Mendocino County Today: Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017
by AVA News Service, August 5, 2017
A READER WRITES:
"When an online commenter said the Governor should appoint the runner up to Ms. Croskey, he did not mean Jolly Holly. The short, short, list for the appointment was Croskey and Skip Lucier, brother of former one term supervisor Tom "Digger" Lucier, the town undertaker. Tom thought his job was to show up for meetings and vote the way Delbar voted. When he ran for re-election, he came in third behind Hal Wagenet and John Pinches, with Wagenet winning the runoff. Four years later, Pinches ran again and beat Wagenet. Holly then challenged Pinches and lost. When Johnny retired at the end of his last term, Holly tried again but lost to the virtually unknown Woodhouse, which makes her a two time loser. Holly can't get elected and won't be appointed. Holly also just landed a real job at the Community Foundation. But the Governor can only appoint if there is a vacancy, and right now there is not. But will Croskey finish out her term like she says? Ohio to Ukiah for the Board meetings is quite a commute. And whether or not she resigns, and whether or not the governor makes another appointment, the seat is up for election next June. Who's next?"
HERE'S TO BUD LIGHT BOB
Bud Light Bob has died. A regular at the Forrest Club whose tenure predates my own.
I was informed of his passing this afternoon, as myself and Salvadore were his only surviving drinking buddies, and the newest bar manager recalled that I was someone who knew the man.
“The poor guy,” he said mournfully.
“Really? Bud Light Bob was poor?”
“Well, no, but, it came out that he’d come in here for his usual round or two of Bud Light, then go home and get crocked on Jack Daniels.”
Ah… so this is why you count him poor – not that he was a pauper, but because he got loaded to the gills in the privacy of his own home?”
“Bruce – aside to the barmaid, ‘how long has he been here?’ – that’s not what I meant. The poor guy was a closet alcky, it turns out.”
“Oh? How do you figure? He came in here and drank openly, didn’t he?”
“Well, yes, but his family and his doctors had told him to quit, and he … well, he couldn’t”
“You don’t know that – that he couldn’t quit. You’re taking the complacent attitude of the sober and well-fed. And he certainly wasn’t poor! He lived his life just as he chose, always had plenty of money, and behaved himself as a gentleman in this bar under some very onerous circumstances, as you know very well yourself.”
“That’s right. I’ll never forget the day that tattooed, muscle-bound drunk was calling me all those names, and Bob sipped his Bud Light until the guy was through, then said, ‘that’s pretty good, but my ex called me much worse – keep trying, though, you got talent!’”
“So what are you saying, Bruce?”
“I’m saying that when –not if – I die, but if you’re still working here, don’t say, ‘the poor guy died,’ to Salvadore over there – or anyone else who knew me; because – although I’ve often been broke, I’ve never been poor – and I have done everything I ever wanted with my life before I even got here; so, all the rest is gravy!”
Bud Light Bob and I had actually talked about this and were of a mind on the subject. He hath sluffed off his mortal coil, but there’s no call to lament – in his 70s! He had led a rich and rewarding life, and continued to do so until his family (who apparently wanted him to live forever, for incomprehensible reasons) interfered and had his liquor cabinet plundered; the dogs!
You hear it all the time, these idiotic platitudes: “Oh, goodness, he’s destroying himself, a pity, a shame, a crying shame… Wake up, eejit! The man’s on the threshold of the grave – let him do as he pleases, for once!
“Lemme stand the bar a round in honor of Bud Light Bob, bartender.”
“Well, it’s only you and Salvadore – and he don’t drink since his wife died five years ago and made him promise not to – so that’ll be $2.”
“Here’s to Bud Light Bob – Bottoms up!”
PS. Almost forgot -- Bud Light Bob always wore a felt fedora, and a bomber jacket; didn't matter the time of year, he dressed the same to the point of being predictable, and punctual to a fault. That you could set your watch by his arrival on a certain barstool, was a watch-word carried over from some of the older clubs, long-since closed, where he had made himself something of a celebrity. I have only a few memories of those days, when he'd greet the late Bert Schlosser at the bar and these two lovable old spendthrifts would stand the bar drinks 'til closing time!
FORT BRAGG MAYOR LINDY PETERS:
UNION AD IS 'FLAGRANT VIOLATION OF GROUND RULES'
Fort Bragg Mayor Lindy Peters fired off a response Thursday night on social media regarding ongoing labor negotiations:
"Today (Thursday), City employees took out a half page ad in the Fort Bragg Advocate-News and falsely accused me of threatening to cut city services. Not only is this totally untrue, it is in clear violation of the bargaining agreement both parties had mutually agreed upon. There are other misleading and outright false allegations. This is unfortunate since we will all have to work together once the union rep leaves town. I have always held our City employees in the highest regard. They receive recognition by the Council for their service to our community and for their willingness to work together. Labor negotiations are closed session items, so it seems odd that I get singled out when it takes 5 voting members for The City Council to take any official action. All discussions are strictly confidential. Anyway, we'll get through this. Here is the City's official response to the union rep:
This ad appears to be a clear violation of the ground rules to which the parties agreed at the beginning of these negotiations. Specifically, it appears to be in violation of Ground Rule #7, which states:
1. CONFIDENTIALITY: Both parties agree to the best of their abilities that the confidentiality of the bargaining process will be maintained until such time as a total agreement has been reached or a formal declaration of impasse has been made. In particular, no press releases, TV or radio ads shall be made, or interviews will be conducted until either party declares that an impasse has been reached and a discussion on procedures for attempting to resolve the impasse has been held.
I’m attaching a fully executed copy of the Ground Rules for your reference.
I clarified to you earlier this week that the City has not declared an impasse. Has the Union declared impasse? To my knowledge, neither party has declared an impasse, and the parties have not had 'a discussion on procedures for attempting to resolve the impasse.' If you disagree, please let me know. As it is, again, this ad seems to be a flagrant violation of the ground rules and grounds for an unfair labor practice charge."
‘A STEAMING, STINKING PILE OF HORSE MANURE’
by Andrew Scully, AVA Special Correspondent
Mendocino, CA, July 25, 2017 — Those were the words that Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks District Board Vice-Chair Bob Bushansky used to describe the Mendocino County Grand Jury Report on MCPRD operations that was released on June 27.
Since Bushansky was presiding in the Chair at the MCRPD Board meeting held on July 19 to, among other things, discuss the Board response to the Grand Jury findings, his stirring battle-cry can be considered the official reaction of the MCRPD to the Grand Jury, pending the official written response. By law the MCRPD has 90 days to formally respond to the Grand Jury report.
The Grand Jury Report is titled “MENDOCINO COAST RECREATION AND PARKS DISTRICT AND THEIR FIELD OF DREAMS”, and it amounts to a ringing indictment of the Agency. It portrays the MCRPD as a chronically mismanaged tax supported entity that has been failing in its responsibility to safeguard public expenditures from its inception clear though to the present day.
The Summary section of the report states that “…the Grand Jury finds that the Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks District (MCRPD) has been and continues to be financially irresponsible. MCRPD is currently and habitually delinquent on their capital lease and outstanding loans. MCRPD was over seven months late in completing the 2015-16 annual audit and is currently in Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
“Because of the large debt and the absence of a long-term plan for repayment, the Grand Jury finds that these conditions raise substantial doubt about MCPRD’s ability to continue as a viable entity.”
The report goes on to catalog a history of incompetence and overreaching on the part of MCRPD Boards and Staff that began with cost overruns on the CV Starr Center that boosted the price tag of that facility from the $14 million originally budgeted to over $27 million by the time it was finally opened in 2009. It cites the acquisition of nearly 600 acres by the District for a Golf Course that never has materialized as another particularly egregious example of MCRPD wastage.
Other highlights of the report include:
Radically uneven distribution of funding and benefits among the four coastal school district communities (Fort Bragg Unified, Mendocino Unified, Point Arena, and Manchester) that form the tax base of the MCRPD. For example, although the Mendocino School District contributed 35% of property taxes received by the MCRPD in a recent year, residents of Mendocino District received only 5% of program funding that year. Preferential treatment of Fort Bragg to the detriment of outlying coastal communities was a theme throughout the report.
After his colorful turn of phrase to describe the Grand Jury report, Vice-Chair Bushansky described himself as a person who “loves alliteration” and then somewhat inexplicably quoted Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's first vice-president. In the early '70's Agnew gained notoriety when he said that opponents of the Nixon Administration were simply chronic malcontents: “nattering nabobs of negativism,” Agnew called them. Perhaps Bushansky thought this an apt descriptor of those who have questioned the MCRPD, including, apparently, the Grand Jury.
What is less clear is why Bushansky would publicly quote Agnew, the disgraced and long-dead former Governor of Maryland. Nixon tapped Agnew to run on his ticket in 1968, and he later became the only person ever to have resigned as vice-president, following 1973 convictions for income tax evasion. Agnew accepted kickbacks from contractors hoping to win state bids with Maryland while he was Governor.
Bill Hayes, another MCRPD Board Member, also took the opportunity to tee off on his constituents, saying that “the active obstructionism of Mendocino (School District) residents appalls me.”
The MCRPD Board directed the the outside attorney that represents the District to continue to revise their response. Following a question from the audience, Bushansky pledged to post revisions of the draft to the MCRPD website. As of press time there was no draft of any type on the MCRPD site.
The AVA will provide additional details in next week's edition, and as they become available.
AP HEADLINE TODAY: "Marijuana company buys entire California town with hopes of turning it into pot paradise"
Garberville won't do?
by Malcolm Macdonald
The history of Mendocino is dotted here and there with mortal crimes. In the broadest sense, the early years following the California Gold Rush filled the calendar with mass murder of the indigenous population. After the native folk of this county were laid low things settled down, literally and figuratively, for some time. However, the years 1879 and 1880 saw an uptick of heinous activity, particularly on the Mendocino Coast.
The first great entrepeneur of the coast was Alexander Wentworth Macpherson, who operated lumber mills in Albion and on the flats near the mouth of the Noyo River. Macpherson was a 49er, having arrived in San Francisco from China, where he had been in the employ of Jardine, Matheson & Co. This enterprise, owned and run by Highland Scots, controlled a triangle trade between India, China, and England whose principle products were opium (from India) and tea (from China). Alexander Macpherson continued to trade in opium after he was established in Albion and Noyo, where he built a fine house overlooking the mouth of the river (essentially where the Lodge at Noyo River sits today, just northeast of the Highway 1 bridge).
Alexander's brother Cameron Macpherson (they were both born and raised in the area around Inverness, Scotland), arrived in California in 1851. On the Mendocino Coast Cameron worked for his brother, principally at Noyo. By 1880, Cameron's son, Richard Macpherson, was a grown man of his own, about twenty-one years of age. Richard was known as a quiet yet industriousness young man, seemingly well-liked by all. Like as not one could often find him pitching in to help a friend or neighbor, which was the case on Thursday, March 18, 1880, when young Richard Macpherson helped Niela Offer clear small trees and brush from the Offer homestead about two and a half miles south of the Noyo. By the afternoon a considerable amount of land had been cleared.
What happened next is best seen from the testimony of Niela Offer, as evidence given before Justice August Heeser, brother of the founder and editor of The Mendocino Beacon, in which Harvey Mortier, described in that paper and others as a teenaged “half breed” approached Richard Macpherson and Mr. Offer. The testimony of Mr. Offer commenced with, “Harvey Mortier was speakng angry to Richard Macpherson about a wedge ax that Harvey Mortier accused him with stealing, accused him for taking a wedge ax, and Richard Macpherson says to him, he didn’t do it. He says he would go to Hi[ram] Stalder and find out who took the ax. The ax belonged to a man named Hi Stalder.
“Well! says Harvey Mortier to him, why don’t you come down now and find out who took the ax? Now, says Richard Macpherson, I won’t go till this evening. He [Harvey Mortier] says, you had better come now. He [Macpherson] says no, he won’t.
“I will find somebody down in the woods that will put a good head on you; give you a good licking. This last was said by Mortier to Macpherson. Macpherson didn’t go down to Hi Stalder’s to find out who took the ax. He remained with me chopping, and I was chopping at the time and Richard Macpherson was working with me.
“He started to work and Harvey Mortier went away, passing where we were. He went on a little, small trail. Before he left he asked me if I see any deers? I said, yes sir. I says, I seen some deers over there in that direction; so he passes along that little trail going that way, towards that way, and I was chopping wood. Didn’t pay no attention to it.
“In a few minutes the gun was fired and I looked and seen Macpherson and Mortier. I saw Harvey Mortier shooting. I seen the smoke and the gun in front of him, and he taking the gun down from him. He was standing in bushes that were chopped down, about two feet high.
“I saw the smoke in front of his face, and he was trying to hide himself. Mortier was thirty-four yards from Macpherson at the time the shot was fired. I measured it the next day with a six-foot pole.
“The smoke was right at the end of the gun. I saw Mortier’s face distinctly and recognized him. I had known him five or six years.
“After the shot, Macpherson and I ran away. He ran two hundred and thirty-five steps after he was shot. We ran as soon as the shot was fired. The last I saw of him he was leaning against a fence. He fell down. I then went after help to bring him home. At the time the shot was fired Macpherson was standing in front of Mortier and I was standing on one side. Macpherson was chopping a tree about six inches through. Macpherson lived about half an hour after the shot was fired.”
Harvey Mortier retreated to the Hare Creek Hotel, owned by his father, Frank Mortier, known to some on the coast as “Belgian Frank.” Nicknames were a common practice here at that time. My grandfather, John Macdonald, was one of a handful of John Macdonalds, John McDonalds, and John MacDonalds, so many knew him as “Three River John,” since he'd been born in a part of Nova Scotia near the confluence of a trio of waterways.
A year prior to the Richard Macpherson killing, Frank Mortier had placed the following notice in the Beacon, “ ATTENTION – My wife, having left my bed and board, without just cause or provocation, all persons are hereby cautioned not to trust her on account as I shall pay no debts of her contracting after this date.”
A generation earlier, in 1857, Frank Mortier, had been caught red-handed stealing clothing on Washington Street in San Francisco. He spent a short time in jail for the petty larceny. On the evening of March 18, 1880, Frank and his son Harvey readied themselves to depart for Westport, but got no farther than the Noyo River where Civil War veteran John Byrnes detained them. Byrnes's son Ralph would go on to become a longtime sheriff of the county, and something of a legend in his own right.
At some point soon thereafter Constable Alf Nelson of Mendocino (a brother-in-law of Beacon editor William Heeser) formally arrested and handcuffed Harvey Mortier outside the Byrnes establishment. Nelson marched Harvey inside where the young man displayed his bound hands to his father, Frank, saying, “Do you see these irons? Didn't I tell you so!”
Apparently due to the beloved nature of the deceased there was much talk of lynching both Mortiers, but as William Heeser put it in his newspaper, “The common sense of the people restrained them from violating the law.” The editor's brother, Judge Heeser, was able to bind the Mortiers over to the county jail in Ukiah. Frank was eventually freed, though many on the coast believed that he had sent his son off to kill Richard Macpherson because the elder Mortier suspected Macpherson of informing on him regarding a series of recent petty thefts.
Contemporaneously, at least four murder trials, including a wife and paramour killing as well as the ambush murder of deputized posse members, were ongoing in the county seat, but young Harvey Mortier scarcely raised a hand to have his day in court delayed. He was convicted and sentenced to be hanged in mid-July. His able attorney, C.C. Hamilton got the August 20th hanging date postponed. He even traveled to Sacramento in October, 1880, to plead before the governor for a commutation of sentence.
The Sacramento Daily Union published one of the most detailed accounts of an execution day in Ukiah within its edition of October 15, 1880: “The condemned man made astatement of the facts... He confessed the justice of his sentence, and deplored the evil associations that brought him to the gallows. No signs of fear have been apparent throughout the ordeal. He has slept well and had a good appetite. Rev. Father Sheridan attended to his spiritual needs. Sheriff Donohue stood guard over the prisoner Thursday night, and reports that Mortier slept from 11 to 5 this morning and scarcely stirred. He awoke in a cheerful frame of mind. Father Sheridan administered the rites of the Catholic Church to Mortier, who was in a hopeful mental state. He was reconciled to his fate as the penalty for his grave offense. About 9 o'clock he ate a hearty breakfast, consisting of a steak and onions, five hard-boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, bread, and coffee. He then lit a cigar, and his spiritual adviser returned and remained with him... At 12:50 Sheriff Donohue, accompanied by Sheriff Burnett of Lake county, Sheriff Dinwiddie, of Sonoma county, and Sheriff Mason, of Marin county, went to Mortier's cell and read the death warrant. This proceeding occupied five minutes, and the prisoner endured the ordeal without tremor. He was then left with the priest. At 1:05 the Sheriff summoned Mortier to the gallows. The prisoner walked calmly by the side of Father Sheridan, who continued with him, directing his thoughts to the future. As he passed the Sheriff's office he addressed Under Sheriff Sewell, “A thousand thanks for kindness,” and walked on. He mounted the steps to the scaffold and took his place on the drop with a steady step and unbleached face. After a short prayer, the Sheriff asked if he had anything to say. Mortier said no, and the straps were adjusted, the cap fixed, the rope placed, and at two minutes past 1 the drop fell. The body remained suspended twenty-three minutes, when it was taken down. Drs. Rozier and Robinson examined the body and found that the neck was dislocated. The pulse ceased in three minutes. The prisoner's bearing was manful throughout, and he carried out his promise to the Sheriff that he should not hang a coward.”
