Danilo Zacapa-Diaz was living happily ever after in Anderson Valley after a felony bust 10 years ago. He had a wife and family of three kids and another on the way. He provided for his growing brood by working long hours in the vineyards.
The guy was doing well until he got himself a gun.
Mr. Zacapa-Diaz’s lawyer, Justin Petersen of Ukiah, had seemingly cut a deal with the District Attorney to get this matter solved with a term of probation instead of prison, and it looked like life in the tranquility of the Anderson Valley would resume for the hard-working young immigrant, gun or no gun.
Mr. Zacapa-Diaz doesn’t speak English very well so he may have misunderstood the park ranger when, he and his attorney claimed, the ranger advised people living near the park that bears were stealing picnic baskets and it might be a good idea to keep a gun handy.
No one else in the Hendy Woods area got the memo on the bears, but Zacapa-Diaz got a black market .357
Judge John Behnke seemed ready to relent on a prison sentence and go for the probation deal until Detective Luis Espinoza, born and raised in the Anderson and a fluent Spanish-speaker, got involved.
The detective learned that a year before, home invaders, not bears, had held a gun to Danilo’s head and threatened to kill him and his family if he didn’t hand over approximately 100 pounds of bud marijuana.
It seemed only prudent to arm oneself in the circumstances.
The robbers also took some expensive jewelry.
Why wasn’t this crime reported?
But only as a jewelry robbery.
The pot part went unmentioned.
“I was prepared to sentence Mr. Zacapa to a term of probation last week,” Judge Behnke said. “But today we’ve received additional information that changes all that.”
DA David Eyster said, “This is an example of how this defendant has told half-truths and lies to probation in order to continue to grow and sell marijuana for profit, putting himself and his family at dire risk, judge. Detective Espinoza learned that when the bad guys found out Zacapa had turned them in for stealing the jewelry they came back and were about to shoot him. He’s in too deep, judge. I want him in prison, not on probation.”
Judge Behnke explained, “I never bought into the story about the gun being obtained for protection from these more-or-less imaginary park bears, but it was not a huge amount of marijuana—”
“It was 100 pounds the year before, judge, and given time, it would have amounted to more this time,” DA Eyster insisted.
Zacapa had over 300 starts when he was busted this time around. By the end of the season there was a potential for a big weed cash-in to make up for the home invasion robbery the year before.
“I knew it was a bogus story all along,” Judge Behnke insisted. “About the bears, I mean. Then the defendant became very animated about the jewelry when the robbery was being discussed. Now, I think it’s pretty clear that it was all about marijuana all along. It’s gone from the idea that this was a guy working full-time to provide for his family to large quantities of marijuana that both Mr. Zacapa and his wife admitted were for sale and the necessity for handguns to protect themselves.”
Justin Petersen for the defense: “Your honor, the robbery was two years earlier and at a different residence. That’s why they moved — so these guys couldn’t find them and come back again. And of course he didn’t offer that the marijuana was the object of the robbery — but I wouldn’t have admitted it, either. That’s just plain stupid. Practically everybody in this county is engaged in the marijuana business — they couldn’t afford to live here otherwise. But he’s still a hard-working guy who does the kind of work nobody else wants to do [vineyard laborer], and supports his wife, who is expecting another baby, and three children. Sure, he was using an assumed name before, but now he has a new residence and living under his true name, and I think he’ll do well on probation.”
Eyster said, “He was growing and selling marijuana in 2013, and again in 2014, and now over 300 plants in 2015. How can probation supervise a person who has such a problem with the truth?”
“They were puny plants, your honor,” replied Petersen.
Judge Behnke: “He was planning to transplant them into larger pots, I would think, and it’s obvious now that he was more heavily involved than I thought last week, so I can’t put him on probation. He’s presumptively ineligible. He’s been cultivating and selling marijuana by his own admission for several years and had a gun to protect what appears to be a straight criminal existence so probation is denied and I’m going to impose the low term of 16 years in the state prison.”
“The People are asking for the mid-term, judge.”
“I’ll give him the low-term. With credit for 10 days served.”
The low-term was 16 months, not years. Hopefully someone will point this out before Zacapa-Diaz’s children are all grown up and the newest one is playing soccer at Anderson Valley High School.
But as a cautionary tale, let the reader beware that trying to fool a judge with stories about bears can get you state prison time.
Footnote: "Frost" was the slang word the DA used to describe the jewelry worn by the more ruthless drug dealers. The term has some connection to rap music and refers to the gaudy gold encrusted with diamonds that big-time dealers and rappers can afford. I almost called the story, "The Frosted Bears of Hendy Woods."