Reading the local papers, you’d think there were no more child molesters at large in the community, that they'd all been rounded up. But over the past few months, the courts have been tied up in a series of chomo jury trials, the most recent one ending last Wednesday with guilty verdicts on five counts against a father, Conrad Arthur Aten, for molesting his own daughter. A few weeks before that another jury trial ended with guilty verdicts on three counts against James McClellan who “annoyed and molested” two boys from Willits. Axius G’Acha (Got ya!) from Laytonville, was found guilty of five counts of molesting a teenage girl. These cases all were prosecuted by Deputy DA Heidi Larson under Section 288 of the Penal Code, the designation for “lewd and lascivious acts with a child.”
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A busy week at the County Courthouse ended with a hearing, an Order To Show Cause from the state appellate court in the case of Timothy “Coke” Elliott, found guilty in a 2011 jury trial for the 2008 stabbing death of Sam Billy on the Hopland Rancheria. At issue was whether Mr. Elliot’s defense lawyer, Public Defender Linda Thompson, blew the case by not questioning the contentious statement by County Medical Examiner Dr. Jason Trent that a knife measuring under two inches could have caused the six inch-plus fatal wound. Last week Dr. Trent reasserted his belief that “with enough force” it indeed could have.
But the most arresting episode of the week was the prelim for Jarred Hernandez, recently extradited from Mexico to face first degree murder charges in the August 2, 2000, murder of Michael Edward Williamson. It looks like Mr. Hernandez beat Mr. Williamson to death with an aluminum baseball bat for not having him over for a barbecue. And it looks like the snubbed Mr. Hernandez, in lieu of the barbecue he hadn't been invited to, barbecued Mr. Williamson then packed up and left for Mexico.
This is another murder case being handled by the Public Defender, the questionable Linda Thompson. It is being prosecuted by our estimable District Attorney, David Eyster. This being a cold-case, most of the witnesses — the first responders and homicide detectives — have mostly retired. The first such witness was Phillip Porto, an arson investigator who was with the Ukiah Fire Department in August of 2000. Porto had been called to an address on Caroline Street in Ukiah on that fateful August 2nd.
“Do you remember your first impressions?” the DA asked.
“As I recall I was escorted by the Fire Chief, and we met with Detective Randy Johnson before we went inside.”
“What did you see, once you were inside?”
“I saw the area of a fire in the hallway.”
The DA showed the witness a photograph and asked if he recognized it.
“Yes,” Mr. Porto said. “It depicts the front door and hallway.”
“Did you notice anything in particular?”
“Yes. The heat horizon encompasses the top third of the doorway, the blackened ceiling and walls, all evidence of a fire event. The door into the hall shows a significant amount of fire damage at ground level.”
DA Eyster showed the witness another photo.
“Were you able to determine what this was?”
“Yes. It was golf clubs and the remains of a golf bag in the hallway. The six metal rods are the remains of the golf bag, and there was a certain amount of combustible paper products underneath and scattered about it; also, an aerosol can in the middle of the framework of the bedroom.”
Another photo was shown to the witness.
“This one shows the fire emanating in and about the hallway, a portion of the v-pattern — fire always burns up and out — and here we have a 30 degree angle from the base of the door frame.”
“It also shows the body of the deceased.”
“Could you tell anything about the origin of the fire from the pattern?”
“Yes. This was no mechanical or electrical fire. It was a contrivance. That means it was created by someone.”
“How do you know that?”
“A small fan was put on the floor for the enhancement of the fire, and I smelled the distinct smell of alcohol. Two containers of isopropyl alcohol were used as accelerants, and the scuttle to the attic was opened and slid off the opening for fire, heat and smoke to spread the fire into the attic. Everybody knows attic fires are notorious for taking off.”
“In your opinion, was there a reason for starting this fire?”
“Yes. Many times when we have multiple crimes, fire is used to cover up evidence.”