(The living and the dead haunt the pages at malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com.)
Former Cobb resident, Robert Somerton, was exonerated of four felony assault charges in Superior Court Judge Steve Hedstrom’s court room last week, Friday, July 14. Lake County District Attorney, Don Anderson, dismissed the felony charges after a deadlocked jury’s split decision of 9-3 in favor of Somerton had resulted in a mistrial.
Essentially, the jury’s job was to decide whether Somerton was in fight or flight mode during an encounter with a park ranger at Clear Lake State Park in Kelseyville on September 26, 2015 just days after the Valley Fire had been extinguished.
Initial charges of attempted murder from the Lake County Sheriff’ Office had been dropped many months ago and the District Attorney’s office was prepared to try Somerton for three felony assault charges and one felony charge of resisting and evading arrest. Just prior to the trial, the District Attorney’s office, in a plea bargain, offered to drop the three assault charges with Somerton receiving no jail time, two year’s probation and forty hours of community service. However, Somerton was determined to plead not guilty to all four felony assault charges which were ultimately filed against him.
Prior to the incident at Clear Lake State Park in 2015, Somerton, a Cobb resident, had been camping with uninsured Valley Fire evacuees whose homes had burnt down. Among the evacuees were two elderly women, one of whom was ninety-two years old. Somerton decided to try to find better shelter for them; knowing rainy and cold weather would soon be upon them.
On the morning of September 26, 2015, Somerton heard news that Governor Brown was making empty state facilities available to Valley Fire refugees. He drove down to Clear Lake State Park and inquired about the availability of their cabins. However, he became disappointed when park ranger Darin Conner explained park policy rules which stated the elderly ladies would have to pay rent and then get reimbursed later by their insurance companies. Somerton vainly told Conner that the women had no insurance. Frustrated, he then told Conner that he was going to contact Michael Finney of Channel 7 News and ask them to investigate the matter.
Conner responded by asking Somerton for his identification. During the trial, ranger Conner testified that when Somerton said he was going to contact Channel 7 News, he felt this presented a case of “conspiracy instead of a good Samaritan.” Conner also expressed concern and worry that a possible complaint would be registered against him. In his testimony, Conner did not name the ninety-two year old woman or Channel 7’s Michael Finney as suspected coconspirators. Somerton declined to show his I.D., testifying later that he’d done nothing to be suspected of a crime for to be rightfully detained.
According to testimony from Clear Lake State Park employee, Victoria Frey, who had been working at the entry kiosk, Somerton then got in his vehicle to leave while Conner stood in front of the vehicle calling “dispatch” to run the license plate number to check up on Somerton’s record. It is Somerton’s contention that by blocking his vehicle, Conner was in effect unlawfully attempting to detain him.
Frey testified that when Somerton “revved” his engine (to signal Conner to get out of the way), Conner then came over to the driver’s side of Somerton’s vehicle. Somerton testified that at that point he began to slowly drive out of the park. A witness waiting in line at the kiosk testified that the ranger (Connor) reached into the open window “chest” and “belly deep” with both hands. Somerton said, “He grabbed my left arm….he got a hold of my arm saying ‘Stop the truck.’ I was feeling like I just wanted to get out of there.” This was the second time Conner tried to unlawfully detain him, Somerton claimed.
Conner soon removed himself from the window and was running alongside the vehicle when he tripped and fell, hurting himself by bruising his knee and scraping his elbow on the pavement as Somerton drove away. “I did not see Conner fall or harmed in any way before I left the park,” Somerton said, “I only learned of his injuries after the fact.”
Somerton turned himself in to law enforcement when he learned of charges claiming he had willfully tried to injure Conner with his vehicle. After the trial, one of the jurors discounted Conner’s testimony in which he had claimed, “I thought the car was going to run me over.”
“There was no evidence of swerving or ‘fishtailing’,” the juror said, “California Highway patrolman, Steve Taylor, testified he saw no evidence of fishtailing, and the photographs didn’t show any evidence either.”
Jury foreman, Mr. Brown, said after the mistrial, “... jury members dealt with the question of unlawful detainment. Nine jurors felt it was unlawful.”
Prosecuting attorney, Alan Upton, after consulting with Lake County District Attorney, Don Anderson, presented a motion to dismiss all charges, saying to Judge Hedstrom, “I feel that the dismissal will serve justice in this case.” He further indicated that the evidence brought forth to the court “exonerated” Somerton.
Stopping to discuss the case afterwards, Upton said, “Every case is unique. The jury made a decision. We have to consider how this split decision (9-3) led to the ultimate decision to dismiss the case.” Other jurors (who wished to remain anonymous) spoke after the trial. One said, “We felt Conner didn’t act like a peace officer. Why didn’t he ask a ‘higher up’ to see what they could do for the ladies?” Another juror said, “A lot of things didn’t add up. You can detain someone if you have reason to believe a crime has been committed. There wasn’t any crime unless the crime is that you were going to talk to a media person!”
After it was all over, Somerton said, “It’s a relief. It kind of reaffirmed my faith in the people of Lake County. I declined an offer to take the trial out of county. I wanted to have the trial here because these are my neighbors. It’s been excruciating. I’ve spent every dollar and dime. I’ve borrowed money which I have to find a way to pay back. I had to see it through to the end. Somehow in the end the (legal) system still works in my favor.”
Somerton’s lawyer, Douglas Pharr, cynically summed things up, “It is an interesting story. And it has an ending: Case dismissed, cop promoted, business as usual.”
Note: The Red Cross eventually reached out to the campers at Lake Mendocino and moved the ninety-two year old woman into a “FEMA trailer” in a trailer park in Clearlake.
(Dennis Purcell Reporting)
PS. From Robert Somerton:
I'm trying to find these folks long term housing.
Dennis tells me, the 94 year old lady seen far right, with three generations of her family, in the attached photo is still living in a FEMA camp!
To the Editor:
Congratulations to Redwood Community Services for gaining approval to reopen a day shelter for the homeless in Ukiah. It is highly needed. For many, many years the Ukiah Community Center operated a highly successful day shelter. Why it was closed I do not understand. It is exciting that a new shelter is going to be opened.
But I am truly disgusted by the comments made by City of Ukiah planning commissioner Mike Whetzel. Ukiah is not unique in what it is facing when it comes to homelessness and transient populations. Ukiah is not, according to him, "the homeless capital of the nation." Ukiah does not "give them everything." In fact we offer them less than half the services we did a decade ago. Whetzel needs to do his research.
Eureka, Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, and dozens of other communities along 101 from the Mexican border to the Oregon border are facing the exact same issues. As a public figure who is supposed to do his homework, Mike Whetzel should know this.
These lies, hatreds and discriminatory attitudes need to stop. These are the same attitudes that were once used against Native Americans, African-Americans, the Chinese, forced the Japanese into internment camps, Catholics, the Irish, and are still used against the LGBTQ+ community. Mike Whetzel, you represent all of the people of Ukiah. You even represent the homeless and the transients.
Please educate yourself about these issues before you mouth off. There are many of us in Ukiah who are getting tired of it. You are not being part of the solution.
Yes, there are a ton of issues with the homeless and transients that are out of control and need to be dealt with. But mouthing off like you did in a public meeting, as the public servant you are, is absolutely not appropriate. Be a part of finding solutions. Don't be a part of spreading hatred.
William French, Ukiah
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “Notice how these people glom on to negativity? I'll bet they grabbed that story about dog and cat food destroying the world just to bum me out. Nobody's gonna fool me with fake news. Anyway, I keep a smile on my puss and a song in my heartworms to even out the vibes around here.”
EVERYTHING WAS WONDERFUL, the front lawns were all being taken care of, there was a refrigerator in everybody’s house. Everybody had a Chevy, and these guys had just been bombing the shit out of Germany and Italy and the South Pacific and then they come back; I mean it just must have been unbelievable. I mean nobody ever really talks about that. Back then it was taboo to talk about it. ‘Nobody’s crazy; everybody’s in good shape.’ I mean can you believe it? And this happened across the country of course, but my dad came from an extremely rural farm community—wheat farmers—in Illinois, and next thing he knows he’s flying B-24s over the South Pacific, over Romania, dropping bombs and killing people he couldn’t even see. And then from that into trying to raise a family and growing up in white America, you know. I mean it’s extraordinary. It’s amazing the way all that flip flops, from the fifties to the sixties. This monster appears. The monster everybody was trying to keep at bay suddenly turns over.
— Sam Shepard
CATCH OF THE DAY, August 4, 2017
Brown, Collins, Davila
JAMES BROWN SR., Redwood Valley. Petty theft, disorderly conduct-alcohol. (Frequent flyer.)
JASMINE COLLINS, Napa/Fort Bragg. Domestic abuse.
NOAH DAVILA, Covelo/Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
Ford, Francis, Franks
MARY FORD, Ukiah. Battery.
JOHN FRANCIS, Willits. Disorderly conduct-alcohol
SCOTT FRANKS, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
Graham, Gray, Hayden
ALAN GRAHAM, Albion. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, failure to appear.
BRETT GRAY, Ukiah. Under influence, suspended license, resisting, failure to appear.
DAVID HAYDEN II, Covelo. Probation revocation.
Lawrence, Martin, Sanchez
DEBORAH LAWRENCE, Ukiah. Paraphernalia, disorderly conduct-alcohol, probation revocation.
JAMES MARTIN, Redwood Valley. Evasion.
SAMUEL SANCHEZ, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
Sears, Shivalila, Smith
JASON SEARS, Redwood Valley. Grand theft of vehicle parts, “S/A 2 or more felony.”
ITURI SHIVALILA, Ukiah/Fort Bragg. Assault with deadly weapon not a gun, criminal threats.
THOMAS SMITH, Olivehurst/Leggett. DUI.
Spaggiari, Taffi, Williams, Wiltse
DIEGO SPAGGIARI, Willits. Failure to appear.
BRIAN TAFFI, Lakeport. Failure to appear.
CODY WILLIAMS, Covelo. DUI, no license.
DON WILTSE JR., Laytonville. Probation revocation.
by James Kunstler
Russia hysteria has become a full-blown national psychosis at a moment in history when a separate array of troubles poses the real threat to America’s well-being. Most of these have to do with the country’s swan dive into bankruptcy, but meeting them honestly would force uncomfortable choices on the grifters and caitiffs in congress. Meanwhile, the Treasury Dept is burning through its dwindling cash reserves, and all government activities will face a shutdown at the end of the summer unless congress votes to raise the debt ceiling — which may be way harder than passing the stupid Russia sanctions bill.
That bill, vaingloriously called The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act will only blow up in America’s face. This country’s actual trade with Russia is negligible, but the bill aims to interrupt and punish Europe’s trade, centering on oil and natural gas, which they need desperately. Mainly, the US bill seeks to interrupt a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea that would bypass several of the Baltic Nations currently being used by America — under the NATO banner — as staging areas for unnecessary and provocative war games on Russia’s borders.
Germany is certain to not stand for it, and like it or not, they are the straw that stirs the European drink. The sanctions pretend to seek to isolate Russia, but the effect will only be to isolate the United States. Europe will laugh at the measure as impinging on their sovereign prerogatives to trade as they please. And Russia can turn around and sell all the natural gas it wants to customers in Asia. Left undiscussed in the moronic American media is the American gas industry’s hidden role in pushing the sanctions so it can sell liquefied gas overseas — which would only end up raising the price for American gas customers to heat their homes.
The stupid bill pretends to be a lever for improving relations between the US and Russia, but is actually designed to make relations much worse. In the meantime, the US Deep State military and intelligence matrix is engineering new crises and confrontations for absolutely no good reason. For instance, shoveling arms to Ukraine so it can step up conflict in the eastern Donbass region bordering Russia. The sanctions bill will also make it impossible for the US and Russia to coordinate an end to the conflict in Syria. Anyway, Deep State strategists in the State, Defense, and Intel departments are tacitly determined to create another failed state by insuring continuing chaos there.
Another interesting unanticipated consequence of the sanctions bill is that it will only intensify Russia’s effort, already well underway, to provide for itself many of the products it currently imports. Import replacement, as the process is called, is actually the same dynamic that led to the rise of the USA as a great industrial power in the 19th century, so the bill only prompts Russia to diversify and strengthen its economy.
So what exactly was Mr. Trump thinking when he signed the “deeply flawed” (his words) Russian Sanctions bill coughed up like a hairball by congress? It’s a ridiculous piece of legislation from any angle. It limits the president’s own established prerogatives for negotiating with foreign nations (probably unconstitutionally), and will only provoke economic warfare (at least) against the US that can easily lead to shattering global trade relations entirely. Some observers say he had to sign it because the vote for it in congress was so overwhelming (419 to 3) that they would only override a Trump veto. But the veto would have had, at least, symbolic value in the Jacksonian spirit that Trump pretended to want to emulate at the outset of his term. Perhaps he sees the Deep State endgame and is tired of resisting.
On the home front, Russia paranoia is at the center of Robert Mueller’s intensifying probe of Trump and his political associates as he calls a federal grand jury to hear testimony — which implies that he has some lined up. This opens up all kinds of opportunities for prosecutorial mischief, for instance going after every business transaction Trump made as a private citizen before he ran for president, and coercing Trump intimates into immunization deals in exchange for testimony, real or cooked-up, to enable the establishment’s ultimate goal of shoving Trump out.
The “Russian meddling in our election” story hasn’t produced any credible evidence after a full year — and speaking to foreign diplomats is not a crime — but the Russian meddling juggernaut rolls on perfectly well, and might accomplish its ends, without it. Just repeating “Russian meddling” five thousand times on CNN has surely induced many poorly-informed citizens to believe that Russia changed the numbers in American voting machines though, in fact, voting machines are not connected to the Internet.
All of this psychotic political behavior screams for the rise of a new party, or more than one new party, composed of men and women who have not lost their minds. I’m sure they’re out there. Plenty of traces on the Internet attest to the existence of a higher and better political consciousness in this country. It just hasn’t found a way to congeal. Yet.
HONORING A HEALTHCARE VISIONARY AND SAYING FAREWELL TO A FOUNDER
by Megan Barber Allende, CEO, Community Foundation
At the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, we often remind people that the money they donate will have a lasting effect, a legacy that continues long after they're gone.
I was thinking about this recently as I began working with MCHC Health Centers. MCHC provides medical, dental, and behavioral healthcare to people in Ukiah, Willits, and Lakeport. The organization has a wonderful culture of treating employees like family. That culture was developed, in large part, by their visionary founder, Linnea Hunter, who recently passed away after retiring several years ago.
Lin started Mendocino Community Health Clinic, now referred to as MCHC Health Centers, in 1992 when Mendocino County could no longer afford to provide outpatient healthcare as it had done for decades. Under Lin's leadership, MCHC expanded, adding health centers in Willits and Lakeport, which brought millions of dollars to the region through federal funding and capital grants, and eventually allowed for the treatment of more than five hundred patients per day, many of whom were poor, elderly, or underserved for other reasons.
People who knew Lin often speak of her vision and her willingness to forge ahead when others were afraid. Her career in healthcare began as a lay midwife in the 1970s, giving women a more natural path to childbirth than was available in the hospitals of the day. She went on to start the Potter Valley Community Health Center with her husband at the time, Ross Ritter. By the early 1990s, she understood the importance of government funding in providing healthcare for vulnerable populations, and she was instrumental in attaining the designations MCHC required to receive funding from Medi-Cal and Medicare.
Lin had a reputation for adopting new approaches to healthcare before others fully understood the value they represented, including the transition to electronic health records and the patient-centered medical home. She could be powerful and passionate - even intimidating - when she advocated for healthcare services for the poor and underrepresented, but those closest to her say she was a softie at heart.
Apparently, she would do just about anything to help people out. Lin's successor, CEO Carole Press said, "Lin impacted a lot of people's lives, and since her passing, people have been asking about how to honor her. This scholarship fund felt like the right approach. It allows people to make a tax-deductible donation and keeps her giving nature alive."
An important part of the scholarship fund will be the fact that it encourages donations from current employees as well as the general public. In fact, MCHC will not only provide seed money to start the fund, but also match employee donations every year.
Carole explained how Lin would often help employees on matters that had nothing to do with their work at the health center. This is part of why the scholarship doesn't limit recipients to those pursuing health care. "When people follow their heart and do what they love, they can help the community in other ways," Carole explained.
MCHC asked for the Community Foundation's help in administering the scholarship and the employee giving program because the Foundation knows how to manage these types of funds, keeping everything legal and assuring a fair and objective scholarship selection process.
