‘Sucker Punch’ or Parking Lot Fight?
by Bruce McEwen, April 5, 2017
Charles Reynolds is charged with felony assault with a special allegation of inflicting great bodily injury (not murder) for killing Kenneth Fisher, a native of Laytonville, who died after Reynolds reportedly sucker punched Fisher outside Boomer’s bar in Laytonville on August 28 of 2016.
The trial had been delayed when Reynolds switched attorneys in mid-February to Justin Petersen who said he needed time to review the case and devise a defense.
Reynolds’ trial finally began Monday morning, right on time, and Mr. Reynolds was present with his new lawyer, Justin Petersen, probably the best defense attorney in the county – if not all of Nor Cal – since his father, the late Richard Petersen (Mendoland’s very own Gerry Spence, with the beaded buckskins, boots, hats, and booming forensic oratorical voice the likes of Cicero and Tony Serra would kill for! – arrived precisely on time with his client, ready to go forth, as they say in court.
Justin Petersen is not his father. And it most certainly does not go without saying. Their styles vary wayyy too much to assume they might be alike in the courtroom. But one thing Justin either learned or inherited (or both) from his father, was how to win a case; even a case nobody else would touch!
Mr. Reynolds, as we reported a few weeks ago, retained Petersen at the last instant – he’d started out with a newly minted lawyer, Macci Baldock, and this talented young lawyer bowed out a few weeks ago, citing her inexperience, and Mr. Petersen took over. There was a motion from the prosecutor, Deputy DA Luke Oakley, a youngster much like Ms. Balldock – and they were very evenly matched in that regard – so the objection had to do with a conflict of interest which was resolved in defense’s favor, as to – well, almost everyone involved in the case, since they reside in Laytonville, has some taint of the evil weed on their fingers, and so they’ve all mostly been shaken-down by law enforcement for zip-ties and what have you in the past.
There were some pre-trial motions, and these were dealt with this morning.
Mr. Petersen had just submitted his witness list, making an exception for one witness he was still seeking to subpoena – whom he suspected was in hiding – but he had a back-up, he said, if this witness couldn’t be tracked down.
DDA Oakley said he would object if defense tried to tie any of prosecution's witnesses to their criminal records. Judge John Behnke said he would decide on that issue if and when it came up; the judge did, however, look over the witness list and note that a DUI from the 1980s probably wouldn’t be allowed.
Oakley said, “That’s not what I’m worried about, judge. I’m concerned that defense will try to introduce an incident of battery on a co-habitant on the part of the descedant.” (The dead man)
Judge Behnke fitted his glasses onto his ears and opened the California Code of Evidence, and then he read aloud from it, establishing that this was entirely acceptable under law.
“Those two convictions are admissible,” he said, and it was established that the victim had not been averse to violence himself on at least two occasions.
The judge also said that he had noticed a number of people wearing T-shirts (chartruse-emergency colored with block letters reading JUSTICE FOR KENNY) and “eying the defendant – eyeballing him, if you will – and I just want to say that if I see any of that I will use the court’s authority to eject from the courtroom anyone who does so.”
The judge peered over the top of his glasses at the gallery, but none of ‘em were present, only two newspaper reporters, myself and Sara Reith.
For good measure he cautioned anyone whatsoever against trying to suborn a juror or witness.
Mr. Petersen wanted the jury instructed on the elements of the charges, which was reasonable, since this, a one-punch parking lot fight, was not being charged as a homicide, even though it resulted in death. Judge Behnke said he hadn’t intended to do so, and after thinking about it a few minutes resolved to keep it that way.
Petersen also wanted the “lesser-included” charges read at the outset, and again, the judge declined to do so.
The main charge is assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury (in this case it caused death) and the lesser charge of battery the judge thought was obvious. But he agreed to read the pleadings from the lawyers before deciding.
The parties each had 10 pre-emptory challenges, and it took all day to select the jury, but by 4:30 the jury had been sworn in.
* * *
Dramatic developments in the Charles Reynolds jury trial Tuesday when, just before the lunch recess, defense attorney Justin Petersen revealed that Mr. Reynolds’ girlfriend came to him (Mr. Petersen) and revealed that the State’s eyewitness to the so-called “sucker punch,” Mr. Chris Bradley, had hit on her with sexually explicit language several times before the incident, for which Reynolds is being tried, occurred. This revelation, along with Mr. Bradley’s statements to police investigators that he didn’t like or trust Charles Reynolds, has caused some credibility problems with the veracity of the testimony.
Mr. Bradley was waiting in his car outside Anna’s restaurant, which is adjacent to Boomr’s Bar, when he said he saw the defendant strike the decedent Kenneth Fisher with what he described as a “tremendous blow, a sucker-punch to the right temple. It was so fast and he [Reynolds] hit him [Fischer] so hard he [Fisher] dropped like a sack of bricks.”
On cross Petersen said, “You knew Kenny before?”
