Wes Murphy’s Assault Rifle
by Bruce McEwen, February 15, 2017
UKIAH, Wed., February 8. — Jury Trial Result: A Mendocino County Superior Court jury returned from its deliberations late Wednesday afternoon with guilty verdicts against Wesley Murphy, age 53, occasionally of Willits and Laytonville. Murphy was convicted by jury verdict of being a felon in possession of a firearm, a felony. He was also convicted by jury verdict of possessing marijuana for purposes of sale, previously a felony but now a misdemeanor post-Proposition 64. The defendant was found Not Guilty on a third count alleging the unlawful possession of an assault rifle.
The facts underlying today's verdicts occurred in the Woodman Peak area of Laytonville in December 2015. The defendant — a previously convicted felon — was found by law enforcement in possession of an AR-15 rifle, along with a loaded 30-round ammunition magazine. Convicted felons are prohibited for life in California (and most, if not all other states) from owning or possessing firearms and ammunition. Over 100 pounds of processed marijuana (stacked in one pound bags) was also found in the defendant's trailer. The defendant's case was referred to the Adult Probation Department, as required by law, for a background study and sentencing recommendation. A sentencing hearing is now calendared for March 22, 2017 at 9 o'clock in the morning in Department H at the Ukiah courthouse.
Anyone interested in this matter is welcome to attend that sentencing hearing. The prosecutor who represented the interests of The People of the State of California, by and through the Mendocino County District Attorney, was Deputy District Attorney Scott McMenomey. The investigating law enforcement agency was the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office. Mendocino County Superior Court Judge John Behnke presided over the three day trial.
(District Attorney Press Release)
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As we reported last September, "Deputy Raymond Hendry, on a follow-up from a tip by task force agent Jim Wells, came onto the property at 2270 Woodman Peak Road, Laytonville, in December of 2015 and found Mr. Murphy, a convicted felon out of San Diego, with an AR-15 assault rifle at one end of the property and at the other Cameron Roach with a AK-74 assault rifle.
At Murphy’s preliminary hearing, Mr. Opet of the Public Defender’s Office, moved to quash the search warrant, arguing that Deputy Hendry came onto the property with an arrest warrant for another person but instead found Murphy with his assault rifle and a mountain of turkey bags full of processed bud.
Agent Wells had told Hendry that the fugitive they were looking for might be at the Woodman Peak Road address.
Public defender Opet wanted task force agent Wells to explain the confusion.
“You may do so at the trial, Mr. Opet,” said Judge Nelson, “but I don’t see a need for it for the purposes of the prelim. There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence and no evidence that the officer was lying so I’m going to deny the motion to suppress, the motion to quash, and the 17b motion [to reduce the charges]. I’ll hold both to answer on the possession for sale and the arming allegations, as well as the felon in possession of an assault rifle. That’ll be the order.”
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That was last September. The case went to trial last week.
It was a hard-hearted jury last week that turned a deaf ear to most of the pleadings of Wesley Murphy’s lawyer, public defender Jonathan Opet.
The jury refused to believe that Mr. Murphy was only a homeless vagabond who merely needed a warm place to sleep and a roof over his head in the wet weather when he was found in a trailer with 172 pounds of market-ready Mendo Purple and a fully loaded AR-15 assault rifle.
The jury chose to believe prosecutor Scott McMenomy instead that Murphy was in on the operation, even if not personally in charge.
Count One, possession of an assault rifle: Guilty. Count Two, possession of a firearm by a prohibited person: Guilty. Count Three, possession for sale of a controlled substance: Guilty.
Deputy DA McMenomey held up the rifle with the evidence locker tag fluttering from a string tied to the trigger guard. It was a dandy. Semi-automatic, center-fire, detachable 30-round magazine, pistol-grip, muzzle-flash suppressor, telescopic collapsible stock; all the characteristics of the weapons of war outlawed by the State of California.
“Anybody can tell by looking at it,” McMenomey said, “that this is an assault weapon. And if the defendant didn’t know it, he certainly should have known it. It’s unreasonable to believe he wouldn’t have known this was an assault weapon.”
McMenomey then mashed a button and snapped shut the extended stock — which made a double-click sound like those lock-and-load cocking-the-action scenes movie directors are so fond of for getting a gasp of surprise from the gun-shy members of the audience and an envious sigh from the trigger-happy psychopaths.
Folding or collapsible stocks are handy on assault rifles because it enables the shooter to quickly get the stock out of the way to fire in a sweeping arc from the hip, to “clear a room,” for instance, when fighting house-to-house in urban combat; or, for Nor Cal purposes, take down a room full of trimmers in a home invasion robbery.
The double click, incidentally — whether it’s the collapsing stock snapping into position, or the locking-and-loading of a round in the chamber — is one of the most arresting, and often the last, sound many assault rifle victims will ever hear.
