As The Year Comes To An End So Does Life-As-We-Know-It…At The Mendocino County Courthouse

by Bruce McEwen, December 16, 2010

A lot of people are seething. An unarmed man shot to death under a bush in Fort Bragg? Not a word about it anywhere? What gives?

I asked Ms. Beth Norman, the Assistant DA who shot whom under the Fort Bragg bush and why?

“It’s not my job to say,” she replied primly.

“Ask the Sheriff,” Ms. Norman advised me.

Ms. Norman was standing on the street corner chatting with her maybe new boss, DA-elect Charles David ‘Dave’ Eyster. Ms. Norman is one of the few prosecutors in the current DA’s office who isn’t a union member. I asked if she was going to stay in the DA’s office. She said she was negotiating with Mr. Eyster. They were still talking on the corner a half-hour later.

I already knew Sheriff Tom Allman’s sound-bite on the subject.

There wasn't anybody shot under a bush in Fort Bragg. Maybe that's why nobody would talk about it.

Another case I lost track of was the alleged pyromaniac, Vernon James.

Mr. James had a fake press card and a video camera in his trailer at a mobile home park on South State Street. He also had a lot of footage of burning buildings. And he always seemed to get to the scene of a fire before the fire trucks. If he wasn't a pyro he was doing a real good imitation of one. Finally I asked one of the Deputy DAs, “Whatever happened to the pyro?”

“He pled to felony possession of an incendiary device and some accelerants. He did some local time and went on probation,” I was told. They didn’t have enough evidence to convict James of starting the fires in the vid-eos, but he would have to register as an arsonist with the Sheriff. As a term of his probation, Mr. James, a heavy smoker, is forbidden to possess a lighter or matches. He also got booted from his trailer park on South State Street.

“One of the victims was a friend of Judge Henderson’s, so the case got sent to Judge Cindee Mayfield’s court.”

Ms. Mayfield does mostly family and juvenile matters. The press is excluded from these hearings.

There’s been little movement on the other recent homicide, the one where a youthful home-invader was shot dead by the lady of the Laytonville house he'd targeted. The dead kid's dad got arrested along with the two surviving home invaders. The son gets shot doing a home invasion and his dad, who wasn't there but may have encouraged the job, gets arrested?

This is one is shaping up as extra-sad.

A judge, the venerable patriarch of the Mendo Courts, got a tongue-lashing last week. Judge Henderson was going on about the wickedness of home invasions at some evil fool’s sentencing, and when it was over, the guy’s lawyer gave the judge a piece of her mind.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” the lawyer said tartly.

The home invader was Jayson L. Logan. His lawyer was Patricia Littlefield. Inappropriate were the judge's remarks.

Mr. Logan joined up with the gang that couldn’t think or invade straight. It was organized and led by young Johnny Edwards, who later snitched the other guys off.

Ms. Littlefield has hair as long as Rapunsel’s, and she was doing her job. Most defense attorneys around here wouldn't dare tell a judge that his speech was inappropriate. Ms. Littlefield's client, the Logan guy, was looking at six years in state prison, the mid-term, and she wanted to get his sentence reduced.

“Mr. Logan was sent back to prison many times on violations of his parole, but they all had to do with drugs — methamphetamine — which means he has a problem with addiction, and that would be a factor of mitigation. That’s why there’s such things as the CRC (California Rehab Center, a coed jail for drug addicts). It was his drug problems that implicated him in this crime. Also, as mentioned by Mr. Edwards, he was trying to keep knowledge of the gun from my client who would not have gone along had he known about it. He — Edwards — was the heavy. He’s ruined his life, a very young fool who cannot help but mouth off, and he was housed with my client who tried to mentor him even though he snitched everyone off. And Mr. Logan’s role was minimal, almost passive — the driver of the car was more involved than Mr. Logan.”

Deputy DA Scott McMenomey said, “I think it’s apples and oranges when you compare Logan to Edwards. Edwards was only 18 at the time and Logan’s over 30, a veteran of the corrections system. Mr. Logan’s culpability was less than the others, true, but that’s why he’s only looking at six years instead of a whole lot more. And while his role was significantly less than the others, he’s still culpable. The aggravating circumstances far outweigh the mitigating; he has a whole slew of crimes behind him — the victim was shot at, and he was severely beaten and dragged around the house.”

Ms. Littlefield said, “He (Logan) doesn’t deny the person was frightened and hurt — he was horrified himself. But the gun cannot be used against him. Robbery in concert with others we’re not denying — but he didn’t have a whole slew of crimes behind him: These were all violations of probation. He’s guilty of the crime, but not everything that happened in that house.”

Ms. Littlefield altered her tone.

“He has no family,” she said of Logan. His mother had died while he was in jail. Then there’s his addiction. And his very minimal personal participation in this crime.

Judge Henderson was unmoved.