“You were friends with him?”
“But you didn’t recognize him when he came out of the bar with Charlie?”
“Not really. I was surprised when I rolled him over and saw it was Kenny.”
“What about my client? Did you know him?”
“As an acquaintance, yeah.”
“Didn’t you tell the cops you didn’t like him?”
“Not really. I said I was cordial with him, but we didn’t high-five and barbecue together, or anything like that.”
“So you see these two guys and one just lands a huge tremendous blow on the other, for no apparent reason?”
“Yep. That’s why they call it a sucker punch.”
“And you weren’t expecting that?”
“I was extremely surprised.”
“But didn’t you tell the cops that was just the kind of thing Charlie would do, and that you just don’t like the guy?”
“No, not really. I don’t hang out with him, cause that’s just the kind of guy he is.”
“So when you saw who it was, you were thinking it’s Charlie, he’s gonna sucker-punch this guy?”
“Do you remember telling the officer it was so dark you couldn’t even see the guy laying there?”
“Remember telling the officer he was snoring like a man knocked out?”
“It was more like gurgling, like a death rattle.”
“You never said death rattle to the police – why are you saying it now in front of the jury?”
“I was just saying that’s what it sounded like.”
“You didn’t say that before, why now?”
“I didn’t know what to call it then.”
“Is it fair to say you refused to talk to the defense investigator because you’ve taken a side, here?”
“I don’t think so. I just didn’t feel like talking to him.”
“I didn’t feel like reiterating it.”
“Well, given all the times you’ve had to go over it with the police – what’s it been, five-ten times – why not go over it again with the defense investigator?”
“I didn’t feel like it.”
“Because you’re on a side?”
“I’m telling you the same thing today as I told law enforcement before, plain and simple.”
“You knew Charlie’s girlfriend from before this incident?”
“We were friends on Facebook for a time.”
“You had a thing for her?”
“No, not really.”
“Ever hit on her?”
“Not that I know of. People flirt, you know.”
“Leading up to this incident, hadn’t you hit on her several times?”
“This incident has nothing to do with that.”
At this time the jurors left for lunch and Mr. Petersen told the court that the girlfriend had come to him during the last break and revealed the information to him. Judge John Behnke said that that made her a potential witness and that she would have to remain outside the courtroom from now on, until called to testify, in case she was.
Other witnesses were called in the afternoon and video clips from the surveillance cameras were shown, but it was mostly what had been seen during the prelim. The trial is expected to last into the early part of next week, Friday being a court holiday.
* * *
Last Friday being a court holiday, the trial of Charles Reynolds went into a three-day recess on Thursday afternoon, running on schedule despite a curtailed witness list for the defense.
As it happened only three defense witnesses came to court, and only one of these, Larry Sutherland, spent any significant time on the stand. Of the other two, Raymond Taylor was on the stand only briefly due to his inability or refusal to remember anything significant about the time and place in question, even though a video of the scene at Boomer’s Bar was played and re-played for him several times. Another witness for defense didn’t show up at all, and yet another [unnamed] witness was suspected of being in hiding. The reason for this seemed apparent when Mr. Sutherland said he’d been threatened.
The last defense witness was Dr. Geoffrey Loftus, a psychology professor from the University of Washington in Seattle, who specializes in perception and memory. Dr. Loftus was the subject of a long legal debate about what he would be allowed to say if he took the stand, and this debate used up the time allotted for the other witnesses, so the time estimates remained accurate.
The State’s case against Mr. Reynolds hinges almost entirely on the testimony of the eyewitness, Christopher Bradley, who said he saw Reynolds sucker-punch the decedent, Kenneth Fisher in the parking lot outside Boomer’s Bar, last August 28th.
Defense has tried to discredit this testimony, first by suggesting that Mr. Bradley didn’t like Reynolds, and later by alluding to allegations by Reynolds’ girlfriend that Bradley had hit on her prior to the incident. The expert on perception and memory, Dr. Loftus, was brought in to further erode the jury’s confidence in the eyewitness testimony of Mr. Bradley.
On Wednesday the prosecution brought in the medical specialists, and established that the decedent died of a ruptured artery emerging from the spine and running upward to the head due to a trauma of some kind, and on cross Mr. Petersen established that this artery was susceptible to bursting under such ordinary circumstances – supposing certain conditions were right – as a sneeze or a cough; and that, indeed, people sometimes died from this. This may have been one of the reasons the case was not filed as a homicide in the first place. So it was essential that the prosecutor, Deputy DA Luke Oakley, make it clear that the victim had been “assaulted with force likely to cause great bodily injury,” meaning the sucker punch – for if the two men were mutual combatants going out to the parking lot to settle their differences man to man, no crime was committed, and it was a tragic fluke of fate with no one to blame.
And that in essence was defense’s contention, as stated in Mr. Petersen’s opening remarks.
“We all agree that this was a tragedy,” Petersen said. “But we disagree that there was this huge colossal blow, this sucker punch.”