In recent years, several organizations have said goodbye to their founders - MCHC, the Mendocino Coast Clinics, the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County, First 5 Mendocino, and even our own Community Foundation. While it's exciting to see how new leaders will take those organizations into the future, when founders leave it can be difficult to say goodbye. By creating a scholarship fund, MCHC has found a unique way to give back in the spirit of its founder, with the people of the organization honoring her memory, now and into the future.
If you'd like to discuss setting up a scholarship fund, you can contact me at 707-468-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To honor Lin Hunter with a donation to this scholarship, click here http://www.communityfound.org/for-donors/donate-today/scholarship-funds/mchc-health-centers-linnea-hunter-scholarship-fund/
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
This liberal vs conservative thing, or to put it another way, the educated and enlightened vs the uneducated and unenlightened, or to put it another way, the diseased, cum-spattered Hollywood degenerate vs the wholesome, clean-living, pious church goer, or to put it another way, the America haters vs the proud American patriot, proved its utility as a diversion for the few decades it took a relative handful of super-wealthy and connected thieves to loot the vaults and demolish the American economy. But, as you said a while back, Kansas isn’t buying that bullshit anymore. They’re seeing thorough the smokescreens. Maybe Americans are liberal on the issues. Groovy. But how the fuck does that help make the rent? Surgically altered men in dresses and hormonally ravaged women with beards are a miniscule percentage of the population. A woman might need an abortion once in her life. Maybe. But she needs to eat everyday, preferably more than once a day. Michael Moore may be a smart guy but he needs to refocus his attention.
MEMO OF THE AIR: GOOD NIGHT RADIO FRIDAY NIGHT!
(was Re: We have only 13 days left to take action to have toxic dioxins cleaned from GP pond in Fort Bragg - 500 emails needed)
Laurie York wrote:
Please take a few minutes and write Tom Lanphar <Tom.Lanphar@dtsc.ca.gov> (CA Dept. of Toxic Substances Control) as I and many others have done. We need to send a minimum of 500 emails to Tom in the next 13 days - or we will lose our chance to have the GP pond cleaned of toxic dioxins.
* * *
Marco here. I have a suggestion: make the Koch Bros. clean it up -- they bought it, they own it, they should be responsible for making it safe -- then have the City of Fort Bragg appropriate the entire mill site under eminent domain, move the homeless money over to pop-up a panopticon dorm in the corner and pay the homeless people that attracts to plant a nice park.
Think of it. Instead of whatever the invisible hand is really going to end up doing, which will be all wrong and not benefit the city or people in any way (such as a golf course with all the imported toxins that requires), can you imagine a better outcome than mass gainful employment for the least fortunate and a native-plant park by the sea? Koch Industries wouldn't even feel the loss. Look at how many hundreds of millions of dollars they pour every two years into destroying public education and perverting America's elections. This is a drop in the bucket compared to that.
IN OTHER NEWS, tonight (Friday) I'll be doing my radio show by live remote from the William S. Burroughs/Yma Sumac memorial particleboard typing table next to the bed at Juanita's place, not from the KNYO storefront in Fort Bragg, so if you want to come in and play your musical instrument(s) or talk about your project, or whatever, make that Friday next week (August 11) when I'll be there.*
It's 325 N. Franklin (next to the Tip Top bar). Just waltz in any time after 9pm (Friday, next week), head for the lighted room at the back and get my attention.
Memo of the Air: Good Night Radio. Every Friday, 9pm to about 4am on 107.7fm KNYO-LP Fort Bragg, including midnight to 3am 105.1fm KMEC-LP Ukiah. And also there and anywhere else via http://knyo.org or http://TuneIn.com
(Or go there tonight early in the evening, before 8pm, and learn about handmade soap from Mickie Lubic. You might have seen a frustratingly abbreviated demonstration of something like that in /Fight Club/, but here is an expert who can answer questions and lay the whole soapmaking process out for you.)
UKIAH SYMPHONY SEASON OVERVIEW--2017-18
Listening to one another:
Ukiah Symphony prepares for varied 2017-18 season
by Roberta Werdinger
Take a world-class orchestra conductor who's entering the fourth decade of his career in a small town. Add a concertmistress who's been playing with him from the get-go and is preparing to do her own conducting in the fall. Mix in a group of dedicated musicians, some of whom have been playing together for 20 years. Now match them up with some "big band" jazz-style instruments, and some of the best guest musicians, composers, and performers in Northern California. Fortify with the time-honored traditions of Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann and toss in some brand-new compositions. Don't forget a healthy dose of hard work, a backbone of community support, and an ineffable quality of spirit that keeps orchestra members blowing, plucking, piping, and drumming for long hours and with few tangible rewards.
That would give you some idea of how the 2017-18 Ukiah Symphony Orchestra season is shaping up. Beginning with a jazz-oriented concert early in September and concluding with the contemplative piano music of the Romantic masters in May, the orchestra will once again guide audience members through the seasons, including a Christmas Concerto by Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli in December.
The orchestra will continue to be guided by longtime conductor Les Pfutzenreuter, rumors of whose retirement have been greatly exaggerated. While he has indeed stepped down from his teaching position in Mendocino College, a position he has held since his arrival in Ukiah from Iowa in 1985, he is still at the helm of the Ukiah Symphony and plans to be for many more years. Commenting on the eclectic nature of the 2017-18 season, he says, "I like to keep it interesting for everyone. And I like a variety of musical styles, not just classical; it's good to venture out and do more contemporary work."
That contemporary note will lead off the season, which begins on September 9-10 with "Paula Swings in the Big Band Era," featuring vocalist Paula Samonte performing the music of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and more. The orchestra will emphasize the "big band" sound of the Swing Era of the 1930s and 40s with special arrangements and instruments, while Samonte, a veteran and versatile performer, will fill the hall with her warm and vibrant voice.
Concert Two on December 2-3 features Margie Salcedo Rice stepping forward from her positions as a first violinist, concertmistress, and assistant conductor to conducting the entire symphony. Salcedo Rice will conduct pianist and former Ukiah resident Elena Casanova on piano along with her own daughters--Jessica Rice Vierra, violin; Patricia Rice Agee, violin; and Elizabeth Rice Oliver, cello--playing two Beethoven favorites: Piano Concerto No. 3 and Symphony No. 5, along with Corelli's Christmas Concerto. The fruits of Salcedo Rice's life and career, which includes being raised in a highly musical family and introducing her own children to the violin at the age of two, will be clearly evident.
Concert Three on January 27-28 will be a bouquet of concertos from different eras, starting with an original piano concerto composed by Joseph Nemeth and featuring well-known pianist Elizabeth MacDougall; a trumpet concerto by the 20th century Armenian-Russian composer Alexander Arutunian, performed by soloist Landon Gray; and a Concerto for Two Horns by the Baroque Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, highlighting the musical mastery of Ukiah Symphony horn players John Lounsbery and Randy Masselink. Not only that, but the orchestra will play some scary symphonic music to let people know they mean business.
Concert Four--the last concert of the season--will be performed on May 19-20. Titled "Romantic Masters," it features pianist Frank Wiens playing Concerto No. 1 in D Minor by Johannes Brahms and Symphony No. 1, "Spring" by Robert Schumann. Brahms was a student of Schumann, so Pfutzenreuter notes that the two pieces blend easily together. He also expresses enthusiasm for having Frank Wiens, who teaches in Stockton at the University of the Pacific and will be collaborating with the Ukiah Symphony again, referring to him as "an incredible musician.”
"There's truly camaraderie and a feeling of family among the musicians" of the Ukiah Symphony, he continues. Not only is it an exceptionally good orchestra for the town of Ukiah and all of Mendocino County, but it is also "a regional orchestra--in the sense that we bring musicians from Lake County, from the coast, from Sonoma County and Marin"--as well as San Francisco, where members of the San Francisco Symphony have come to play and to teach. The Ukiah Symphony carries out its own teaching as well, recently presenting concerts to a total of 1200 K-12 students and teachers who were bused in from different parts of the county.
Salcedo Rice, who is now busy studying Beethoven's scores and asking herself what kinds of stories he was trying to tell, also expounds on the nature of a community orchestra. "We are constantly listening to one another. It's a very synergistic multidimensional experience. There is so much you need to be aware of. You all breathe together." The experience, she explains, transcends the individual ego, which helps to explain how so many people could collaborate as closely as members of a modern orchestra do, where as many as 50 musicians and instruments learn to come together depending on the music’s instrumentation. That magical bond that the orchestra can create among themselves can be felt by the audience, as the gift of learning to listen to one another is extended further.
Season tickets for the 2017-18 Ukiah Symphony Season are $75 for ages 18 to 64, and $25 for a single concert; $65 for age 65 and up and $20 for a single concert; and free for ASB card holders and everyone under 18. Season tickets are available at www.ukiahsymphony.org; single tickets are sold one month prior to each concert, online and at Mendocino Book Company at 102 S. School St. in Ukiah, and Mail Center, Etc. at 207A N. Cloverdale Blvd. in Cloverdale. All concerts take place at the Mendocino College Center Theatre in Ukiah, with free parking and handicapped access. For further information please call the Ukiah Symphony hotline at 707 462-0236.
The 2017-18 Ukiah Symphony Season is sponsored by Adventist Health Ukiah Valley; Dr. Larry Falk and Dr. Margaret Arner; Robert Axt; Community First Credit Union; Dr. Andrew Corbett, D.D.S., Inc.; Conrad and Joan Cox; Rich and Jean Craig; in memory of Dr. Hugh Curtis; Guilford and Gudrun Dye; Dr. Herschel and Susan Gordon; Monte and Kay Hill; Charles and Wanda Mannon; Pacific Redwood Medical Group; Realty World/Selzer Realty; Savings Bank of Mendocino County; and Bill Taylor and Jaye Alison Moscariello.
“THE CRIMINALIZATION OF political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West. In France, activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing T-shirts advocating a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements, which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as “the Palestine Exception” to free speech. But now, a group of 43 senators — 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats — wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country’s decades-old occupation of Palestine. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the punishment: Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.
The proposed measure, called the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720), was introduced by Cardin on March 23. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the bill “was drafted with the assistance of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.” Indeed, AIPAC, in its 2017 lobbying agenda, identified passage of this bill as one of its top lobbying priorities for the year…”
This is a sign of the effectiveness of BDS.
Israel and its tools are panicking.
There’s a good chance that the bill will not become law.
“The ACLU warned last week that the measure, which targets the BDS movement, was unconstitutional and would have a chilling effect on free speech. In the wake of that warning, and a subsequent article by The Intercept, co-sponsors of the bill have begun to re-examine their support for it.”
ONE MURDER, FOUR DEATHS
by Bruce Anderson
It was two days after the astounding events of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, when a lithe, 39-year-old ex-Marine named Donald Perez withdrew $200 from his savings account and headed north to Mendocino County for what he anticipated would be another sexual romp with an 18-year-old Fort Bragg man-child named August Stuckey.
The next day Perez was dead, his slumped remains sagging from an alder sapling in a brushy margin separating the Noyo River from the A&W logging road. Perez would hang for another three weeks at the Fort Bragg end of the old bridge over the Noyo where the logging road climbs east into the forested hills separating the Mendocino Coast from Willits, some thirty miles east.
The dead man was 525 miles from his rented room in Santa Ana, nine-tenths of a mile from the Fort Bragg Police Department, 19 feet from the rutted pavement of the heavily traveled road above his last tree. Perez might still be there if August Stuckey hadn't talked about Perez's murder in front of another young Fort Bragg man named Michael Johnson. But Stuckey laughed about the murder to Johnson, and Johnson, finding it much less amusing, went to the police and soon all was known.
The little bridge over the Noyo was an implausible place for a murder, doubly implausible because even in bad weather it's humming with traffic, much of it on foot. Kayakers are a frequent sight on the river. People are passing by round the clock.
It's not a place that rational criminals would choose to do all they did there to Donald Perez.
But somehow, in a prolonged series of murderous events mostly occurring on the bridge itself, Perez had been carjacked, robbed, hit over the head with a rock, dragged from the bridge, pulled down into the brush between the road and the river, duct-taped to a tree, and probably stabbed in the throat.
Typical Commercial Ka-Bar Knife
And not a soul saw or heard any part of this prolonged death dance. If Perez had simply been duct-taped to the tree, he was close enough to the road that his grunts and moans would soon have been heard by one of the innumerable persons who pass by at all hours. It's more likely that Perez didn't have time to either be discovered alive or suffocate because one of his three abductors probably drove a Ka-bar knife into his throat soon after he was taped to the tree.
Three young Fort Bragg men, August Stuckey, 18, Aaron Channel, 20, and Tai Abreu, 19, were arrested three weeks after the murder when August Stuckey led police to Perez's remains after telling the police that he, Channel and Abreu, caused Perez to be where he was — duct taped to the tree and dead.
None of the three alleged murderers had criminal records, none were known to be violent. Their one common denominator was their general estrangement from the society they'd inherited. Their school days had been difficult for them in the social sense, and they were adrift as young adults.
All three had been bullied and harassed by schoolmates, all three did poorly in formal school settings, but all three tested at the gifted and talented level of natural intelligence.
Stuckey had always been a special ed case because of his unruly behavior, Tai Abreu, at the urging of Fort Bragg school officials, had been declared unmanageable and, at age 12, packed off to Sunny Hills, a children's psychiiatric institution in San Anselmo. Aaron Channel had dropped out of school after bouncing from Fort Bragg's educational banquet to Mendocino's, at one point leaving school as a 16-year-old to make his way to Oklahoma to romance a girl he'd met on-line.
When the three young men were arrested, Stuckey told multiple stories about what had happened, Abreu told two versions of Perez's last hour, Channel said nothing at all.
Although only one of these unlikely killers cut Perez's throat, it's fair to say that none of the three was overly concerned with their victim's welfare before, during or after his death.
The murder began on August 28th of 2001 when August Stuckey, stranded in Sacramento, e-mailed Perez asking Perez for money to get back to Fort Bragg. Stuckey would later say he'd fled to Sacramento because another uneven young Fort Bragg man named Shane Merritt was threatening to kill him because Merritt believed Stuckey had stolen some sound equipment from him.
It seems that Perez wired Stuckey the bus fare because the next day Perez was in Fort Bragg where he and Stuckey spent a priapic three days at the Seabird Motel. A few days before their Seabird interlude, Stuckey and Perez had exchanged steamy e-mails featuring photos of Perez with his penis at present arms. Stuckey had e-mailed Perez his phone number and directions to Fort Bragg.
Stuckey would later claim that he and Perez had previously met at the College of the Redwoods campus in Fort Bragg where Stuckey, a talented artist, drew chaste portraits of Perez in return for small amounts of money. However, the only renderings of Perez found among Stuckey's belongings were internet photos of Perez in the nude that Perez had taken of himself. That Perez required directions to Fort Bragg to meet Stuckey means that Perez was unfamiliar with the Mendocino coast prior to August of 2001.
Perez died because he made the fatal mistake of returning to Fort Bragg for what he'd apparently hoped would be another round of sex with Stuckey; he didn't know, couldn't have known, that Stuckey had already decided to rob and kill him.
Abreu and Channel became involved in Stuckey's cockamamie scheme out of a wildly misplaced loyalty to Stuckey. Abreu would tell investigators that Channel feared Stuckey would "fuck it up" on his own.
As it turned out, it took all three of them to "fuck it up."
The three conspirators devised a hazy plan for Stuckey to persuade Perez to drive out the A&W road on the pretext it was a shortcut from the coast to inland Willits and Highway 101. Perez had told his roommate and his landlady back in Santa Ana that he was headed for Washington State, hence his plan for sex in Fort Bragg then to get back on 101 the most direct way possible to resume his trip north.
Always a secretive man, Perez didn't say why he was going to Washington, if indeed he intended to go there. Once he was in Fort Bragg with Stuckey, and with Stuckey acting as travel guide and assuring Perez that he could get to Willits on the A&W logging road, Perez turned left at the Fort Bragg Police Department, and drove east over the old bridge into the woods. fig 2)
The plan was for Stuckey to feign car sickness to get Perez to stop his truck so the three amigos could then overpower and rob Perez. The projected ambush site was more than three miles past the bridge, in a much less travelled area, certainly, than the bridge itself, which is only a mile from heavily populated areas of Fort Bragg.
Operation Perez was supposed to occur shortly after daybreak. But Stuckey and Perez were late arriving. They didn't get to the A&W road until around 9 a.m., by which time Channel and Abreu had tired of waiting and were walking back towards Fort Bragg. They were not far from the bridge when Perez and Stuckey drove up.
Perez was dead twenty minutes later.
Abreu now says his amended story about what happened is untrue, but it does tend to corroborate Stuckey's fluid versions of Perez's death. It also buttresses the account of Michael Johnson, the Fort Bragg youth who eventually went to the police to say he'd heard his three friends talking about the murder while the four of them were smoking pot in Johnson's backyard on Livingston Street.