Making the first of many false starts, Public Defender Linda Thompson rose to cross examine the witness.
“When you first arrived at the scene… Wait, lemme just ask you this: In your report – have you reviewed your report from 2000?”
“Was anyone – Wait, let’s just say, Were there fire personnel on the scene when you arrived?”
“Yes, but I’m not really sure they were all there when I arrived.”
“Were you informed whether or not they’d been inside — were you told whether the door to the bedroom was open or closed?”
“I think I was told, but physical evidence told me it was closed.”
“How many — I mean, was there more than one origin of the fire?”
“My recollection is there was something else going on in the laundry room.”
“But you don’t recall more than a single origin?”
“I’d have to say no.”
Ms. Thompson referred the witness to one of the photos, and asked Porto what he saw in it.
“I see an aerosol can.”
“Is that area the origin of the fire?”
“That photograph – is that of the main room?”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘main room.’ Can you identify what you mean?”
“Well, is that the front room? Is it past the doorway in photograph number four?”
“Is it true that – Well, my understanding is that certain items of evidence were removed. Is that true?”
“Such as pieces of carpet?”
“Were any tests done as to – Well, was there any physical evidence of isopropyl alcohol on that carpet?”
“Only the test of my nose.”
“Was there any indication in the room that the fire had started in the room where the body was found?”
“Not to my recollection.”
“Were you informed that water was running in the bathroom?”
DA Eyster redirected briefly.
“You say you only had the test of your nose to determine isopropyl alcohol had been used. Are you specially trained in that?”
“Anybody who has had to treat a cut with it knows the distinctive smell of isopropyl alcohol.”
Fireman Mark Clark was called. He’s a retired combat fire captain from the Ukiah Fire Department; he'd arrived on scene at 182 Caroline Street at about 7:15 am on August 2nd, 2000.
“What did you see?”
“A single family dwelling with smoke coming from the attic vents.”
“What did you do?”
“I took my hose crew to the front door and, finding it locked, went around the house and found an entrance on the north side of the house, which entered the kitchen or dining room. It was unlocked, so I went in.”
“What were the conditions like?”
“Fairly light smoke, so I walked through to the front door and unlocked it for the hose crew. There was very little fire, so I told the crew to hold up, because I was conscious of making a lot of tracks in the house. I then made my way down the hall to where a golf bag and some clothing were burning with very little fire. I also noticed water coming from under the door to the bathroom. The sink, toilet and bathtub had been stopped up with towels and clothing, and water was overflowing. I was looking for fire victims and opened a door and found a male victim, supine, with trauma to the head. It looked like a gunshot wound, like a high caliber bullet hand entered the brain, highly disfigured.”
“What did you do?”
“Removed my gloves and felt for a pulse. I asked my crew to call for an operations chief. I needed the Ukiah Police Department there — and then I put a EKG on the victim. The pulse was synaptic. I then had my hose crew put the small fire in the golf bag out. The scuttle to the attic was open so the smoke from the golf bag was going straight up into the attic.”
“Anything else burning?”
“Some clothing and textiles.”
The Public Defender asked, “Have you read — Let me ask you this, Did you prepare a report?”
“Did you review it today.”
“All of it?”
“Just the narrative. The rest is volumes.”
“Do you recall what time the call came?”
“Yes, at 7:14. And we were on scene at 7:18. The call came right at our shift change, so it took three or four minutes to get there.”
“Now, your report, the narrative… This is just a summary?”
“So, you see smoke – When you arrive on scene, there’s smoke coming out of the attic vents?”
“And were you able to enter without breaking down the front door?”
“And then you went to the front door to let the hose crew in?”
“Were you wearing your – Well, so, you had full gear on?”
“Were you able to see – Wasn’t the smoke heavier in some areas than in others?”
“Below the scuttle, yes. But visibility wasn’t bad.”
“When you went by the bedroom and then the bathroom, were the doors closed?”