“Force and power,” Deputy DA Oakley said. “That’s what this case is about.”
Oakley had also argued in pre-trial motions that this was “a crime of moral turpitude,” and he cited some of the defendant’s record of arrests, some of them as trivial as having a shotgun shell in his possession 13 years ago; others, more recently, such as domestic violence and a misdemeanor assault five years ago. There was talk of telling the jury about these things and Judge Behnke was undecided — he would decide at the time, whether Oakley could mention the priors to the jury and use them to impeach the defendant’s credibility in the event Reynolds decided to take the stand in his own defense. As it happened, he did not. Oakley also wanted to bring these things up if defense made any negative references to the State’s witnesses.
One of the State’s witnesses was Mathias Marsh, who had been at the bar drinking on the fatal day and had a good deal of interaction with both Reynolds and Fischer. Here the business of character assassination began in earnest for both sides. Marsh had said that he was drinking Glenlivet single malt Scotch and that no, he was not taking any drugs, no methamphetamine or cocaine. He said his only drug was marijuana and he didn’t even use that when he was drinking.
Mr. Sutherland, when called by defense, said that wasn’t true, that anytime “Matty” Marsh was at the bar, he was most definitely snorting coke. When asked how he knew, Sutherland admitted that he was most often doing the coke with “Matty.” They were all friends. When Sutherland said he’d been threatened about testifying, the judge put a stop to the Q&A, and called the lawyers into his chambers. When they emerged sometime later, no more was said about threats to witnesses — which is a felony.
But whether or not Mr. Sutherland was threatened before coming to court, he most explicitly was threatened while on the stand. He had not only admitted to snorting the coke with Marsh, but testified that he’d been driving that day when he and Reynolds and a third party all went golfing and drinking that day at the Benbow Inn near Garberville; then drinking more at the Benbow Lodge, then driving to Laytonville, drinking more; and finally driving to Willits.
“You know, don’t you,” Oakley said pointedly, “that drinking and driving is against the law?”
Sutherland gulped and said he did.
“And I’m sure you know using cocaine is illegal, as well, don’t you?”
“And do you know that perjury is against the law?”
The look Oakley gave Sutherland was so significant that it was unmistakably a promise that he’d be prosecuted for admissions made in open court.
What pissed Oakley off was Petersen had put Marsh back on the stand and asked him pointedly if he’d discussed any of his testimony with anyone before the trial. Marsh said emphatically that he had not. So Petersen put Sutherland on and Sutherland said he’d met with Marsh a week or so earlier at Digger’s Bar in Willits, and they’d talked about the case together – totally compromising Marsh’s whole ordeal on the stand, because he’d now been caught in an “inconsistent statement” (read lie) and the jury would be instructed that anyone whose testimony had been proved “inconsistent” (read false) could be dismissed as a liar, out of hand, and everything they said disregarded.
But there was one more point to be made: on Thursday a hearing for Mr. Caleb Silver, the man accused of a string of thefts in the Greenwood/Elk region and the murder of Dennis Boardman, was supposed to be heard by Judge Behnke, but the lengthy business with Dr. Loftus caused this to be postponed until the following week.
* * *
As Monday ended, no verdict in the Reynolds trial. Many people had been waiting since 2:20, but by 4:30 the bailiff said not a peep, no movement (of course his lips are sealed in any case), so nothing yet. Obviously, there will be no further info until tomorrow (Tuesday) at the earliest.
Downstairs, the trial for Mr. Godinez, the last of the pinche madres, was scheduled to begin trial, but after a long consultation with Linda Thompson, the jury was let go. I was unable to find out, at this point, whether the trial will proceed or no. Ms. Saxby was present and in fact she was a lawyer to a co-defendant, Mr. Contreres, who was reputedly going to turn State's evidence on his partners in crime — los pendeos who gut-shot him and left him to die in the dust of a Yorkville backroad. Mario Godinez-Gonzalez is one of three co-defendants — with Isidro Bernal-Lopez and a third man named Edgar Contreras — who are charged with the murder of guerilla pot grower, Marcos Bautista, of Cloverdale, back in the fall of 2015. Godinez was gut shot during the shoot-out in the Yorkville-area pot garden but survived to face murder charges. Godinez, Bernal and Contreras had traveled from Cloverdale to rip off the Yorkville dope patch and ambushed and killed Bautista in the process.
This reporter was severely chastised by Saxby for mentioning what the other lawyer in the case, Douglas Rhoades, had told me. She pretty much, to my mind, blamed me for putting her client's life on the line.
Spare me. Here's why. Mexico for the last ten years has been going through a pogrom of executions the world hasn't seen since the Nazis invaded Poland. And to sit mute, trembling under the fear of repercussions from these thugs is a little more than I think we should have to accept in California.
And as to the fear that these guys could be deported — oh, don't they just wish! — no-no, better keep 'em locked up here, for a good long time.