Johnson told police that August Stuckey had told him, “We killed a guy,” and that the "guy deserved to die.” Johnson said he asked Aaron Channel why they'd done it. Channel, Johnson said, replied that he was just helping Stuckey, who was going to do it anyway and would probably mess it up. Johnson recalled that Channel thought the murder had occurred "around September 18th." Johnson said his three friends told him that they had poured alcohol on the floor of the truck to make the cops think Perez had gotten drunk and had wandered out in the woods where he’d beck fatally lost. Johnson said that Stuckey had also asked him about how he might cook up some home made napalm so he could go back out to Perez's body to completely obliterate Perez's remains. Johnson told police he remembered Tai Abreu borrowing a shovel to "bury something." Johnson thought the "something" was cameras stolen from Perez. And, Johnson told the police, when he asked his three pot pals how they knew "the guy" was dead, Channel reportedly said, "He gurgled, that's how we knew he was dead."
The same day Johnson came to the police with the news that his three friends had murdered someone, Stuckey, before leading police to Perez's corpse, was telling investigators that Channel and Abreu had forced him into a scheme to rob Perez or they'd harm Stuckey's sister. Stuckey said he'd only been involved out of fear for his sister's welfare. He said he hadn't been down in the bushes when Perez was duct taped to the tree.
Investigators immediately went to Stuckey's sister, Candace, then a student at Mendocino High School, to see if Candace might confirm the most important element of her brother's story — his involvement.
Candace said she'd "rather be taking her chemistry test," but, yes, her brother August had told her how a couple of his friends had taken a man out into the woods, robbed him and then cut his throat. Candace tearfully said her brother often lied to her but she was sure he was telling the truth this time. Candace told the police that the two friends of her brother's who had done the killing were Tai Abreu and Aaron Channel. Candace said Abreu and Channel had threatened to rape and kill her if August didn't help them rob Perez. Candace said her brother had been tortured by Channel and Abreu into going along with the scheme.
Both Abreu's and Stuckey's accounts have always exempted themselves from responsibility for the murder. They both said they were up on the road when Perez got it in the throat with the Ka-bar knife. They both admitted that they were only part of a plan to rob Perez and that Aaron Channel was the third person involved.
Abreu would later claim that his confession to detective Kevin Bailey was not only untrue but falsely obtained because his request that an attorney be present when he talked to Bailey had been ignored. Channel would subsequently admit that he was involved in the crime only after Perez was dead, and Stuckey would say he was involved but hadn't stabbed anyone with the military knife he habitually wore on his belt, nor had he stabbed anyone with any other kind of cutting instrument
In the three weeks Perez's mummified corpse was wrapped to the tree by the Noyo, nobody saw his remains, nobody smelled his remains, no dog barked at his remains; all anybody had to do was look off the side of the road and there he was, sagging to earth between the pavement and the river.
The police, directed to what was left of Perez by Stuckey, seemed as surprised at the body's proximity to the busy road as they were at the improbability of the site as a murder scene.
"We responded out the A&W Logging Road approximately one mile where we met deputies and search and rescue personnel. Lt. Miller directed us to a location just west of the first bridge on the logging road. We looked off the road and observed a male adult hanging by his hands, which were tied around a tree. Perez's wallet, containing his driver's license, his credit cards, and his ATM card, was found undisturbed in his trousers. (fig 7-1)
"Considering it happened during daylight hours," detective Bailey would say, "to say that they were lucky to get away with all that right there is an understatement. Not only is it a pretty popular place — we have County employees who walk that road on a daily basis — for his remains to be maybe 20 feet off the roadway and not be discovered is amazing. There's nothing in the vehicle to indicate that he was killed in the vehicle. If they'd killed him some other place then transported him in the vehicle there would have been some trace evidence in the vehicle. They did it all right there. They were very lucky."
Although gay interest groups would immediately demand that the three be charged with a hate crime because Perez was gay, the sexual motive didn't seem to have been a factor in his murder. Stuckey is gay and Abreu actively bi-sexual. Channel is heterosexual but not known to be intolerant of gays or anybody else except "child molesters," among whose ranks he apparently included Perez.
The sexually ecumenical hijackers, it seems, just wanted Perez's property, which consisted of two hundred dollars in cash, a hand held 8 millimeter camera, a 35 millimeter camcorder, camera lenses, four canisters of film, a battery charger for the camcorder, and music cd's including Nirvana and Suicidal Tendencies, all of it found buried in Abreu's green duffel bag. (fig 4-3)
Stuckey's multiple accounts, scattered as they were, confirmed that the police had arrested the three persons responsible for Perez's death. Abreu's and Stuckey's accounts also bolstered the information about Perez's murder brought to the police by Michael Johnson, a drug buddy of the three young hijackers and an occasional sex partner of Stuckey's. But it was Abreu's confession to detective Kevin Bailey of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department that would send all three to state prison, Abreu for life without the possibility of parole. (fig 6-2)
A wiry, restless young man who always seems to be in motion whether seated or upright, the kinetic Abreu sat in the stark interview room of the county jail complex in Ukiah the afternoon of October 9th waiting for detective Bailey. As he waited, he mouthed fragments of a love song, rhythmically accompanying himself by slapping his hands on the interview desk.
If Abreu had known he was about to put himself in prison for the rest of his life, if he'd known that the law says he was as guilty as whomever it was who duct taped Perez to the tree and stabbed him in the throat, if Abreu had known that detective Bailey was not his friend, not some kind of surrogate daddy, but only a cop doing his job, if only he'd had the lawyer present he'd asked for, Tai might have saved himself. But he was young and inexperienced, unexperienced, really, and nobody was on his side, least of all the lawyer he finally got after it was too late.
On the day that doomed him, Tai had asked that an attorney be on hand for his interview with the detective hours before Bailey arrived, but Bailey just slipped Tai on into confession mode as if Tai's three-hours-ago request for a lawyer had never been made.
Abreu would always insist that he'd been up on the road as lookout man when Stuckey and Channel killed Perez down in the bushes. They did the murder part of the crime, not him. It took the kid only an hour with Detective Bailey to put himself in prison for the rest of his life.
Detective Bailey is a youthful, fit-looking man in his mid-thirties. Bailey is close enough in age and general experience to the young people he mostly deals with to understand their formative social and cultural influences. Hip to youth idiom, Bailey throws a lot of "dudes" into his interrogations, as in, "Dude, I know it's tough." Or, "Dude, like, I'm here for you." Bailey comes across as a genuinely nice guy. Maybe he is, but it's his job to solve crimes, and the hyper young man sitting across from him was involved in the most serious crime there is.
Bailey proceeded to conduct a carefully seductive interrogation during which 19-year-old Tai inexorably convicted himself of murder.
"Well, first off," Tai began, "I want to explain my reasoning why I did not talk the first day when we had our conversation, and that you've probably been informed, I was scared shitless."
Bailey, who might have been Tai's favorite uncle, replied, "Dude, I would have been too."
"I was let in on some information that I did not want to know," Abreu continued. "I was told about August's and Aaron's interaction with this Perez guy or whatever his name is. My dad says sing like a fucking canary. He told me to do what you have to do to make sure that you don't go down for something that you didn't do."
"And I respect you for coming in here and doing it, and I respect the reasons that you came in here and did it," Bailey said, reeling in the young fish, taking care to separate Abreu from Stuckey.
"That guy's about as sharp as a bowl of jello," the detective remarked about Stuckey. "Don't get me wrong. I honestly think that he can probably take a computer apart and put it together blindfolded, but I think he's basically a social retard."
"He's been a recluse for like six years," Abreu said. "I knew him back in the 6th grade. We hardly hung out. The dude, like, never talked. He is what I would describe as the quiet type of psycho. And he has really no social interaction skills that I can see."
Turning from Stuckey's multiple deficiencies, Bailey assured Abreu, "Basically what we're talking about is damage control now. The water has already hit the island. How much damage is it going to do? That's where we're at. The case is basically done. I've been working on this missing person case since the day it started. That's been over three weeks. I've talked to the guy's family just about daily for three weeks. I didn't know Mr. Perez. I never met him. I don't know what kind of person he was. I know he was into some pretty strange stuff. But I do know that he's got a good family. He's got a very good mother. He's got a very good sister. And they're really, really tore up over this. We want to see the right people get what they have coming. We want the people that are responsible held accountable. And like I said, I respect you coming in here and doing this, but there are some gaps that I need you to fill in, Tai. I'm in here, and I know it's hard to believe, but I'm in here working for you. And if you're only going to give me half of it, man, I can't do my job."
Abreu replied, "Aaron said he's the one who stuck him. Said he got him in the throat, pushed it in straight back like that. He was going for a direct no-questions-asked-the-guy-is-dead. August planned on killing the guy from the start because he didn't want any witnesses."
Bailey was reeling fast now.
"What else do you have to tell me, because if you're holding something back you need to let it go. You're not going to feel good about yourself until you do."
Abreu gave up more.
"The only one other fact is that I went out with Hippy (Channel) to bury the stuff. I drove the car out there. I'm sorry I wasn't straight about that, but that's one thing that I didn't want you to know."
His soothing fisher of souls self to the fore, Bailey kept on reeling.
"When I give you an opportunity to help yourself like I did today, I dropped everything over in Fort Bragg to come all the way over here to give you an opportunity to help yourself. You need to take advantage of it. It's an opportunity that I'm giving you. I'm not giving it to those other two (Stuckey and Channel) because I know they're going to come in here and lie to me. I know they're going to come in here and play games with me, and I don't have time for that. I've talked to you before: I know that you're going to be straight with me. I know it's not going to be easy. We're going to get through it, and believe me you're going to be a better man for it. Your family is going to be better for it and Jennifer (Jennifer Wolchik, Tai's close friend) is going to be better for it."
"Yeah," Abreu said. "My big concern is I don't want to go down for murder so, okay, here we go. Straight facts. August approached Hippy and I the night before the incident occurred. He said, 'There's this dude I've been talking to on-line who has these things that I want. He's coming down tomorrow morning. I'm going to off him. I want his stuff.' Hippy and I looked at him. Hippy said, 'Dude, you ain't doing this alone. You'll fuck it up like mad.' Hippy knows August, knows he's stupid."
"Yeah, he is," Bailey agreed.
"So at that point," Abreu continued, "Aaron's point of view changed from, 'My friend's going to do something dumb to, 'I'm going to make sure he doesn't do everything dumb.' And they discussed it. I was there with them. I witnessed the conversation. We planned it out and stayed up all night. The next morning we went down the A&W logging road about 6 a.m. It was still dark when we walked down there. And we walked. We went behind the Redwood Health Club so we wouldn't be seen actually walking on the road. We walked down A&W logging road and...."
"Take your time, man," Bailey said. "You've been holding it a long time."
"So," Abreu continued, "we walked down the A&W logging road and we stashed (hid out) just past the bridge. There's this one spot where you can walk down, and there's some trees and a nice climbing area that I used to hang out at. We stashed down there. We remained on scene, and we watched the vehicles that drove by. We waited there. I was told the vehicle was a Dodge Ram. Stuckey told me the color but I couldn't remember it. So I was just like watching for anything that could be a Dodge Ram. Hippy and I took turns at watch. We took naps. The plan was that if by 9 o'clock there was no sighting we were going to call August, see what was up, see if the guy had, you know, some sort of delay getting there.
"9 o'clock rolled around. We were using Hippy's pocket organizer to check the time because it had a little clock on it. No sign of anything. We walked up to the road. I look up and I see a blue truck parked just down the road facing this way, no one in it. And I looked at it and it's a Dodge Ram. As I'm standing there, August and this Perez dude walk down from a hill along side the road. There's like this hill across from where the truck was parked and this little hard-to-see trail. August had his Ka-bar knife at his side at the time.
"Hippy and I walked up and August introduced us to the guy, and this is about the screwiest part when August introduced us to him. We had a short conversation with him. He said he was interested in possibly moving here. I don't know if he was just shooting the shit or trying to make conversation or what. I kept pretty much quiet the entire time because I was in a situation I didn't want to be involved in. I didn't really want to be there. I was dumb and got talked into it. Anyway, Hippy suggested a couple of job options. The dude mentioned he was a trucker. Hippy told him there was a job option around where you could be a trucker pretty easy. Pretty much fishing industry and logging industry is what there was in Fort Bragg.
"That took about five, ten minutes of conversation. Then August knocked the guy's glasses off and said, 'Okay. There's two ways this can happen. There's the easy way and then there's your way.' He told the guy to step out of his truck. He started walking the dude up the hill. I was going to stay by the truck and keep watch. The dude tried to run off. He runs towards the bridge and he didn't have his glasses at the time. Hippy had them in his pocket. The guy bolts for the bridge. He stops at the bridge, and Hippy laughed and said, 'Oh, so you're going to make your stand at the bridge.' I mean he was just totally getting a kick out of the situation. And the guy turns around. August and Hippy stop. I'm still back by the truck. The dude left his keys there. He had an extra copy. There was a set inside the truck and he probably had the other set on him. And he turns around and says, 'At least let me have my glasses back. I've got 200 bucks in my wallet and you can have that if you let me have my glasses and move on.' August stopped, put his K-bar in his sheath and said to the guy, 'All right. You set down the money, I'll set down your glasses. The guy said, 'I'm coming to set the money down. I'm going to back off. You come and pick up the money, drop the glasses, and then you back off.'"
"He walked down on to the bridge and set the money down at the edge of the bridge. Then he backed up. August walked up, picked up the money, set down the glasses and stayed standing right there. Perez looked at him and backed off. Perez said, 'You don't get to be around my glasses', and Perez runs up and grabs them and turns around and starts running, and puts them on as he's running. But he loses his footing and then Hippy clubbed him in the head with a rock. Right there I would have to say it was probably an instant concussion. Hippy's got some good swinging power behind his arms.
"And, um, Perez fell down. I got in the truck and started it up. I had a pair of socks on my hands because I was avoiding fingerprints. I drove the truck up to the far side of the bridge to the little pullout. I turned it around and faced it the other way because they wanted to drive the truck down the road. While I was there with the truck there was some rustling in the bushes. About five minutes later August and Hippy come running up to the truck and told me to go.
"There was a dude that had passed by not too long before, probably the guy that identified us, probably one of the loggers. The logger was going down the road, right on past us. We took Perez's truck down to the end of the road (east) and crashed it there at the spot where you guys found it. Hippy spilled the alcohol around to make it look like some kind of drunk driving thing. We wiped down the truck for prints. August and Hippy moved off up the road. I stayed at the truck for a minute and kept watch on the situation before I went to catch up with them. I didn't know the path to the egg taking station (a remote state park camp ground near a facility where Fish and Game staff take eggs from migrating salmon and steelhead for fish restoration in the Noyo River) so I took a left and went the wrong way before I realized it and turned back around to come back. I met them again and they told me where they burned and buried all the stuff. They decided they didn't want to go to the egg taking station because it was in sight of CDF and everyone else who could see us. As one of the CDF trucks came by we dove down in the bushes. We heard the Skunk train go by. We walked down hill to the tracks and walked to DeWitt's house in town. From there I tried to forget about the situation.
Bailey asked, "Did you guys tell anybody what you did?"
Abreu, telling all, replied: "August informed Mike Johnson of what happened, which was pretty dumb. The way that happened was me and Hippy were at Mike's house. We were hanging out with him in his backyard in his old Cutlass Supreme, the car he had that was all beat up and messed up. While we were there, August showed up. He walked out to the backyard because he noticed no one was in the house, but the music was going and the door was open. Obviously someone was home. August saw us in the car in the backyard and got in with us. Then he said, 'Dude, we've got to tell Mike about what happened.' I looked at him and I was like, 'Dude, you're nuts.' And August starts blabbering at Mike about what went down. Apparently August's reasoning was that he wanted to find some explosives so he could burn the area where the body was to get rid of hair, DNA, fingerprints stuff like that."
"It's reasonable," Bailey agreed. "Not rational, though. Did you guys ever go back out there to where Perez was?"
"There was one time," Abreu recalled, "after the incident where Hippy and I were down there. Jen was driving my car and we were hanging out for the night and I was passing out in the car and she didn't want to drop me off anywhere because I was passing out. So she drove down the A&W road. While we were there we fell asleep. A truck pulled up behind us, and I heard this from Jen while we were driving home because I was still asleep. She said an inspector came out and said, 'Okay, you guys need to leave.' And so we left. And that was the only other time I had been out there anywhere near where Perez was."
"You never took anybody out and showed them the body?" Bailey asked.
"I'm not that dumb," Abreu said. "I did not go back to the location at all."
Bailey, now in therapist mode, commiserated.
"That's a big burden to haul around on your shoulders. It's been eating you. For weeks it's been eating you."
"As I said before, I was scared and I didn't know what I was going to do because I got into a situation I did not need to be wrapped up in."
Bailey pressed on.
"Whose idea was it?"
Abreu answered, "August's." Bailey, disbelieving, "Who put the plan together? August didn't put the plan together."
Abreu explained that "August said he was going to have Perez drive out a logging road. He specified A&W because it was the first one that popped to mind. He threw this plan all together in one night. And we went along, we did what seemed right. Spilling the alcohol in the truck was a convenient situation because the alcohol was already there in the truck. And like I said, Hippy threw the bottles."