“I think these are horrendous crimes,” the judge said. “Home invasions are the most frightening crimes we have in the community. The perpetrators often outnumber the victims, they come at the worst time, the most vulnerable time, when the victims are in their homes, the presumed safety of their homes, their castles, as it were. They break in and use force, the force of violence, the force of fear and intimidation. These are the worst types of crimes we have in Mendocino County … So I think these are horrendous crimes. If Mr. Logan was one of the four men who forced their way into the residence, the victim was outnumbered, severely beaten, they threatened to kill him, a shot was fired at his head, or near his head, and, well, looking at Mr. Logan’s record there are two felonies for theft, in both cases taking things from other people. I think Mr. Logan has demonstrated a pattern of theft from the community over a number of years. So for the robbery in concert the court will sentence Mr. Logan to the mid-term of six years in the state prison."

Ms. Littlefield said, “My client’s mother died while he was in jail. He has one surviving relative who would like to visit him from back East. This will not be allowed unless the court includes an order permitting the visit."

Judge Henderson granted the court order for the visitor from The East, but Ms. Littlefield didn’t let that small kindness stop her from again criticizing the judge’s sermon on the evil of home invasions.

“I don’t think it’s proper for the court to go on about these cases all being planned the same way, the victims being at their most vulnerable, and the perpetrators forcing their way in. My client was never in the house, and I think the court’s use of theoreticals is inappropriate.”

Inappropriate.

That word is applied every which way anymore. It's inappropriate to home invade. It's inappropriate to order red wine with fish.

The case of Scott Graves came on for sentencing. Graves's lawyer was newly elected Judge Ann Moorman. Perhaps not surprisingly, the court found Mr. Graves eligible for probation even though he’d been convicted of cultivation of marijuana for sale, and had been cultivating marijuana for sale for years.

Ms Moorman began, “Well, your honor, we’ve all acknowledged this is a serious matter, a very large amount of marijuana was being cultivated, but my client was very cooperative with the officers, answering all their questions truthfully at the time, and we agreed to solve this before the prelim to save the DA some money, and my client always knew he’d have to take responsibility and that he’d be standing here today. He’s shown himself to be a very responsible person and this case has always had an arrow pointing forward. My client has no prior record and he wants to do the right thing for his family and himself. His father and wife are both here in support, and he has a lot of other legitimate things going on. He will comply with probation. He’s got a number of hammers hanging over his head and I’m hoping the court accepts my comments in this regard. You have a very contrite defendant here. We discussed with the DA the forfeiture and expect to have that paid before the end of the year in the amount of $75,000, which my client had to take out a loan. We would therefore ask you to reduce the fine from $10,000 to $5,000. Also, I think the 180-day sentence would be appropriate.”

Appropriate.

Is there any escape from the wimpy judgmental?

Judge Henderson turned to Deputy DA Katherine Houston for the People’s take on the appropriateness of the proposed disposition of The People vs. Mr. Graves.

Ordinarily, if some defense lawyer had launched such a righteous blast for a defendant, Ms. Houston would have let fly with both barrels in rebuttal.

Ms. Houston said, “The most difficult thing for me is to keep this Mr. Graves separate from the other Mr. Graves I’m prosecuting. What Ms. Moorman says is accurate, your honor. Her client is quite different from the other people on the Island Mountain property. I think he realized the good times had come to an end and he was going to have to build a legitimate way to make a living. We haven’t had a single problem with him and he has a clean record, so I’ll submit on the recommendation. The penal fine goes to a different place than the asset forfeiture, so I don’t have a problem with the request to lower the fine. But, anyway, I’ll submit.”

Judge Henderson replied, “I only know what’s in the probation report, but what’s clear is he’s been involved in a commercial grow for five or six years, and at the time had 300-400 pounds of processed marijuana ready for sale, a number of weapons and this was what appears to be a substantial growing operation. He had $15,000 in his truck and $52,000 in his home [doesn’t everybody keep a little ready cash on hand?] so it’s obvious he had a significant involvement in the operation. And I certainly hope he’s reformed.”

The judge paused to stare at the defendant.

“But given the sheer volume of the operation,” the judge resumed, “in which the defendant played a significant role… Well, I try to avoid sending people to state prison, and I know that many consider this a victimless crime, but we just had a very serious home invasion, and I don’t think it is the victimless crime people make it out to be… So the court finds the defendant is eligible for probation and will suspend the statutory prison sentence. However, I will impose 300 days in custody due to the volume of marijuana. I try to be consistent in these types of sentences.”

The judge seemed to be explaining himself to Ms. Moorman, if not apologizing outright.

“I feel that’s a reasonable sentence," he continued, "but I will reduce the penal fine to $5,000 in consideration of the asset forfeiture payment being so promptly resolved. And I’ll set the surrender date after the holidays."

Which seemed appropriate.

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