“And you noticed water running under the bathroom door?”
“Yes, the water was extinguishing the fire even before the hose crew came in.”
“In the area where the decedent was located… Well, let me put it this way: Did there appear to be any flames where you found the decedent?”
DA Eyster asked, “Wasn’t there a mattress burning?”
“My recollection of that is a little hazy. I wasn’t involved in the removal of the smoldering mattress, and the door to that room was open only about eight inches.”
Another retired gentleman was called, former Ukiah PD Detective Mariano Guzman, now employed by the District Attorney as an investigator. He had been on duty as the acting supervisor of the detective bureau in August, 2000, and responded to Captain Mark Clark’s call for assistance at the scene. Det. Guzman examined the victim and said he didn’t think it was a gunshot wound.
“I believe it was blunt force trauma to the back of the head,” he told the DA. “There was blood on the wall and on a picture of Jesus Christ hanging there; there was also a laceration to the back of the head.”
“Did you locate any possible weapons at the scene?”
“There was a black-and silver-colored bat. There was a crack in the bat with skin tissue, hair and blood embedded in it. It was an aluminum bat and it was taken into evidence. Then a fingerprint expert from Sacramento was brought in to process the scene.”
“What was the overall condition of the house?”
The ceiling was black from smoke and all the rooms appeared to have been ransacked. Everything was in disarray. Drawers were left open and things dumped on the floor and strewn about. Desk drawers were taken out and papers were strewn on the carpeted flooring.”
The DA showed the witness some photographs of the disarray and disorder which he recognized. A desk drawer was missing and this drawer was found in another room on a piano bench.
Det. Guzman told how Galen Nickey of the Department of Justice in Sacramento, Latent Prints Division, took the bat and some other items to the DOJ lab in Sacramento, where some of the prints were identified; others were left in the case file. “A palm print was found on the bat,” he said. “But at that time they didn’t have a data base on palm prints.” Guzman was assigned to the case in 2011 when a palm print of Mr. Jarred Hernandez turned up to match the one on the bat. It had been submitted by another member of the DOJ, Krishna Naiker.
Ms. Thompson wanted to know how Krishna Naiker and Galen Nickey came by the palm print, but she didn’t know how to ask.
“Was either criminalist able to tell you… Well, lemme just ask you this: Did he tell you where he got the print?”
Eyster said, “Objection, vague. Who is counsel referring to?”
Thompson: “I mean Mr. Naiker. Did he tell you where he got the prints?”
Guzman: “From a case file.”
Thompson: “Do you know whether they were fingerprint cards?”
Guzman: “He had the fingerprint cards and the palm prints.”
Thompson: “How were the prints retrieved?”
Guzman: “They were sent to DOJ by Rick Pintane on June 10, 2011.”
Detective Rick Pintane of the Ukiah PD was called.
He said, “I knew a print had been taken from the rubber handle of the aluminum bat and in 2010 I was asked to do some follow up.”
Det. Pintane talked to Mike West who lived in the same apartment complex as Jarred Hernandez. Hernandez had invited West to go with him to the Williamson house for a chicken barbecue at about 11pm on the night of August 1st, 2000. West said they stopped at Audrey Hernandez’s house, three or four houses from the Williamson residence on Caroline Street, and picked up some chicken to take to the barbecue. (Audrey was married to Jarred’s father.) But when they got to Michael Williamson’s house they found the front door locked. Hernandez said he had a key to the back door and they went around back. While West waited on the patio, Hernandez went in. West said the light came on and he could see Hernandez inside making a phone call. Then Hernandez opened the door to the patio and told West to come in, but the victim opened a window and told them to leave because it was too late.
“Jarred wasn’t happy about that,” West told the detective. They went back to Audrey’s house and West went home. They were supposed to meet up on August 3rd, but Jarred didn’t show, West said.