"Whose idea was it to duct tape him?" Bailey asked.
"That would have been Hippy or August," Abreu said, "because August had a small roll of duct tape that he said he picked up at Circle K. He brought that out with him. And it was, like, the restraining thing."
"When I put the duct tape under the microscope, is it going to match the duct tape that was in your car?" Bailey wanted to know.
Abreu said, "Hippy got rid of the duct tape that was used. I don't know where he got rid of it, but he informed me he got rid of it."
Bailey was sweeping up, the case was made.
"Anything else you can think of? Anybody else who knows what went down out there other than what you told me about?"
Abreu answered, "Like I said, August informed Mike. Other than that, I don't know of anyone else he would have informed."
"Mike's like you," Bailey said. "He doesn't want to go down for something he didn't do. Getting back to when they came back up out of the bushes, what did they tell you had happened?"
Abreu recalled, "Originally, it was scramble to get into the truck and get out of there. As we were going, I looked at them, and I said, 'Is he, you know, is he dead'? And Aaron said, 'I got him right in the throat. He gurgled.' And August said, 'Living people don't gurgle,' which was a spin-off of a joke from The Critic when The Critic's dad says, 'Penguins don't fly.' "
Bailey, like everyone else in law enforcement who would encounter Stuckey, commented, "That guy's not operating on all cylinders."
Abreu agreed. "August has like about half his brain functioning for him, the other half functioning against him."
There it was, a murder, and all of it occurring in broad daylight on a Friday morning on a perfect late summer day not a mile from the Fort Bragg police station. Everyone in Fort Bragg knows the spot, knows it would be just about the most unlikely place on the entire Mendocino Coast to hijack a passerby, chase him back and forth on a normally busy bridge, assault him, ransom his glasses, hit him over the head, drag him down off the road into the bushes, duct tape him to a tree, and plunge a knife blade into his throat.
Maybe the joggers, bicycle riders, loggers, hikers, and dog walkers who are usually passing back and forth over the bridge on a fine, sunny late summer morning were all at home, still mesmerized by the incessant replays of those passenger planes flying forever into the World Trade Center. Whatever the reason for the absence of traffic, no one happened by. No one saw Donald Perez's last stand.
The three conspirators were seen twice, however, in the vicinity of their crime. A logging crew, on their way to work out in the hills east of the bridge, had seen four young men standing around on the road near Perez's truck, and the man driving the crummy transporting the loggers had seen three young men near the bridge on his way back into town after he'd dropped his crew off in the woods. The loggers hadn't seen anything felonious, just four guys standing around, then the crummy driver had seen three guys standing around, but the loggers would have no trouble identifying August Stuckey, 19, Tai Abreu, also then 19, and Aaron Channel, then 20, as the three persons they saw on the A&W road the morning of September 14th. (fig 6-1) Perez's perfectly maintained blue Dodge Ram, its doors unlocked, the key in the ignition, was found late the next day, three miles up the road, three miles east of the bridge near which Perez, duct tape still holding him by his dead wrists to the tree, was beginning to melt into the earth. His remains wouldn't be found for another three weeks. They might never have been found if Stuckey had kept his mouth shut.
A young man from Albion named James Montgomery, who said he was on a hike, had first alerted the Fort Bragg police to the seemingly abandoned Dodge Ram. The Fort Bragg police had then called Cliff Lathrop, a former Fort Bragg police officer and now a security man for Anderson Logging whose timber crews worked the area. A search party was soon assembled to comb the heavily wooded hills for the truck's owner. The searchers immediately discovered empty wine cooler bottles strewn around the truck's interior and an address book on the passenger seat containing August Stuckey's name and telephone number. The meticulously maintained vehicle was hauled down out of the hills, past its owner's corpse, to the Fort Bragg Police Department.
James Montgomery, who found Perez's truck, is the half-brother of Galina Trefil, the young woman who would marry Aaron Channel at the Mendocino County Jail. (fig 4-1) He was vague as to when he'd first seen the vehicle, but he was pretty sure it had been the afternoon of September 14th. The righteously concerned citizen had then blithely walked into the Fort Bragg Police Department where, just as blithely, he informed the lady at the desk that he was carrying a pistol because, he said, "You never know what you're going to find in the woods this time of the year." Montgomery then told the police while he was out hiking that day he'd seen a well looked-after Dodge pick-up in the brush about three miles up the road from the bridge.
The police said they assumed Mr. Montgomery, being armed and not particularly dressed for recreational hiking, had been looking around for marijuana patches to rip off. It was, after all, as Montgomery had said, the time of year that the lucrative plants are ready for harvest, by both thieves and their planters, and marijuana gardens are plentiful throughout the 30 miles of back country between Fort Bragg and Willits.
Speculation not being grounds for arrest, the police thanked Mr. Montgomery for his civic conscientiousness, handed him his Glock 27, and bid him good day.
Having discovered Stuckey's name and phone number in the address book in plain view on the front seat of Perez's truck, the police called Stuckey in for a chat. Stuckey said he knew Perez and had expected to see Perez the morning of September 14th, but Perez hadn't shown up. Detective Bailey was suspicious, but it wasn't until Michael Johnson went to the police three weeks later to tell them that he was pretty sure his friends had killed someone, that Bailey knew Perez was a homicide victim, not merely someone who'd pounded down a six pack of wine coolers then staggered off into the woods and gotten himself so drunkenly disoriented he couldn't find his way back to the road. The detective knew that Stuckey knew what had happened to Perez.
The three unlikely conspirators, camping in the woods at the Jackson State Forest egg taking station, had stayed up much of the night planning their first big adventure in crime. Perhaps aroused by Stuckey's fantasy that Perez was rich, perhaps out of a stoned, misplaced sense of loyalty to their occasional friend, perhaps out of pure, murderous boredom with their lazy, aimless, stoned lives, Abreu and Channel had decided to help Stuckey bring off his lunatic robbery scheme. Given the hours they put into it, their eventual plot wasn't so much a plan as an hallucination.
Donald Perez was conceded to have a bad temper, even by his family. He was also something of an enigma to them. He'd spent 11 years in the Marines before opting for an honorable discharge and, because of his temper, had bounced from job to job ever since. At six feet and 165 pounds, Perez was in good shape. One of the mysteries of his abduction and murder is how three unathletic potheads could have subdued a bad-termpered Marine.
The ex-Marine's temper was so bad he'd done some jail time for brandishing a hand gun at neighbors he thought were making fun of him. He'd earned a month in jail and three years probation for that one. When the Santa Ana police were informed that Perez was missing 500 miles to the north, the officer who happened to answer Mendocino County's first inquiring phone call, asked, "Who'd he kill?" Perez had just come off probation when he was murdered.
The dead man was last seen alive on the morning of September 13th by his roommate, Paul Smith, and his landlady, Paz Nelson. Smith and Nelson both described Perez as "quiet with a hot temper." He'd rented a room from Nelson for eight years. Perez's roommate in the Santa Anna house, Smith, claimed to know little about Perez, less even than his landlady. The landlady and the roommate both said Perez spent "a lot of time on his computer," and that both men and women sometimes visited him, "but more men than women." They said that they knew Perez had just been fired from a truck driving job for threatening a co-worker, but they were sure he would soon get another job because he was disciplined and hard working.
Perez had some $8,000 in the bank; his meticulous new truck was paid off, free and clear. For a guy who bounced around the job market, Donald Perezx did pretty well for himself.
When the police examined Perez's computer after his murder they destroyed the many illegal pornographic images of children they found there.
"The first disk, labeled Guy-1," the police report says, "contains a mix of graphic images that depict primarily male homosexuality. While most of the images appear to be young adults, some are of minors, both male and female, engaged in various forms of sex acts. The disc labeled ADF-2 Guy-2 NS contains a mix of graphic images that are primarily nude photos of prepubescent girls and boys. Some photos include minor boys and girls engaged in sex acts with adults. Due to the illegal nature of these images, these discs should not be returned to the decedent's next of kin and should be destroyed." The police report went on to say the images had indeed been destroyed "to spare the family."
Deanne Perez-Granados, Perez's sister, works at Stanford University. She concedes that she had questions about her brother's hidden life.
"I wondered about his sexuality because it had been some time since Don had been in a relationship with a woman. So although I'm surprised by his relationship with this Stuckey person, I'm not completely surprised. But Don was a good person, the kind of person that if a friend or family member was in need, he was there for us."
Perez-Granados said that the murder of her brother had been "a pretty difficult couple of years for us, and to re-visit all this is too painful. I want to humanize Don, though. He was younger than me, the oldest of the four children in our family. We are Irish-Scots-Latino. Don was the nurturing one. He cared very much about us. We were all only a year-and-a-half apart. We grew up together around Pasadena, then we moved to San Francisco when my mother re-married. That was in the mid-1970's when my mother re-married and we moved to San Francisco. Don didn't do all that well in school but he was very intelligent. He could figure out how things worked. In high school he took a lot of vocational education classes, especially in electronics and mechanics. In the Marines he worked on airplanes. He'd gone to Europe and Japan with the Marines. I just don't believe my brother was sexually involved with one of them. I think that's just a way of them trying to elude guilt."
Donald Perez is buried in Portland. His mother, Gladys Fontaine, lives in nearby Eugene. Her daughter says, "My mother wanted him nearby to where she and my step-father plan to be buried," adding, "the one thing I want to be conveyed about my brother is that he was a very caring person, and that whatever went on between him and.....well, he did know one of the people. He was going up there to help that person, to give that person money for whatever purpose that person needed it. The end result was that this person took his life. There's a big hole in our family because he's gone."
The grieving sister is perplexed by her brother's killers.
"I looked at them in court. It's a puzzle to me. They didn't look like the kind of people who could do the horrible things they did. My brother was not a violent person. I just don't see him threatening anybody to where they would feel compelled to do what these three did."
Perez-Granados said her brother was close to his family, always sending birthday cards, frequently spending time with her and her family's children, "his surrogate kids," playing with them for hours at a time and taking the older ones to Disneyland.
“My son, all his nieces and nephews, just adored him,” Perez's sister emphasizes. “Whenever they were with him, they were just climbing all over him.”
Gladys Fontaine also describes her son as loving and generous.
“He was a good, giving person, and there’s not too much I can talk about now because it hurts too much,” she says.
In addition to his mother and sister, Perez is survived by his stepfather, John Fontaine, and two brothers, Rocco and Michael Perez.
Perez's family aren't the only people puzzled by his killers. Aaron, Tai and August weren't the usual rootless, drug-driven criminals familiar to Mendocino County law enforcement. All three had functioning families who were behind them before and after their horrendous criminal misadventure. To everyone who knew them, their rootlessness would only be temporary. They'd get jobs, or go to college, settle down. It was only a matter of time before they grew all the way up.
They certainly weren't tough guys. Young people who know them were disbelieving when the odd trio was arrested for the Perez murder.
"Those guys? They did what? No way!" was a typical comment from one contemporary. (fig 4-4)
August Stuckey was something of a social isolate, but Abreu and Channel had wide circles of respectable friends, and all three were intelligent, literate, and fascinated by the confused world they spent hours trying to puzzle out in long, all be them stoned, conversations in Michael Johnson's backyard, and in the shack on Todd's point out behind Channel's mother's house.
"If there's an accurate or at least helpful way to describe them," an adult acquaintance would say, "I'd call them like young beatniks from the 1950's. They read a lot poetry, they wrote long letters to each other, and they were drawn to the various brands of lazy mysticism that floats up and down the Mendocino Coast.
"They called themselves 'pacifists'. Rougher kids described them as wusses and weirdos, but also said they were the absolute last guys who would kill anybody. Take away the dope and the violent music and video games and these three never would have harmed anyone. Sad to say though, there are always a bunch of kids like them at loose ends around here. And there's dope of all kinds everywhere in the county, and not much adult input that smart, alienated, confused kids can respect.
"But Aaron Channel was the lead guy. The other two looked up to him. Stuckey couldn't have done anything like it by himself. Ditto for Abreu. Channel could have stopped it. Why he was involved is the biggest shocker of all."
Like so many other alienated youngsters on the Northcoast, Channel and Abreu spent their days wandering around Fort Bragg, often stopping in at the informal youth center on Laurel Street known as the Headlands Cafe. When the popular coffee shop closed at ten, they'd head for the all-night Denny's a few blocks north of downtown on Highway One. In the summer months, the two young men would often camp out in the woods east of town. They were always short of money, but there was no work that appealed to them. There isn't much work of any kind on the Mendocino Coast for restless, haphazardly educated boys who'd struggled through high school. Tai and Aaron and August were adrift. (fig 1)
The Ukiah Daily Journal, and the two interchangeable weeklies serving the northern part of the Mendocino Coast, the Fort Bragg Advocate and the Mendocino Beacon, all three owned by the same newspaper chain, printed inflammatory news stories about the case based entirely on press releases from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department and the District Attorney's office. The New York Times-owned Santa Rosa Press Democrat chipped in with equivalently prejudicial pre-trial accounts of the Perez murder. The newspaper stories were invariably accompanied by gaunt mug shots of the alleged killers that reinforced the newspapers' press release depictions of the defendants as aimless drug psychos.
The Northcoast media, including the "liberal" Philo-based public radio station KZYX, often mentioned that the victim was gay, implying that Perez was a double victim. Considerable pressure was brought on the District Attorney's office to add the additional capital charge of hate crime to Perez's murder but, according to District Attorney Norm Vroman, "It just wasn't there. We looked hard for it, too."
While the three suspects were buried beneath a barrage of prejudicial public statements in the local media from their prosecutors, their defense attorneys said nothing. Public opinion being duly poisoned, the defendants undefended, there was no way the three alleged killers could get anything resembling a fair trial in Mendocino County.
Typical of public opinion elicited by the inflammatory media coverage of the case was this letter from a person calling himself "Juan Garcia of San Francisco." Garcia was responding to one of the rare, defendant-friendly letters-to-the-editor from Kande Trefil, Aaron Channel's new mother-in-law:
"The naive, mawkish article by Kande Trefil in defense of Aaron Channel and Tai Abreu reflects the deep denial of the local hippie counter-cultural community regarding the murder of Donald Perez. How could the sons of such an enlightened culture commit such a heinous crime? Impossible! See, Aaron was a Buddhist and such a sweet guy. Uh-huh, and The Sniper was a Muslim and an upstanding family man, and of course those two kids at Columbine came from such nice families. Give us a break! Actually, these guys reflect the self-indulgent, narcissistic hippie-dippie culture they grew up in: the 'Albion Nation' of New Age charlatans, welfare deadbeats, dope dealers, scam artists, and now robbers and murderers. Of course that milieu is definitely minor league compared with the environment of the Aryan Nation, Nazi Low Riders and bad boys that these guys are gonna be functioning in for some time at Pelican Bay or Corcoran or wherever. It's time they grew up and took it like men if they expect to survive because, whine as much as you will, they are not getting out for a long, long time....Yeah, you people go ahead and blame it all on August Stuckey, the youngest, physically smallest and most vulnerable of the three, and the only one who can plausibly be seen as a victim in this matter mitigating his culpability, having suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the deceased, an older man twice his age."
In this thinking, Stuckey had been beguiled, tricked into a sexual relationship with the 39-year-old Perez. Given the age discrepancy, the reasoning goes, and given that Stuckey had been 17 a few months before he killed Perez, Stuckey was a child and Perez was a child molester.
But the three accused and their few supporters would consistently express outrage at "child molesters," in whose dreary ranks, they would allege, marched Perez because of his relationship with young Stuckey and the post-mortem discovery of child pornography on his computer. In this twisted reality, the distinction between a pervert who collects child pornography and a pervert who actually molests children was lost, and somehow Perez had only gotten what was coming to him
District Attorney Vroman saw the case as emphatically open and just as emphatically shut.
"Each one of them was charged and the implication was different in each one. We got an L-WOP (life without the possibility of parole) on Abreu. The other two got 15 to life (sic) by pleading. Abreu was offered a plea and he didn't take it. Taking cases to trial is never a slam dunk so we were very happy with all three of the sentences in this case."
Channel got a determinate sentence of 19 years, 7 months; Stuckey got 15 indeterminate years. Channel will do his time and get out. Stuckey will have to convince a parole board he is no longer a menace to society before he gets out. Abreu got a one-day trial and life without the possibility of parole.
Instead of being tried in Fort Bragg where their families and friends all lived, the whole show was conducted in Ukiah. The parents, families and friends, not to mention possible defense witnesses, were never informed of exactly where Stuckey, Channel and Abreu were in the legal process, all of which was carried out an hour and a half from Fort Bragg over a narrow, twisting country road.
Linda Thompson is the lead defender in Mendocino County's historically weak Public Defender's office. Tai Abreu isn't the first indigent defendant Thompson has represented right into life without the possibility of parole. For Tai, a 19-year-old charged with first degree murder, Thompson managed a non-defense that put him away for life. She did not challenge a single prospective juror, she called no witnesses on Tai's behalf and, wrapping up, agreed with the prosecution's denunciation of Tai as a remorseless killer and all-round bad guy.
