When Governor Jerry Brown took office the feds told him to reduce California's prison population or face sanctions, so the Governor came up with the "re-alignment" program re-aligning state prison inmates to county jails.
A lot of bad boys, and even a few bad girls, now go out to the Mendocino County Jail on Low Gap Road, Ukiah, to do their state time. Before realignment they got on the bus for San Quentin, the ladies for Chowchilla.
Has re-alignment been a local success, if success is the word we want here?
Maybe, but some bad boys seem to miss San Quentin.
Consider Elvis Scarioni of Point Arena.
Scarioni couldn't make it through one whole day on the outside. The day he was state paroled Scarioni made a beeline for the Sign of the Whale, a popular Point Arena bar, to celebrate his release. At the bar, Scarioni proceeded to get smashed. Which is his business, and who cares so long as a guy only smashes himself.
But Scarioni got drunk and belligerent, and soon he was starting fights and smashing other people.
When Deputy Craig Walker arrived, 10 people were holding Scarioni down.
The deputy told the crowd to let the guy up so he could ask what the problem was. Things would be sorted out in a civilized manner.
The instant Scarioni was unrestrained he flew at Walker with both fists and had to be tazered into submission, kind of. Still kicking and screaming death threats at everyone within earshot, and punching the paramedics who'd arrived to make sure he was ok after the tazing, Scarioni, was soon on his way back to his home away from home, San Quentin State Prison, where he'll do another two years and eight months for battery on a police officer. As a One Striker, Scarioni's time will not be cut in half.
In another case of a parolee homesick for the Bastille by the Bay, Judge John Behnke had to take a recess and retire to his chambers to figure out all the time Mr. Robert White, aka Robert Stanley, would be facing after his court appearance last week. Because of the nature of his crimes while on parole, and strike-quality priors on his record, White was looking at 95 years to life, and since he's nearly 40 already, this guy won't be back. Ever.
White had been scheduled for a jury trial, but at the last moment – perhaps thinking some bleeding heart liberal might get on the jury and hang up his opportunity to get back to his cellblock – White waived his right to a jury trial and the jurors were sent away.
White was taking it to the judge.
The guy probably wouldn't have made a favorable impression on a jury. His shaved head is tattooed with all kinds of satanic symbols and the like. But he’s really just a pussycat, as the readers will see when they get a look at his victims – a couple of little old ladies, which he didn’t dare approach without arming himself with a knife.
The matter took a day to decide.
DA David Eyster prosecuted the case, calling his first witness, Ms. Royleen Ericksen.
Mrs. Ericksen was very nervous and too frightened to even glance at the defendant as she took the stand.
Eyster ushered her past the defense table, gallantly putting himself between his witness and the defense table where White sat with his lawyer, Dan Haehl of the Public Defender's office.
White, with his tattooed skull, and the hulking Haehl, looked like a circus exhibit and his handler.
Ms. Royleen Ericksen and her husband, Steve Ericksen, caretakers of the Eagle Creek Bison Ranch, had gone to Lucky supermarket in the Pear Tree Shopping Center to buy groceries. Mr. Ericksen waited in the pickup while Mrs. Ericksen did the shopping. A few women in the gallery (they were from Project Sanctuary) wrinkled their noses at this arrangement, but the witness didn’t seem to care what they thought – none of them, after all, had been able to sustain a marriage as long as Mrs. Ericksen had, over 30 years.
“And how long have you been a resident of Mendocino County?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Mrs. Ericksen said tentatively, as though she’d never given it much thought. “But it must be close to 50 years by now.”
Eyster was speaking in a casual, conversational tone, trying to reassure his witness that the warlock-looking character staring coldly at her from the defense table was no longer a threat to her.
The date of the incident was December 20th and the witness had left the store with quite a cartful of good things for the holidays. As she was crossing the parking lot she heard a voice behind her.
“And what did the voice say?”
“Someone was saying ‘Look at this’ and when I turned I saw a knife and started screaming. It was this far from my side.”
She held her thumb and forefinger apart a few centimeters to indicate the proximity of the knife to her person.
“What were you screaming?”
“My husband had jumped out of the truck, and I was screaming, ‘It’s a knife; he has a knife!”
“Did he say anything else?”
“Yes. He said, ‘Give me your money.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I ran around behind the grocery basket, trying to get away from him. Then I saw my husband had gotten out of the pickup with his cell phone and this gentleman (White) was coming towards him saying, ‘Put up the phone – put up the phone.' Then he headed down towards Ross, and I started screaming again because my husband was following him.”
“Did your husband put the phone away?”
“No, he kept following him.”
