killed a guerilla grower near Yorkville, Marcos Bautista of Cloverdale, back in the fall of 2015.
With more than she can handle already on her plate, Ms. Thompson also took on one of the gang who robbed and viciously murdered Laytonville pot pharmer Jeffery Settler. These guys — the three who were in custody already — were back in court last week, as was a newly captured member, Michael Andrew Kane, who surrendered to US Customs and Immigration officers at the Mexico border in San Ysidro, California, saying he was “tried of running.”
Could be. More likely, all the dope he stole was gone, and gringos without money aren’t especially useful or welcome in Mexico, a country closing in on Failed State status.
Ms. Thompson was representing Abdirahman Said Mohammed, another member of the group involved in the Laytonville pot murder of Mr. Settler — but she wasn’t available, so Carly Dolan, her able lieutenant, filled in for a secret meeting in Judge John Behnke’s chambers. This was on Tuesday.
By Friday Mr. Kane was brought in and arraigned. His lawyer is Ethan Balough. All of the Settler murder suspects were ordered back to court on February 2nd for entry of pleas.
Also, Ms. Thompson is handling the case of Joshua Ruoff, accused (it’s not really a who-done-it, incidentally) of killing Timothy Sweeting, his co-worker on a Covelo pot pharm. It was Sweeting’s dog that found the body, buried in a shallow grave only a few feet from the house where the phot pharmas all lived and worked. Sweeting’s mother was in court, hoping no doubt, to see some progress in the case, but with Linda Thompson’s Clintonesque ego in the way, the trial was set for way out next summer, June 5th (provisionally, like everything else with this lawyer). Thompson said she needed more time, and she’ll have found an excuse to ask for even more time by June (having taken on, if not particularly representing, even more high-profile cases by then).
Thompson has handed down two high-profile homicide cases to her “Assistant” Carly Dolan. This is part and parcel of the aggrandizement we find so often in local county officers from the school board to the transit authority and everything (save the DA and Sheriff’s offices) in between: The incompetent office-holder may reward certain sycophants with a travesty of delegating authority, while at the same time undermining that person in order to keep up the illusion that only she, head honcho Thompson in this case, can handle the truly important cases. And so it happens that Ms. Dolan has been allowed to take on a couple of open-and-shut cases: Jewel Dyer who confessed to killing his father with a baseball bat, and Steven Ryan, who shot down a black kid who was dumpster-diving for recyclables in Ukiah. These are both self-defense claims and both postponed because Ms. Dolan had to go in for a “medical procedure” last week when Dyer and Ryan were both on the docket.
Finally we had the Charles Reynolds case, all set to go to trial.
Charles Reynolds is the tough guy who sucker punched Ken Fisher and killed him outside Boomer’s Bar in Laytonville. He faces charges of assault with great bodily injury (i.e., death), not manslaughter and not second degree murder — charges that Fisher’s family and others say are insufficient for the killing of Fisher. But then at the last minute, Mr. Reynolds wanted a more experienced lawyer, and hired Justin Petersen of Ukiah.
In all of these cases the family and friends of the decedents are made to mark time and endure their misery to accommodate the convenience of lawyers with varying amounts of time and levels of competence. It doesn’t seem right, but there you have it.