Worse, Tai's deluded defense attorney had advised her doomed client to turn down the DA's offer of 15-to-life and take his non-case to a jury of his peers. Thompson told Tai she could get him off because detective Bailey had interrogated him without a lawyer present. On his end, the 19-year-old Tai thought he was innocent period because he'd been up on the road as lookout man. He did not know that under California law, if a person dies in the commission of a crime, everyone involved in that crime is responsible for the death.
Public defender Thompson spent her several hours of Tai's one-day murder trial arguing that Tai was not properly advised of his right to an attorney, concluding her presentation with an unfounded assessment of Tai's personality she seems to have derived directly from the DA's office.
The evidence against Tai consisted of his own sweetly coerced confession placing him at the scene and among the conspirators plus Stuckey's easily discredited multiple accusations, and the property stolen from Perez buried in the woods that Tai led the police to. The murder weapon was never found. With Stuckey unlikely to be a credible witness, Tai not testifying against himself, and Channel saying nothing at all, it is unlikely that Tai would ever have been convicted of first degree murder in any other venue but the one who stuck him with an incompetent public defender.
But rather than grab the offer from the DA and thank the lord for 15-to-life, Ms. Thompson, convinced Tai to go to trial. Tai said yes to the worst possible legal advice he could get in his situation. Yes, take me to the jury, Ms. Thompson. I didn't do anything to the guy. I was lookout up on the road when the other two guys were down in the bushes killing him. I didn't kill him and I didn't know they were going to kill him.
Ms. Thompson said nothing to change Tai's mind. She didn't say anything to change the jury's mind either. The tiny woman who dresses in men's suits thought she could talk a conservative, rural jury into letting Tai go home.
So Tai went to trail. He got one whole day before an unchallenged jury not of his peers, a jury consisting mostly of older retired people, the kind of people who don't refer to non-specific others as "dude." Worse, one of his jurors may have been hostile to Tai for reasons having nothing to do with the accusations against him. This juror was a Fort Bragg man hostile to Tai because he disapproved of a relationship Tai once had with his daughter. (fig 9-2) His Ukiah jury wasted no time finding Tai guilty of murder in the first degree. A few months later Tai was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by Judge Richard "Rickey" Henderson, an undistinguished Republican from Ukiah appointed to Mendocino County's uniquely over-large superior court for reasons unrelated to his legal abilities, let alone whatever commitment to proportionate justice he may possess.
(Mendocino County's far-flung population of less than a hundred thousand people supports 9 superior court judges, a figure that does not include the dozen or so judges who've "retired" from the Mendocino County bench but double dip as part-time, fill-in judges around the state. Henderson is only one of many starving outback lawyers promoted to instant prosperity by a fortuitous change in the state law which, by legislative fiat in the middle 1970's, elevated the county's one-session-a-week justice court judges to full-time, full pay and benefits, superior court judges.)
About the time that Linda Thompson was putting her client Tai Abreu away for the rest of his life, a popular Ukiah firefighter by the name of Bruechler murdered his layabout son with an ax. Bruechler's son was asleep when pop took the ax to him. Bruechler was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He did a year in prison. Mendocino County justice, like justice everywhere, depends a whole lot on who you are.
Aaron Channel and August Stuckey, having seen what happened to their co-conspirator Mr. Abreu, quickly decided to plead guilty to lesser charges. Aaron received a determinate 19-year sentence, meaning he'll be free before he's forty. August got 15-to-life, meaning he, too, will probably be free before he's forty, although August will have to convince a parole board that he's no longer a criminally disposed before he's freed.
If Tai is telling the truth about his part in the murder of Donald Perez, he was the least involved participant, but he'll never get out of prison while Perez's true killer will get out.
Public defender Linda Thompson killed Tai Abreu as dead as Donald Perez.
Judging from this illustrated letter from August Stuckey dated the 23rd of July, 2006, Stuckey, when he finally gets in front of a parole board, may also manage to parlay his indeterminate sentence to life without.
Detective Bailey summed up his theory of the case well after the three perps were packed off to state prison.
"Any of the three, taken by themselves, is completely harmless. The problem is that these guys were all social outcasts. Their social circle was the three of them. If these are the only people you have that you can count on and you get yourself in that situation, you certainly don't want to walk away from them. I think that's what happened. They got themselves so far into a situation that nobody wanted to be the one that chickened out. They were playing a lot of violent video games, listening to a lot of hard music, things like that."
"According to these guys Perez could hardly see without his glasses, so the whole point of slapping him the first time was to knock his glasses off, to help render him somewhat defenseless. That's why he couldn't just take off. He wanted those glasses. I need my glasses back. Perez appeared to be in pretty good shape, good enough to be capable of defending himself. But without his glasses and three on one......These guys were lucky and careful at the same time. They admit to wiping the truck down. They admit to changing and destroying their clothes. But we never recovered the murder weapon. I went out to that area several times with a metal detector trying to find it. And Abreu was actually soliciting inmates to get out on his behalf and go get the murder weapon and get rid of it. Maybe someone did get rid of it. We don't know."
Detective Bailey's theory of the case matches that of Kevin Davenport, the young prosecutor who would take the known facts into court against Abreu.
Davenport looks like a 6'4" Clark Kent. He's in his early 30's and wears dark, conservative suits. He could be a movie prosecutor. Or a mortician, although he's hardly as somber as he seems. The grandson of famed Bay Area attorneys Carl and the late Helen Shapiro, Davenport is the first prosecutor in a family of defense lawyers. He has no doubt that Channel, Abreu and Stuckey acted in a way that got Donald Perez dead.
"They were in a spot up the road from the bridge," Davenport says, "maybe a quarter mile up there. This is only according to Tai, but he said he and Channel hid in the bushes, and what they were going to do was wait for Stuckey and Perez to come by. Somehow the vehicle would stop. They waited and waited there, and then about 9 a.m., they estimate, they thought Perez and Stuckey weren't coming or they'd missed the truck and were tired of waiting. So they climbed up onto the road and started walking back towards town. They went around a couple of bends in the road and saw Perez's truck. It had stopped before it got to where they were waiting in hiding. So, they're walking along when they encounter Stuckey and Perez standing by Perez's truck. Channel and Abreu walk up to the vehicle, and now they've put the socks on their hands and have their hands in their pockets, according to Abreu, when they approach Stuckey and Perez.
"So they've already decided, 'Let's go through with it.' They get up to the vehicle. They have this exchange, there's a sort of introduction. 'These are my friends,' Stuckey says to Perez. And so forth. According to Abreu they chat for 10 or 15 minutes about job prospects in the Fort Bragg area and about the College of the Redwoods, and all of a sudden while everyone is sort of waiting for something or somebody to make a move, according to Abreu, Stuckey pulled a big knife out of a sheath that he has on him and says, 'All right. We can do this the hard way or we can do it the easy way,' or some corny movie line like that. It's not exactly clear what happened. They knocked his glasses off early on. They all start walking towards Fort Bragg, a fairly long walk from where they started from. They end up just before the bridge when, according to Abreu, Perez just stops walking. He says, 'You know what? I can't do this without my glasses on. Gimmee my glasses.' And they say, 'We'll give you your glasses if you give us your wallet.' So he kind of steps back and they say, 'We'll do a swap.' Perez puts his wallet down. And then he steps back and they, according to Abreu, put the glasses down. They take the wallet and put the glasses down.
"Perez already has his hands duct-taped in front of him. (fig 7-2) Perez bends down, gets his glasses, then he tries to run towards Fort Bragg. He's trying to run and put on his glasses at the same time, but his hands are taped so he has a balance problem. He takes four or five steps and then kinda goes down on one knee. At that time, according to Abreu, Channel hits him on the head with a rock, and it all goes from there.
"They didn't plan that spot. Once they hit him with the rock they probably just kind of stiff-walked him the rest of the way down off the road. The whole thing took who knows how long. Three guys walking down the road with one guy's hands taped and someone waving a knife around a mile from the police department! And they didn't go down the road embankment. They went around to the gate to that pasture and sort of came back parallel to the road to the spot where Perez was taped to the tree."(fig 7-1)
Tai Abreu had the most tenuous family, the fewest resources, financial or familial, of the three young men charged with the murder. Tai's mother had been adopted by the large Abreu clan, a family with deep roots in Mendocino County, but Mom had veered off the tracks in early adolescence, succumbing to the easy availability of drugs and the ubiquity of people who use them in Mendocino and Lake counties. Medical records indicate that Tai's mother was 22 when Tai was born. She was addicted to methamphetamine during her pregnancy with Tai, and almost immediately disappeared back into the drug life within days of Tai's birth in Lakeport.
Tai's father, Darrell Reno, like Tai's mother, had also been adopted, but unlike mom dad worked and stayed away from drugs. His son was the living consequence of his brief romance with Tai's troubled mother. Dad did the best he could with Tai, once remarking that he'd "rolled my life into a little paper ball and threw it away" to care for the boy.
Backed up by his adoptive mother, Esther Nelson, Darrell Reno did the best he could with Tai until Tai was 12. The schools had always had trouble controlling Tai's "hyperactivity," and were constantly complaining about what they claimed was Tai's unmanageable school room behavior. The schools put Tai on Ritalin, a pharmaceutical amphetamine, because a combination of school psychologists and Mendocino County "helping professionals," as the county's small army of therapists and social workers grandly describe themselves, had concluded that Tai was educable only if he were placed on the right combinations of drugs.
Tai wasn't helped. When the boy was 12, his father was persuaded to place Tai in an institutional setting, and Tai was soon on his way to Sunny Hills, a treatment center for disturbed children in San Anselmo, Marin County.
Tai's father, who'd been a commercial fisherman out of Fort Bragg, soon left the country to begin a lucrative new career in the Middle East as a captain of sea going tugboats. He has since become a full-time resident of Egypt, has converted to Islam and has married a young Muslim woman. When Darrell Reno learned that his son had been arrested for murder he wrote Tai off but has since resumed contact.
Tai's closest, most consistent relative was his grandmother, Esther Nelson, who died in Ukiah in 2005. She lived alone in a small, tidy senior apartment just off Low Gap Road among the photographs of her many foster children — "73 of them" and many pictures of Tai at various stages of growth. Esther was confined to a wheelchair from a stroke. (fig 9-1)
Tai's grandmother says Tai "just happened."
"His mother only saw him twice that I know of," she says. "She saw him when he was born and she saw him when he was in jail in Ukiah 19 years later. And she only saw him in Ukiah because she was at the jail visiting another of her sons. Tai was six months old when his father got full custody. Later, when they put Tai on all those pills, he hated to take them. I'd have to stand there and watch him swallow or he'd throw them away. I thought he was just a regular little boy. My goodness if you can't handle a child, an 8-year-old without drugs.....well, I refused to give them to him myself."
Grandma Esther visits Tai at the state prison in Soledad when she can; she scrimps on creature comforts for herself to send Tai a few regular dollars every month "so he can at least have something in there."
Compounding her sorrow at Tai's fate, when Grandma Esther approached Donald Perez's mother to express her sorrow at the murder that had brought the two grandmothers into one courtroom, Perez's mother loudly told a bailiff, "Keep that old bitch away from me. I don't want to have anything to do with any of these people."
Tai remembers his formative years this way:
"I was 12 when I was placed at Sunny Hills in San Anselmo, but that wasn't the beginning. When I was seven I was placed in Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute in San Francisco. That was the beginning of my exposure to the crazies. Off the wall loons, every last one of them! During my stay there as a little kid I was taken off Ritalin in two days. Anyone who knows two shits about medicine knows that two days is hardly an appropriate detox time for any medicine, let alone for a seven-year-old on a double-adult dosage of Ritalin. I was then placed on iamipramine and basically told to kick rocks back to Fort Bragg. Then there was Sunny Hills for three years, from age 12 to age 15, during which time I was placed in Ross Mental Hospital three times because I refused to take my meds. Then off to Fort Bragg again. Don't get me wrong. None of this is meant to be an excuse for what happened. It was my own stupid fault for going along with the whole thing, and I accept that. Yet my history was obviously a series of cries for help. I guess now I'm crying for the last time."
Tai's friends were shocked when he was arrested and charged with murder.
"I'm an acquaintance of Tai Abreu, but I knew him as Tai Reno," an old friend of Tai's recalls. "I went to school with all three of the young boys who are being accused of killing Donald Perez. I remember being in the 6th grade with Tai. He was always hyper and funny. I know and believe that if Tai knew there was a dead body or knew someone was about to die he would not have tolerated it or stuck around. The same goes for Aaron Channel. Isn't it a possibility Tai and Aaron were at the wrong time and place, lured there by the third member and a fourth unmentioned member that snitched to free himself of his wrongdoing? We know that Tai and Aaron were given public defenders who did nothing to defend them in this unjust justice system. These defenders prejudged them as guilty because it was being called a hate crime. Why is it called a hate crime when these four boys weren't all straight themselves? And one public defender is gay herself. She didn't know the sexuality of her client?
"Did you know that Mr. Perez was a pornographer of children, and the so-called stolen equipment of cameras was for that purpose, and that Mr. Perez had pornographic photographs of children on his computer that were destroyed by the police to save face for the Perez family? I'm not saying what happened to Perez was right, but I know Tai and Aaron couldn't have killed him."
August Stuckey didn't know Abreu and Channel well. They regarded Stuckey as "goofy" and "at least ten degrees off." But Channel had a generous way about him that made allowances for outcasts. He was kind to them, defended them, and Channel felt especially sorry for the friendless Stuckey. He, too, had been harassed in the public schools for being different. As had Tai. Channel prided himself on his pacifism, his tolerance, his patience with oddballs. He signs his letters from the state prison at Susanville, "In loving kindness." But maybe he's just trying extra hard not to let his violence genie out of the jug. Maybe his loving kindness deserted him that day on the bridge.
Stuckey had been found by the same helping professionals who'd helped destroy Abreu's childhood with drugs and institutional placement to be suffering from personality disorders ranging from paranoia, to "elements of autism," to a short attention span, and an ongoing inability to distinguish reality from fantasy. A slightly built young man, Stuckey had always had trouble in school from bullies. In defense of what was left of his self, Stuckey had occasionally physically attacked the children who tormented him. His mother had successfully sued the Fort Bragg schools over the school district's failure to provide a suitable academic environment for her son.
"How crazy is Stuckey?" Mendocino County District Attorney Norm Vroman wonders. "Obviously, he's unbalanced. But I don't know how crazy he is. I think that anybody who kills somebody except in self-defense has got a screw loose. I was never able to understand just because you have a screw loose why that makes the person who is dead any less dead. Maybe there's a difference in how you treat them, but they have to be locked up either in a prison or a hospital. Stuckey's going to prison. You know, his defense withdrew the not guilty by reason of insanity in Stuckey's case, so even they didn't think he was that far off." Stuckey was placed in protective custody in the County Jail while he waited for trial. He was at first believed to be suicidal and was assumed to be generally crazy. He was accused of engaging in sexual relations with other inmates. In a letter to President Bush confiscated by jail staff, Stuckey said he was the victim of Channel and Abreu. He said they'd stabbed him "100 times" with an ice pick and had crushed one of his hands with a ballpeen hammer, and had threatened his sister if he didn't obey them. "Either you're crazy or they are very bad dudes," a disbelieving investigator commented to Stuckey.
August Stuckey was certainly a problem inmate while he was housed at the Mendocino County Jail in Ukiah. He was often placed in a safety cell where he was clad only in a smock he couldn't rip up and use to hang himself, although the county jail's skeptical "Mental Health Evaluator" wrote of Stuckey, "Inmate doesn't talk about suicide except as a tool to get his needs met." Contradicting that evaluation, the evaluator stated that Stuckey's behavior was "erratic and unpredictable," and that he was '"unable to accept relationship of his behaviors and their consequences."
Stuckey threw tantrums over little things like being given eggs for breakfast and then not liking the way they were prepared. Once, in a faux suicide note, he wrote that getting beans for a meal was the reason he was pushed to act crazy. When he was out of his safety smock he would bang the walls and doors of his safety cell and yell incoherently. Then he would calm down, behave, take his medication, and eventually be let back into the general population. There, he would solicit other inmates to try his wares, so to speak, for the price of a candy bar. This behavior continued until other inmates complained and Stuckey was sent back to the safety cell again. Mental Health evaluators eventually decided that Stuckey would have to be held permanently in isolation, commenting, "We need to keep him under the camera."