“Why were you screaming?”
“Because I wanted my husband to come back. I thought he was going to get my husband.”
But apparently The Illustrated Man fears old men, even an unarmed man as non-threatening in appearance as Steve Ericksen. White was a lot bigger and much younger than Ericksen. Plus, White was armed with his nasty old knife. “And did he -- your husband -- did he come back?”
“No. He followed until I lost sight of them.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I went back in Lucky’s, and some gentleman was helping me to calm down. Then the police came.”
Mr. Haehl, on cross, had no questions for the witness.
Mr. Steve Ericksen was called.
He was a gent of 63 years, all of them spent in Mendocino County, and he was refreshingly trim – what most of your modern disrespectful Americans lads, with the girth of a prize hog, would term ‘a skinny old guy.'
Ericksen confirmed that he was waiting in the truck, reading the paper while his wife shopped, like he always did – again the Project Sanctuary women in the gallery screwed up their faces and shifted in their seats. They exchanged knowing glances; maybe they could free Mrs. Ericksen from her 'dependent relationship’ with Mr. Ericksen. Certain types of "feminists" go green at the sight of happy older couples; Mendocino County is teeming with unhappy women, veterans of unhappy serial relationships, many of them employed by the County, a bunch of them running County bureaucracies. Ukiah isn't called The Valley of the Dolls for nothing.
“Then I heard someone holler, and when I looked up I saw my wife screaming and trying to get around behind the shopping cart.”
“What was she screaming?”
“He’s got a knife!”
“What did you do?”
“I got out of the truck and walked toward him, calling 911.”
“Did you get through?”
“Yes. I told the dispatcher I was following a man through the parking lot who had pulled a knife on my wife.”
“Did the defendant say anything?”
“He told me to put the phone down.”
“More than once?”
“He said it four times.”
“Did you? Put away your phone?”
“No. I followed him across the parking lot, talking to the dispatcher. He crossed the road on Orchard and I lost sight of him, but as I crossed, I saw him seated in the back of Planet Smoothie. When he saw I’d seen him he came out and pulled the knife.”
“Did he say anything to you?”
“Do you want some of this?”
“Meaning the knife?”
“Yes, he held up the knife.”
“I went back to the median and he ran around by Payless.”
“Can you describe the knife?”
“I only saw the blade of it. Later the officer showed it to me and I said Yes, it was the one.”
Dan Haehl on cross: “So you didn’t actually see the handle of the knife, did you?”
Go back to sleep, Dan.
Robert White then ran around the corner, past Payless Shoes, and came across Ms. Patricia Delappho, who had been shopping in JC Penny’s. She is the grandmother of a Ukiah City police officer. Ms. Delappho was standing outside her car, leaning over, into the back seat, fixing some presents up in pretty paper with bright bows and cheery tags for some deliveries to friends before she headed out on her Santa’s helper errands that day. As she bent to her work on the back seat, putting the finishing touches on her purchases, she too heard the threatening voice of The Illustrated Man.
“What did the voice say?”
“Get in the car! He told me to get in the car, and when I said, ‘what for?’ and turned around to see who was speaking, I saw a man with a knife, and he said, ‘Lady I have something here that can hurt you. I really just need money’…”
“What did you do?”
“I said, ‘What for?’ I really don’t know why I responded that way, but I was in such a state of shock, I was not thinking very well; and he said, ’I need to get out of town, lady’.”
“How close was he to you?””
Ms. Delappho pointed to an object next to the witness stand; the Illustrated Man had been that close to her.
“Then he said a bad word…”
“Go ahead, Ms. Delappho,” Eyster instructed her soberly. The air in the halls of justice anymore is blue, and a little profanity wasn’t going to stand in the way of justice. “You can tell us what he said,” Eyster said.
“Well,” Delappho resumed tentatively, “He said, ‘Oh, shit. Here come the cops!’ I looked around, and when I turned back he was gone. The next time I saw him, the police had him down on the sidewalk, putting the handcuffs on.”
“I have nothing further. Thank you, Ms. Delappho.
Defense had no questions.
Sergeant Cedric Crook of the Ukiah PD was called. But there was a delay, since Crook is recovering from a broken clavicle and was all trussed up in the latest rigging for this injury from the clever young medical coves at Adventist Hospital.
While we waited, Eyster re-called Ms. Delappho, to apologetically ask her her age. This indelicate query was necessary to the case as it applied to Count VI, a crime against an elder.
“I’m 67,” she said with a giggle.
“Has this episode had any lasting effect on you, Ms. Delappho?”
“Yes. Some nights I can’t sleep at all. And even in the daytime, I sometimes become over-anxious thinking about what happened and what might have happened.”