Sam Robano told Detective Pintane he saw Jarred Hernandez with another man, a white male, at Audrey Hernandez’s house for 15 to 20 minutes. “I talked to him [Jarred] twice, after Mike West left,” Robano told the detective. He said Jarred was there until 2:00 or 2:30 and that when he looked for the two metal bats that the kids played with in the back yard, he couldn’t find them. A golf club turned up in the yard, however. Audrey said it wasn’t theirs, and there was no reason for it to be there since none of them played golf.
Mr. Williamson, the victim's father, was on vacation with his wife at the time of his son's murder. He identified the same golf club as one of his son’s. He said other things were missing as well: hats, ties, shirts, a duffle bag. (Perhaps Jarred was packing for his trip to Mexico.) These things were never recovered, Mr. Williamson told the detective.
Thompson: “Can you tell me where you got the fingerprint card for Jarred Hernandez?”
Pintane: “From the Ukiah Police Department.”
Thompson: “Where did you get the palm print?”
Pintane: “From the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.”
Thompson: “And in 2010 you sent it to the DOJ?”
Thompson: “Now, when you spoke to Mr. West was he at all – Well, let’s just say that for now… But wait. Did he say it was at about 11pm when they went to the barbecue?”
Pintane: “Yes, that sounds right.”
Thompson: “And they both went to Audrey Hernandez’s?”
Thompson: “Did Mr. West tell you how long they were at the Williamson’s residence before being asked to leave?”
Pintane: “He said they stayed at the victim’s residence for about 15 or 20 minutes.”
Thompson: “And according to West he never entered…?”
Pintane: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “So West remained on the patio and when asked to leave, did he tell you how he exited?”
Pintane: “No, ma’am. Just that they went out the side gate and back to Audrey Hernandez’s house.”
Thompson: “Did they see any family members at the Audrey Hernandez residence?”
Pintane: “If I may look at my report?”
Thompson: “By all means, if it’ll help refresh your memory.”
Pintane (after a moment): “Yes, they saw Sam Robano.”
Thompson: “That’s when they picked up the chicken?”
Pintane: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “This was prior to going to the victim’s house?”
Pintane: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “Did Sam say he saw them take anything else – from Audrey’s house — other than the chicken?”
Pintane: “No, ma’am.”
Thompson: “With respect to the baseball bats — Well, were there two or three?”
Pintane: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “Two metal ones and a wooden one?”
Pintane: “Yes, ma’am.”
Thompson: “Were they kept in the same location?”
Pintane: “I had the impression they were kept in the backyard and that the grandchildren played with them.”
Thompson: “Were the grandchildren ever asked where they last saw the bats?”
Thompson: “Where did the – Well, let me put it this way, when you were given the golf club, where did they say it came from?”
Pintane: “It was found in the backyard by Sam Robano.”
Thompson: “Did Mr. Williamson tell you where he kept the golf clubs?”
Pintane: “Not that I recall.”
Thompson: “But when the family returned from vacation, didn’t they say that, even though the house was in disarray, things had been moved from room to room?”
Pintane: “Not that I recall.”
Thompson, having established nothing even remotely helpful to her client but establishing she was unprepared to defend him in any cogent way, said, “Nothing further.”
Judge Richard Henderson gave the DA all he was asking for, holding orders on murder, arson and burglary, along with some special allegations to enhance the sentence should the case be won at trial.
“I have a strong suspicion,” Judge Henderson said, “that the defendant committed murder, arson and larceny, and a strong suspicion that Jarred Hernandez had a key to the house, and was seen around and in the house at the time of the incidents alleged, and that he had access to a bat that strongly resembles the murder weapon.”
The use of the accelerants and the fan will also be considered at the time of sentencing, not to mention the flight to Mexico and 13 years as a fugitive.
I’VE RECEIVED WORD THAT ATEN GOT 21 YEARS, REDUCED TO 17 FOR TIME SERVED AND GOOD BEHAVIOR. HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO CONFIRM YET.