The Stuckey family still seems to think their August was the victim of Channel and Abreu when, as the known facts of the case make clear, he was the author of the crime. He might be half-cracked, but Stuckey isn't stupid and, by any reasonably objective standard, he wasn't fully crazy at the time of Perez's murder. Stuckey's account of Perez's execution is similar to Abreu's, but in Stuckey's edition it is Stuckey who was up on the road as lookout man. (fig 7-4)
"I was ordered by Abreu and Channel to clear a path down the embankment to large green tree. I did that with a shopping cart, and then I cleared an area by the tree. When I finished, I went back up the embankment to where Channel was standing guard over Perez while Abreu went back across the bridge to get the truck. When I got to the top of the embankment, Abreu and Channel took Perez down the bank. I went to the truck where I was supposed to stand watch. A few minutes later I heard scuffling and gurgling noises. A few seconds later Abreu and Channel came up the bank and Channel was wiping blood off a silver-colored, dark-handled knife." Stuckey said the three of them then got into the truck and drove "east a ways before Tai ran into the bushes and buried stuff."
Aaron Channel kept promising his family that he would go on to college. Abreu and Stuckey, too, had vague plans for getting their lives on track. But the three of them, despite their abilities, weren't doing much of anything other than wandering around the Fort Bragg area, tapping friends and family for small loans to get through their immediate waking hours. And they were smoking a lot of dope, dropping unwholesome amounts of acid, listening to hours of death music, spending as many hours playing video games heavy on violent images.
A formidably bright young woman named Jennifer Wolchik, a close friend of both Channel and Abreu, had been camping at the egg taking station with the inept conspirators in the aimless days before their murderous move on Perez. She had no idea the three planned to commit the biggest crime of them all.
Jennifer would be challenged by police when she unwittingly put up $1,000 to bail out a jail house acquaintance of Abreu's named Rogers, allegedly so Rogers, at Tai's request, could locate the murder weapon and throw it into the ocean. Rogers, once he was out of jail, would also raise money for Tai's defense. Jails these days are teeming with snitches, and they were lining up to rat on their three young and inexperienced cellmates to enhance their own legal prospects. (snitch drawing)
Ms. Wolchik, a single mother who now lives in Santa Rosa, was more than a match for police interrogators, masterfully swatting back questions as if they were the most tedious impertinences, at one point advising detective Bailey to "use your head, Bailey." She succinctly summarizes the lives of many young Coast people as she remembers the hazy days surrounding the death of Donald Perez. (fig 7-3))
"They're very intelligent young men," Jennifer begins, "but none of them have much common sense. No sense of place. They didn't know where they were going. August is an incredibly disturbed young man, though. I think I can see them robbing someone, but I find it difficult to believe they'd kill anyone. They're typical Fort Bragg kids. Stoners. It's the number one hobby in Fort Bragg. Most of us were always pretty broke, but we got by. They knew if they asked me I could help them out. Tai had his grandma, Aaron was capable of working because he had worked in the past with no problem. They liked material things but not as much as most people. They were perfectly happy sitting out in the woods in the rain, just sitting around being guys and hanging out. We were camping when this whole thing happened. Tai and I got in a fight one time and he got very angry but he punched a tree; he didn't hit me, he hit the tree. I was with Tai for a year and a half. We argued all the time but he never ever laid a hand on me. I never saw or heard of Aaron hurting anyone. I was working at Denny's the night they arrested Aaron. The cops asked me if I felt Tai had any problems with homosexuals. I just laughed at them. I'm like, nooooo. Sometimes Tai was home with me and sometimes he was out with boyfriends. I never had a problem with it." (fig 5-2)
Jennifer says Stuckey was a different story.
"According to my friends, August would bring over tapes of school girls being tortured, like this was a cool thing to watch. But I really don't know him well. When I went to see him in jail he told me Tai and Aaron did horrible things to him like stab him with ice picks, and that they made him touch drugs so his fingerprints would be on it, which is all bull. When he told me he was getting vegetarian meals in jail I asked him, 'Didn't you just have a hamburger with me two weeks ago?' He said, 'Yeah, but the vegetarian food in here is better.'"
Aaron Channel's parents divorced in 2000. It wasn't a friendly parting. The former Mrs. Channel alleged that Mr. Channel had "raped" Aaron and his sister Jennifer. The allegations were stoutly and credibly denied by the alleged victims, her own children. The former Mrs. Channel also believed that "Satanists" were operating out of a Fort Bragg childcare center during the Satanist hysteria that swept Fort Bragg in the late 1980s.
These days, Aaron's mother operates her own Satan-free daycare center out of her home on Todd's Point. Aaron's father, Steve, is an amiable, handsome man in his middle forties. He continued to work for Georgia-Pacific after the big mill in Fort Bragg closed. The former couple's other two children, a boy and a girl, live with their father in Fort Bragg.
Mr. Channel presides over a happy home. Kids are in and out of the place all day. There is lots of laughter until the awful subject comes up of Aaron's 19-year sentence for his involvement in the Perez murder. All the family can do is speculate. They're as perplexed by Aaron's apparent role in the ghastly crime as everyone else is who knows him.
"I'll always be in kind of a state of shock," Steve Channel says. "I still can't believe it. I never did know where Aaron was in the legal process. It was impossible to talk to anybody over in Ukiah. They never call you back. I went over there for what I thought was a trial, but what they were doing was sending Aaron off to prison for 19 years. In Aaron's school records, if they'd bothered to look, they would have seen a portrait of a student that teachers liked, who was always helpful, and generally in the upper percentile in terms of intelligence. I don't think they had enough evidence on Aaron to even send him to a military boot camp. That's what they used to do if you screwed up."
Aaron's boyhood friend, Shayne Cowell was as staggered as Aaron's family when Aaron was arrested for murder. (fig SHAYNE COWELL)
"Aaron has always been a complete pacifist. If he got pissed off he'd go deal with it and go ahead. He's never been a violent person, never struck out against anybody, never really held a grudge. He's pretty much a total pacifist. I can count more times that I've blown up than he has.
"He was having a conflict with his mother about where his life was going to go. He always had trouble holding a job for one reason or another. I never knew why, he just couldn't. His mom was getting really frustrated with him. All he did was stay out in his shed behind her house on Todd's Point and come in to eat, no different from the year that preceded it. I think his mom had concluded that Aaron needed to find his niche in society, find something to do. She threatened to kick him out a couple of times, but he took over the shed with all his stuff. I told him myself that he needed to get off his ass and do something. I can't believe he'd take the fall for a murder he didn't commit, but Aaron's always had martyristic tendencies, though. He'll put himself on the line for a friend who needs help. But murder? If he knew Tai or August did a murder I don't think he'd put himself out there for them. If he did it he'd plan it much better and he'd make himself responsible, not anyone else."
The night he was arrested, Aaron remembers sitting at Dennys at about 2 a.m. with Jennifer Wolchik and Clarissa Frey when officer Karen Harris of the Fort Bragg Police Department arrived to talk to Miss Frey about a pending legal matter involving her. The officer, noticing Aaron sitting at the counter, asked, "Aren't you Aaron Channel?" (fig 8)
"I greeted her amicably," Aaron recalled in a letter to his new wife, Galina Trefil, "but I noticed she seemed pretty tense. I thought it was just due to her having a hard night. I didn't think it had anything to do with me."
A few minutes later, Aaron remembers, "Three rows of two detectives each, all very large and with hands resting menacingly on their firearms told me to come with them. I said that it was very late and I'd had a long day, and I'd rather not go with them because I was tired. I suggested they try to contact me in the morning."
The cops told Aaron that it was very important and that he had to come with them; wouldn't take but a minute.
"One detective even went so far as to say that I would be back in time to eat any food I had ordered! So I went. Once there, I was treated reasonably well. I don't remember too much about the interrogation except that it lasted forever and I was tired and having difficulty following some of the things they said. I remember at one point the fat ugly detective actually got right down in my face and started yelling at me that I had to confess 'for the sake of Mr. Perez's family.' Next, I was taken to the hospital to give blood for DNA testing, which I consented to. They handcuffed me to a gurney and the doctor, or whatever he was, said that I needed to sign a form consenting to have my blood drawn. I told him I'd sign a form, but I couldn't honestly say I wanted to have my blood drawn. I was just doing it to try and appease the cops. Then, I was transported to the county jail in Ukiah. It was a long ride. My hands were cuffed behind my back way too tight and there was no seatbelt that I could put on.
"Once at Low Gap (the site of the Mendocino County Jail), I was verbally bashed by a group of 5-7 cops who got in my face and called me names. I remember at one point being asked, 'So it took three of you to kill him? You're some big men, aren't you?' I also remember being told that I'd better do everything they told me to do right when they told me to do it or they'd beat the shit outta me. I was stripped and my possessions, consisting of clothes boots and a rose — at the time I made a habit of always carrying a rose on me — were taken away. I was put into a large glass cell with a huge Samoan, who I assume was drunk because he snored incredibly loud. And there I was in nothing but a t-shirt and pants and shoes. I was really cold. I pressed the intercom button and asked if I could be brought a towel or a blanket because I was cold. They refused. I guess they thought I might use it to hang myself.
"After about 5 hours or 6 hours, or maybe 9 or 10, I was called back out to talk to the detectives again. I hadn't slept a wink in this entire time as I was cold and there was nothing to sit or lie on but cold metal and concrete. I remember that the time I spent in that cell was incredibly long. It seemed like days. I was genuinely miserable and, honestly, I might have tried to kill myself given the opportunity. I remember considering drowning myself in the commode, but decided against it for my family's sake.
"So I was escorted across a hallway by a guard. I was very friendly with him because I was trying to acquaint myself with someone — anyone. But he was very rude and told me 'to shut the hell up and keep walking.' My hands were once again cuffed way too tight. I was marched across the hall to where the cops were.
"I don't know if this conversation was videotaped or not. It was short, at most 10 minutes. In it, I repeatedly said I wanted a lawyer. I told them I refused to say another word until I talked to a lawyer. I even said at one time that I didn't want a single word I said recorded until I had talked to a lawyer. They kept badgering me to talk to them, but I kept refusing until they finally gave up. I was then taken back to the main jail and given a cot and a blanket and marched over to my cell. Tai was in the cell across the hall, and I could talk to him, but we didn't say much. I almost immediately went to sleep, and when I woke up they had moved him.
"For the next couple of days, I barely ate and I slept all day. I didn't call home or call anyone else for that matter. I just waited for my first court date and waited for my lawyer to get there as one of the detectives had said that he would make a call to have a lawyer come and see me during my second interrogation. At this point I didn't realize that I had to be arraigned and then assigned a lawyer.
"About 4 days later I was put into handcuffs with Tai and put into a squad car. We both immediately became manic from both of us finally seeing a friend after so much hardship."
The squad car was wired. Tai and Aaron were transported together so the police and the prosecutor could listen to whatever they might say about the crime. The audio tape didn't specifically incriminate either of them, but it hardly casts them in a sympathetic light. They are giggly and seemingly unaware of the seriousness of their situation.
Although much of the recording is inaudible, and what isn't inaudible is open to interpretation, it begins with Tai saying to Aaron, "OK, you realize once we're sitting back here they can barely hear us up front as long as we keep it quiet."
Aaron and Tai then admit to seeing "the body," and Aaron says about the relationship of August Stuckey to Perez, "I'm saying it was a weird sex thing. They were boyfriends. That's what I think was going on anyway." Aaron tells Tai, "We didn't know it was a murder.....Whenever we saw the body, we freaked."
"We freaked," Abreu agrees. "And then we got out of there as quick as we could."
Murder One was an odd charge against the defendants because exactly who did exactly what what was not known, and no evidence of premeditation, beyond Stuckey's and Abreu's changing stories about staying up all night in the woods the night before to plan a robbery, was ever produced. Both Abreu's and Stuckey's accounts indicate that the fatal knife to Perez's throat was done on an impulse by Channel, but the pathology report states the cause of death as unknown because the forensic analysis of Perez's remains seems to favor as cause of death, "suffocation by abandonment." When the DA offered Aaron his plea deal — 19 years, 8 months in state prison — it was, as prosecutor Kevin Davenport later told the judge, "because there are several evidentiary problems that are associated with the case of People vs. Channel, and the people anticipated some difficulty with some of the evidence coming into a jury."
In other words, the case against Aaron was weak, very weak. (fig 4-2)
Jan Cole-Wilson is a brisk, matronly Ukiah attorney employed by a private firm with offices down the street from the County Courthouse. She was assigned to be Aaron's lawyer via Mendocino County's "alternate public defender's" office, an arrangement cynics have dubbed, "The Mendocino County Full Employment Act For Starving Lawyers." On the vaguest of alleged conflicts of interest, private local lawyers are paid out of public funds to represent defendants the public defender's office says it can't defend out of a scrupulous regard for the rights of the accused.
Aaron says of Cole-Wilson, "She came to visit me sporadically over the 8 months or so that I was incarcerated in the county jail in Ukiah. I saw her maybe 15 times in that period. I wrote out a copy of what happened, but she said she didn't want to issue any statement and I'd best just sit tight. "
Aaron's new bride, Galena Trefil, wasn't happy with the disposition of her husband's case. (fig 4-1)
"During all that bad press that Aaron got," she says, "Aaron's lawyer advised his family and friends not to respond. She said that making Aaron look better to the public wasn't important because the public didn't have any say-so in whether he was convicted or not. However, people phoned law enforcement from as far away as New York, demanding that Aaron get the death penalty. Few facts were published by a wildly sensational press, so Aaron gave up on the idea that he would ever find a local jury that would not be biased. That is why he took the plea.
"Worse than the fact that she wouldn't file for change of venue, his lawyer, Jan Cole-Wilson, was not apparently doing very much of a job on the case. She never even went to the crime scene. She told Aaron's family, and mine too, that character witnesses make no difference in such cases and so she didn't bother asking her investigator to question even one of Aaron's friends or even one relative, despite the fact that he had both in ample amount that would be willing to testify for him, and despite the fact that these were the people who he'd been with after allegedly committing a murder. To this day, I have not met one person aside from herself who ever met her investigator—and I am Aaron's wife! Cole-Wilson was incredibly insensitive, making family members virtually corner her before she was willing to speak to them, even though Aaron wanted her to, and when she did speak to us, she compared Aaron to a man that stalked and slit a 17-year-old girl's throat—right to Aaron's mother's face, nearly putting her in tears.
"In many ways, Cole-Wilson gave the impression that she did not care about winning the case at all She did no background check on Aaron, no lie detector test even though he wanted one. Because of that, I felt I could not trust her so I went out and got several character letters from upstanding members of the community on Aaron's behalf. When she saw them she changed her mind about them not being valuable and subpoenaed many of the people whom I'd presented her with. The fact that she was a lawyer and I was having to do her job for her made me very uneasy.
"She also flat out admitted to my family that she had lost a great deal of the evidence long before Aaron ever took the plea; she told us this when Aaron wrote her telling her to surrender copies of all the files and photographs to us. She wasn't able to do this she said, because she had lost them a long, long time ago She also was reluctant to give us anything until we reminded her that it was her legal obligation to do so.
"When we went to pick up the evidence, she produced only half of it, refusing to surrender nearly all court documents, because, she said, it would be too much trouble for her secretary to find them. We asked several times for the documents which Aaron wanted us to have, but in the end we had to give up; she wouldn't budge.
"From prison Aaron wrote us that the reason he had agreed to the plea was because his lawyer not only told him he'd get life if he didn't, but also she told him that his mother wanted him to take the plea. Aaron's mother says she never discussed the possibility with his lawyer. Aaron asked for an hour to consider the plea, but Cole-Wilson said, 'No, you have to choose now, and you won't get a second chance.'
"So he pleaded to, among other things, voluntary manslaughter, which was supposed to have been carried out by means of a rock, which Stuckey alleges Aaron beat Perez on the head with. There is no forensic evidence to back this up; in fact, Dr. Trent, the coroner said, 'There is no evidence of subdural hemorrhage or any traumatic perforation of the skull.' Dr. Reiber of UC Davis said, 'Certain forms of obvious trauma can be excluded by the autopsy, such as blunt force.' He continued, 'I agree with Dr. Trent that the cause of death in this case is undetermined.' Despite the rumors of a slit throat, no one knows how Perez really died."
For her part, Cole-Wilson says she got Aaron the best possible deal he could get given the circumstances of his obvious involvement.
"Stuckey will have to go before a parole board before he can get out," Cole-Wilson begins by way of a reply to charges that Aaron was under-represented.. "Abreu got life without the possibility of parole. Aaron will serve his sentence and leave prison. There was no ambiguity in that each of them did something to contribute to the death of Donald Perez."
Cole-Wilson makes a strong case for her work on the case.
"In California, aidor and abbettor is all-inclusive. If you go out there and assist in a robbery or even a prank which results in someone else with you committing murder, you're as guilty as the person who did it. Aaron and I discussed that a lot. His new wife is up in arms, but Aaron wasn't married to her at the time. Aaron's mother and I talked a lot, though. We were ready to go to trial, and if they had not made me an offer that included light at the end of the tunnel for Aaron we would have gone to trial. Aaron will be out of prison when he's in his middle 30's; going to trial would have been a real gamble, especially after what happened to Mr. Abreu."
The attorney emphasizes her affection for Aaron, explaining at length her defense strategy.