Sgt Crook arrived and raised his right arm, the arm not in a sling. He was sworn in by Court Clerk Bonnie Miller.
Crook testified that he was the patrol sergeant that December day and had joined Capt. Wyant to capture Robert White where White had fled — the east side of J.C. Penny’s.
“He was facing Captain Wyant, and as I came up from behind, I saw the subject pull the knife from his back pocket. I retrieved it from him and he said, ‘I’m on parole, you got me’.”
DA Eyster took the knife from an evidence envelope that Sgt. Crook himself had sealed ad initialed that day. The knife looked like something you’d use to pelt out a beaver or skunk, what’s called a “folding trapper” by the sporting magazines. Sgt. Crook recognized it immediately. For sure, you could pelt out a human being with it.
Mr. Haehl had no questions.
The DA called his Chief Investigator Tim Kiely, a fingerprint expert. And it should be noted that this local expertise is a boon to the county as a way of expediting cases through a system that is inherently slow. For the fact is, it takes the Department of Justice in Eureka about two years to run a set of prints, they’re so swamped with cases. I know a kid in Fort Bragg who nearly starved over the course of 22 months until his fingerprints proved him innocent of a BB gun theft and he could finally get his food stamps. This is what postponed even priority murder cases in previous administrations at the DA’s office. Chief Investigator Kiely has over 30 years in service, the last 16 as a fingerprint expert. Without Kiely, this case would have to wait a year or so. Kiely established that the prints on the knife belonged to White. The prints also matched those of a convict named Robert Stanley, White's other name, his alias.
“There were some smudges,” Kiely grumbled good-naturedly, but enough clear prints that it was not a difficult match.”
Public Defender Haehl rose ponderously and begged His Honor’s permission to approach the witness where he delivered a page with ten black smudges on it, the erstwhile fingerprints of his client.
“Is that a copy of exhibit five?” Haehl asked.
“I believe it is, yes.”
“Is it a copy of the original or a copy of a copy?”
“How many points of identification did you make?”
“But some are dark and unreadable, aren’t they?”
“Yes, but there are many more that are readable.”
“And in your training how many points of identification are necessary?”
“There is no exact number. The courts vary in their requirements. But eight points of identification is the standard for most California courts.”
“Did you check my client's aliases to see if they had any other foundation?”
“I did not,” Kiely stated flatly.
It was time to sum up.
Judge Behnke said, “Mr. Haehl?”
Haehl shrugged vaguely, grunted with disgust and limped back to his chair.
“If you need more time, Mr. Haehl," Judge Behnke was saying solicitously … when DA Eyster raised his hand and said, “I’m ready, your honor. Perhaps I should go first, then counsel can take his time to prepare his response.”
Prosecution, usually burdened with proving their case beyond any reasonable doubt, is given the final word in all trials, jury or otherwise, but this thing....
Eyster said, “We have two counts of attempted robbery, of walking up to two victims, at separate locations, demanding money – he shows them the knife, instilling fear. The court saw Ms. Ericksen, how fearful she was, and Ms. Delappho to this day has trouble from the incident. And we have the count three, trying to intimidate or dissuade a witness, with the defendant telling Mr. Ericksen to put his cell phone away; and when he was cornered in Planet Smoothie he threatened the witness, saying ‘Do you want some of this’ and again brandishing the knife. It is a reasonable inference that Mr. Ericksen had someone on the phone and the defendant would have reasonably inferred that Mr. Ericksen had called 911. That’s witness intimidation. And as for count four, we have Ms. Delappho, an elder adult and the age and subsequent impact … well, your honor, we don’t expect a lot of hand-wringing over this count, because the defendant already has the arming allegation in the two attempted robberies and the intimidation, along with the two strikes he already had, so I think with the charges that have been proven beyond any doubt…”
Judge Behnke said he didn’t think the defendant had picked Ms. Delappho necessarily because of her age. No only did she appear to be younger than her years, she hadn’t been facing the defendant when he approached her.
“I think that he was probably more interested in the car and that Ms. Delappho was more of a target of opportunity.”
The judge called recess to go calculate the years.
I inquired later and Eyster said it came out to 95-to-life. Of course probation has to take the case under consideration for a few weeks, but barring a jailbreak, Mr. White/Stanley is going away for a long time.
Note: The prisons are filled with guys like Scarioni and White. In a way, they're sad cases, young men with no education, no skills, no impulse control, no hope. Filing them away in jails forever won't work. There's too many of them. There's got to be a better way of dealing with them, and that better way probably doesn't involve life in a cage.