As a previously onvicted felon, Wesley Murphy was prohibited from having any kind of firearm in his possession or under his control, and this one was at the foot of his bed. It had not been fingerprinted — an annoyance to the defense lawyer — but Murphy had freely admitted that he had handled it, “to move it out of the way,” he claimed. “I don’t even like guns.”
Mr. Murphy’s role in this case was that of a guard, at the back of the property, according to law enforcement’s theory. More people were involved. Readers may recall the full article mentioned above from September of 2016 called “Dolphins in the Tuna Net” about four Guatemalan trimmigrants who were swept up in the bust of a big grow at 2270 Woodland Peak Road, out of Laytonville, on December 1st, 2015. Deputy Raymond Derrick Hendry had gone there on a tip from Deputy Jim Wells that one David Borrich was there, and Deputy Hendry had an arrest warrant for Borrich. On several occasions Mr. Opet has argued the legality of his client Wesley Murphy’s arrest under these circumstances. But in each instance, the judge at the time (David Nelson), sided with the prosecution.
There was another guard, also armed with an assault rifle, along with a 9 mm handgun, at the front of the property. This was Cameron Roach. Roach's daughter Sydney Roach was also on the property. She was living in a makeshift dwelling with her boyfriend and another hippy.
The only people on the property doing any work, trimming marijuana by themselves in a shed, were the Guatemalan nationals, who had been deported under the Obama Administration.
All the white folks were just lounging around, taking it easy — the pot guards had to be awakened, even though it was nigh on to 10:00 in the morning!
When Deputy Hendry made it to where Murphy was stationed, at the back of the property, he had seen enough to call headquarters for Deputy Jeremy Mason to get a judge’s autograph on a search warrant to legally tally 190 pounds of marijuana outside the trailer Murphy was staying in, along with the 172 pounds that was already processed and packaged up, ready for sale. By law enforcement accounts, it was quite an impressive little cottage industry.
As Deputy Hendry was dashing from building to trailer, to connex to shed, he found a sleepy-eyed fellow urinating off a porch, and this proved to be a Mr. Brendon Frazier — one of the “dolphins” caught in the “tuna” net. Frazier was the boyfriend of Ms. Roach, and it was her lawyer, Keith Faulder, who had characterized his client and the other white folks as “dolphins caught in the tuna net.”
How Murphy's story would convince anybody but his lawyer, Mr. OPet, remains unknown.
From Mr. Opet’s closing argument.
“Mr. McMenomey thanked you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your service, saying it was a great sacrifice, next only to serving in combat… I disagree. I feel you have a duty to be here…”
One juror had come over from the South Coast during the worst of the recent rainstorms and, having heard Highway 128 was closed near the junction of Highway 1, he went over Mountain View Road, only to be turned back halfway, by a tree across the road. He then tried Philo-Greenwood, and got through in time for court. There was still one juror missing, but with the alternates, no prob.
Presiding Judge John Behnke suggested, in his inimitably garrulous way, that this juror had done more than expected.
Mr. Opet took exception. He argued that it was also cold, wet, damp, soggy and miserable last December 1st when Deputy Hendry woke the Laytonville gringos and their huge dope stash, and that his client, Murphy, was cold, shivering, desperate, and glad to have a roof over his head. Was it his fault there just happened to be an assault rifle at the foot of his bed and a million dollars worth of miracle medicine in his bedroom? Gee, what was Murph supposed to do? Complain to his hosts about the shelter they'd lent him?
“Imagine a day like today,” Opet said pacing evenly along the jury box. “It’s wet, damp, cold — like any Mendocino winter…”
A few more paces, a turn, a cold look on the jury's faces.
“My client didn’t want anything to do with that gun; he hates guns. You heard him tell the deputy that on the recorded interview. But what’s he supposed to do? Go and say, No, I’m not sleeping in there with that gun?
Opet walked to the end of the jury box, turned and came back, keeping the same even pace.
“Mr. Murphy is charged with two felonies and his life is in your hands. You have a duty, here. Imagine if this was your best friend. Would you want the jury to quickly decide? Or would you want them to give this case the gravity it deserves?”
A pause, a turn.
“Mr. Murphy is presumed innocent. Remember that. And the question is: Has there been enough evidence to prove every single element of these charges beyond any reasonable doubt…”
Another pause and turn.
"Mr. McMenomey has said this is a simple case. I prefer to discuss with you the reasonable inferences you can draw from all this very circumstantial evidence. Now, the law says that if you can draw two or more reasonable conclusions from the evidence, you must choose the one that indicates innocence, and that my client wanted nothing more than a warm, dry place to sleep.”
Opet had argued strenuously that his client moved the gun away, and this could be construed as an attempt to get rid of it — the case law he quoted said “destroy” it, but nevermind. Judge Behnke denied the motion, and the jury came back and that was it. This actually worked. When the jurors came in they said NOT GUILTY on Count One — Possession of an Assault Rifle!
Well, there you have it!
They believed part of it and Mr. Opet is a sound defense lawyer, by golly.