"I found Aaron to be a really likable, very smart, very soft spoken young man. Speaking with Aaron after he went to prison, and talking to his mother and his wife, it was my recommendation they let it rest because he got a reasonably good deal, but if he wanted to go in and say that I was ineffective that's his right. If he was able to show that, which I don't think he could — but I wouldn't discourage anyone from seeking legal options — but if you do that you go back to court on all of the counts, and you have to defend on all of them, which means you take the same chance of being convicted like Mr. Abreu and going down forever like Mr. Abreu did. I talked to both Aaron and his mom and we agreed on not challenging Aaron's sentence. But I'm not perfect; maybe there's something I missed. But before we entered his plea his mother came in and we went through all the documents looking for inconsistencies, looking for things that we could bring up to help him. It just wasn't there. It was really hard for his mother, but she was on board for this resolution. She cried a lot when she saw a lot of it and read a lot of it and heard the recordings.
"We've calculated that Aaron will be out when he's 36. That's not old. When you get out at 36 you can get out with two degrees, with some job training. Lots of doctors and lawyers don't finish their educations until that age. The world is still available at 36. Compare what Aaron got to life without the possibility of parole. If he wasn't involved, if he was just there when it happened, or just heard about it, then he should have gone to the police and said, 'My friends were involved in a murder.' He didn't do that. "Aaron was fully aware of his options," Cole-Wilson insists, before adding that Aaron knew that Abreu, Stuckey and Michael Johnson might testify against him if he went to trial. Perhaps even more damning was the incriminating tape recording of Tai and Aaron the police made in the transport vehicle. Cole-Wilson rightly feared the effect the tape would have on a jury.
"A juror," she says, "could easily infer a consciousness of guilt. Aaron's mother and I listened to an enhanced version that the DA hadn't bothered to have transcribed. It is clear from the recording that Aaron was at least somewhat involved in some of the related illegal activity. The tone of it was not attractive, either. There was a lot of laughing and giggling. A jury would not like it. Maybe Mr. Abreu would have come in and testified against him — there was no guarantee that he wouldn't. He'd already been to trial. And he might have decided to testify against Aaron to help his chances for an appeal, or improve his chances on sentencing. The fact was that there was evidence that Aaron may have been the actual murderer, although I'm not saying he was. I'm not saying there was proof positive because if there was the DA would never have given me the deal he did.
"Aaron's father did say, 'I love my son. I'll do whatever I can for him,' but the father wasn't in court every single time like Aaron's mother was,' Cole-Wilson observes, ever more annoyed that her role in the plea deal is being questioned after the fact. She's almost incredulous when she points out that her critics keep saying that Perez had child pornography on his computer, as if that somehow justified his murder.
"He may have been some kind of sexual deviant," Cole-Wilson argues, "and he was homosexual, but all that is extraneous to what happened to him. There were letters to the editor that perhaps it was a hate crime because of the porno found on Perez's computer. We all agreed that he may have been a vile person, but you can't kill him. And there was no evidence that in any of their conversations or in any of their statements that Perez was killed because he had done something really awful to one of them at that time. I know that Stuckey, it appears, had had other contacts with him that may have been sexual in nature. It's true that Stuckey was a minor then, but just barely, maybe 17, but that hardly makes Perez a child molester."
Deputy District Attorney Kevin Davenport remains puzzled at Abreu's public defender's rejection of a plea deal for Abreu.
"The public defender turned down a pretty good offer for Abreu, I will say that. It was the same offer the other two got. Abreu had the bad luck of being first to trial because I had the strongest case against him. Under the felony murder rule all three were guilty regardless of who plunged the knife into Perez's throat. The decomposition was centered on the throat. It's conceivable that parasites could have come in through the mouth and nose and then caused the entire deterioration of the throat area that way, but I don't think, and the experts don't think, that normally happens.
"Was Tai telling the truth when he said he was up on the road when Perez was killed? Well, that's what he said. We only know that because he said so. Detective Bailey told me he was pretty sure that at some point all three went down there and tied the guy up.
"They had socks on their hands. It was a long, dramatic process, not just a matter of jumping out of the bushes and grabbing the first guy who came along. It was a planned killing. That doesn't mean it was intelligently planned or even well planned. They planned to kill Donald Perez and take his stuff. There's no doubt in my mind that's what they did.
"Stuckey had met the man over the internet and ended up having a rendezvous with him in a Fort Bragg motel before this incident. Stuckey then decided he was mature enough to leave the old coastal town that was his only home and pack everything he could carry into a duffel bag and ended up in Sacramento, of all places, where he was down and out and had a second either short rendezvous with Mr. Perez or was wired money by Mr. Perez and went back to Fort Bragg. Shortly after Stuckey got back to Fort Bragg, the three of them — Stuckey, Abreu and Channel — hatched the scheme to murder and rob the guy. We think what happened was that Stuckey became more and more talkative about his relationship with Perez and that Abreu and Channel decided they could exploit Stuckey around that relationship and lure the guy up to Fort Bragg; that's what I think happened.
"There was a suggestion from Stuckey that during that first rendezvous with Perez in Fort Bragg he'd engaged in some intimacy with Perez out of which he may have had some emotional issues. Stuckey said in one of his rambling accounts that during his Fort Bragg session with Perez he had been extensively photographed by Perez, but we never found any photographs in the possession of Perez that were of Stuckey except for the normal ones that Stuckey had emailed to Perez.
"It was a murder plot. We have Abreu telling detective Bailey that Stuckey told Abreu and Channel that Stuckey was going to off this guy and take his stuff. And Channel said, 'You'll fuck it up, man. You're too stupid. We're gonna help you.' They don't use the m-word because you don't want to say that. Instead they say, 'off the guy' or 'take him out.' But they know what they're going to do.
"They camped at the egg taking station because they were contacted by the police about 10 or 11pm. the very night of the killing. The murder happened around 9 that same morning. The three of them were there camping for about a week. The testimony of one of the CDF guys (Robert Rodello) was that CDF had had some complaints about noise and messiness at this campsite, but every time a CDF guy went there during the day these guys were not there. And each time their camp site was messier. When CDF went there the night of the killing all three guys were there and they were ID'd.
"To describe them as intelligent might be too strong. Compared to what? When I watched the Abreu videos, or listened to him talking, I think, 'This is a product of the public school system?' They think they're smart because they know how to form sentences, but they have no sense of social responsibility. They're intelligent like Ozzy Osbourne lyrics.
"They pretty much committed every waking minute of their day to acquiring marijuana and avoiding any sort of physical labor. That's what they were pretty much about. Crank? May have been, but being so young whatever they were into could not have become heavy or used long enough to make them become the complete psychotic you'd expect to do this kind of thing.
"I think Abreu got profoundly bad legal advice from his attorney. She felt she had a winning Miranda violation. Her closing statement to the jury was, 'Is my guy a nice person? Is my guy someone you'd want to live next door to? A despicable human being? Yes, but he's not a murderer. At worst he's a receiver of stolen property.'
"In my final argument I said, 'Even assuming Ms. Thompson is correct, Mr. Abreu is receiving his stolen property while the warm blood is running out of Mr. Perez's throat.' That just isn't simple receiving of stolen property; it's a theft during a murder, and that kicks in the felony murder rule. If he'd pled out he'd have received 15-to-life. There would have been the possibility of parole after 15 years. Ms. Thompson doesn't like the felony murder rule. She is philosophically opposed to it. Because of that she has a hard time understanding the way it works. But it's very simple: if someone dies during the commission of a felony, you're guilty of the death that occurs. It may seem overly harsh. You can disagree with it. But failing to agree with it doesn't mean you're going to defeat it.
"I've never seen a better performance from a suspect than the one Channel gave. When the investigators had him in the interview room, and they were confronting him with the crime, he said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' And the cops would say, 'Stuckey says you're involved.' Channel would say, 'Stuckey's a liar. I don't know what you're talking about.' And round and round for an hour. Channel never faltered. Maybe he's seen one more movie than the other guys. I'm not sure if I was guilty that I could hold up that long. If more people did that we'd have half as many successful prosecutions. He was amazing.
"There are things about this thing that we don't know. It's sad that these three fellows ruined their own lives, but the bottom line is Perez was killed and he didn't deserve to be. And those three guys did it.
"Channel has a determinate sentence because he had a beatable case. I'm not saying he would have beat it, that I would have lost, just that I could have lost. I never for a minute thought I could have lost the Abreu case, and I didn't think for a minute I'd lose the Stuckey case either.
"They thought Perez had $50,000 worth of stuff. He did have a $30,000 pick-up truck that they just abandoned. That alone is a very stupid move. If they had driven the truck back to the town of Fort Bragg, and driven it around with out-of-state plates on it, they probably would have avoided suspicion for weeks. They didn't become suspects until the body was found on October 5th. Johnson had come in the previous day and, that morning, Stuckey and Stuckey's sister had implicated all three.
"I heard from Jan Cole-Wilson that the family was outraged by the deal made for Channel because poor Aaron should be innocent. They went to Richard Petersen [well known criminal defense attorney] to get him to withdraw the plea or appeal the sentence. Richard looked it over, talked to Cole-Wilson, and said, 'This is a great deal. You leave this alone. He's going to be out of jail in 2014. He'll have a fine life when he gets out.' After all, it is called the department of corrections."
Aaron Channel says he's not guilty of murder, only involvement after the fact.
"I helped to cover up evidence — there is a great difference between that and murder. I pleaded 'Guilty Pursuant to a West Plea.' That is a legal term which means that I feel my case has been compromised in some way. In this situation, it was the negative light — nothing short of lynch mob-esque — in which the media portrayed me. I did not believe that it was possible for me to receive a fair trial in this county and I was unable to obtain a change of venue. (A change of venue might have provided me with a truly unbiased jury and, had I thought that a possibility, I would have gone ahead with a regular trial.)
"The decision to spend 15 years in prison was a weighty one, and I would like to go over some of the details of my case in order to explain my choice. I will stick as close to documented facts as I am able, though I freely admit that my viewpoint on these matters is rather, shall we say, understandably biased. However, I challenge anyone who doubts the veracity of my words to contact the detectives and prosecutors involved in this case and get the information for themselves.
"First off, Michael Johnson called the Fort Bragg police and told them that his homosexual lover, August Stuckey, had confessed to him the murder of another gay man, Mr. Perez. Mr. Johnson also stated that Tai Abreu and I had been present during August's confession of this crime. He stated that Tai and I confessed involvement as well to him, though, due to the fact that he was high out of his mind at the time, Michael Johnson could not remember what Tai and myself had exactly allegedly 'confessed' to him.
"That evening, August Stuckey was arrested. He told the cops a rather far-fetched story in which he states that Mr. Abreu and myself had set him up. He said that we forced him to lure Perez to the area of the murder. August also alleged that Tai and I stole August's knife and shoes. Thus, the only reason August's shoe prints were at the scene of the crime was because Tai and I had specifically worn them to implicate him. This was also our alleged reason for using the knife — all to set up August.
"He gave no particular reason for our desire to set him up, but that's supposedly irrelevant. The point to the story was that not only were Tai and I murderers, but we were out to get August. Furthermore, August claimed that Tai and I had abducted him, taken him to the scene of the crime, and forced him to handle stolen goods and leave physical evidence. There was no physical evidence linking either Tai or myself to the scene, but there was ample evidence linking August.
"Now, you ask, why did August implicate Tai and myself so graphically? Perhaps because detective Bailey and Dygert had told him that Michael, Tai and myself had already fully cooperated with the investigation and were planning to testify against him! Is the concept so inconceivable that such information, however false, might have made the noose around August's neck feel a little tight and thus made him finger a little more agreeable to the concept of fingering the blame at the people closest to him?
"At any rate, later that evening, Tai was arrested. He confessed to Bailey and Dygert that both he and I had played a part in the cover-up of the crime, but we had nothing to do with the murder. Indeed, neither of us had known about August's murderous intentions until after he had committed the crime.
"The police told Tai that his story wasn't 'good enough.' On videotape, they told him that they didn't believe him and stated that all three of us — August, myself and Michael (Johnson) — were fully cooperating with the investigation and were all going to testify to that against Tai. Yet again, the cops were lying through their teeth. Then they told Tai that if he didn't change his story, odds were good that he would receive the death penalty!
"During the course of this videotaped interrogation, Tai invoked his right to legal counsel three times, stating that he wanted a lawyer present. This was not granted to him by the detectives.
"The interrogation continued, sans legal counsel, for some time quite rigorously.... and then, when the death penalty was finally mentioned, Tai, on videotape, went visibly white. He took a long breath and what he said next, to the best of my recollection of the tape was, 'Well, I really shouldn't say this, but I guess I gotta do whatever it takes to cover my own ass.'
"He then gave the cops the confession story that they wanted — the one that is now accepted by most newspapers as unquestionable fact. Finally then, I was arrested. I denied all involvement with the murder and, needless to say, I was told by Bailey and Dygert that August, Tai, and Michael were all prepared to testify against me. Never being one to much trust law enforcement, I refused to speak to them at that point without a lawyer — period. They interrogated me, but I continued my silence and stood my ground. No lawyer, no answering their questions!
"I was particularly irritated, however, when they told me that they knew I had murdered Perez, and had the physical evidence to prove it. I told them that they were lying and that there was no way in hell they had that because I hadn't killed him.
"This advice I give to the next individual interrogated by the local police force, regardless of whether it's true or not, never call a cop a liar to his face. They don't much appreciate it and have a lot of ways to show this! I called the cops liars and their reaction was to then focus their investigation on yours truly. I urge the next innocent man who finds himself alone with Dygert and Bailey to use the word "mistaken" instead of "liar," though, I'm sure, the next time, yet again, liar will be the more accurate description.
"Three days after my arrest, Tai and I were placed in a van and, unbeknownst to us, our conversation was recorded. Basically, I can sum up what we said: 'August was guilty of Murder One, that we were both innocent of murder, and that we'd probably do some time as accessories because August had tricked us into cleaning up some of the evidence. But, all in all, we were innocent of murder and it wouldn't be too long before we'd get to go home to our families and friends.' If we served a couple years as accessories after the fact, so be it, so long as the truth that we weren't murderers came out.
"Hell, anyone who knows us saw the instant irony in this situation. Not only are Tai and I not murderers, but we are both thorough and complete pacifists and I challenge anyone to say otherwise who has actually known us.
"It seems to me that the pivotal point in all of this mess and, yes, that was the extent of the evidence against us, was the second statement that Tai gave the police — the statement of a 19-year-old boy who was denied legal counsel and threatened with the death penalty if he didn't give the cops what they wanted. So he gave them what they wanted — a false confession — and they gave him a thumbs up. Why they didn't just say, 'Congratulations, Tai, you don't get to get legally murdered now' is beyond me, because that's exactly what they implied.
"Why else but a death penalty threat would a teenage boy incriminate himself in the execution of a crime he did not commit?
"I would also like to state that the focus of the investigation shifting toward Tai and myself and more away from August has a little something to do with the fact that August is being sent to Atascadero — a hospital for the criminally insane. The police knew that they would not be able to get a conviction on him due to his mental instability and a small town can't have a murder without a murder conviction. They needed a fall guy — a scapegoat. In this case, they were happy to accept two of them unfortunately — both Tai and myself.
"August had a long history of mental instability and violent outbursts. It is a matter of police record that while attending middle school he assaulted fellow classmates with weapons on more than one occasion. Abreu had recently been released from a mental institution, is severely ADHD, and has extreme difficulty understanding the consequences of his actions. He is trusting and, in short, highly influenceable. He was exactly the sort of patsy any good cop, bad cop duo would have a field day manipulating.
"I, on the other hand, am a fairly quiet person. I have always kept to myself and have never been known to be easily influenced by others. Though I am extremely intelligent — generally testing in the 98th percentile on any standard test — I do have a long history of being fiercely loyal to my friends. On many occasions, I admit that I have had poor judgment in who those friends were and I have been unfairly taken advantage of on many occasions because I like to believe, at the root, people are good — and it's very hard for me to give up on someone.
"August killed a sexual predator; a child pornographer. If the system truly worked, Perez would be alive today — behind bars.
"My mistake was to be trusting enough to allow myself to get tricked into cleaning up evidence of a child pornographer being killed. I exercised poor judgment and it's not just the next 15 years that I'm going to have to live with that — it's the rest of my life.
"I took the plea bargain for two reasons, the first of which is the sensational manner in which the press has exploited the death of Mr. Perez and Mr. Abreu's statements made in the false confession. When I sat in jail and read such headlines as 'He Gurgled While He Died,' I knew there was no way I would get an unbiased jury in this county.
"The second reason I took the plea was simply, humanly, fear. After watching Tai's one day trial and subsequent conviction for a crime that I know he did not commit, 19 years did not sound that long anymore. Even if it doesn't help my case now, I want the people of my home town to know the truth."
Aaron Channel is described by the spokesman for warden's office at the state prison in Susanville as "a model prisoner." Tai Abreu and August Stuckey, who was not sent to Atascadero — are confined to the Salinas Valley State Prison at Soledad where they live in adjoining units. Abreu's second appeal was unsuccessful.
Abreu’s second appeal was unsuccessful.