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The Seven Deadly Trimmers


The trimmers who murdered Laytonvillle pot-grower Jeffery Settler in the early morning hours of November 11, 2016 have all been sent to prison, all but one, who is still dragging his feet. 

The first to go was “the heavy,” Michael Kane, who was sentenced a week earlier to 14 years in prison; then five more were packed off last Friday morning, starting with Gary Blank, who also got 14 years; then Said Mohamed, nine years; Gary Fitzgerald, nine years; Zachary Wuester, nine years; Fredrick Gaestel, who only got two years (he didn’t actually go up the hill with the others to kill and rob Mr. Settler).

Gaestel’s contribution to the murder was lending the ax and knife team his vehicle and a hatchet used in the murder.

Jesse Wells – who had to be brought to the preliminary hearing in August of 2017 against his will – will not be sentenced until November 16th.

Michael Kane and Gary Blank were the main killers, Kane with a hatchet, Blank with a knife; the precise participation of the others was never made clear.

Said Mohamed, Zachary Wuester and Gary Fitzgerald all took early pleas for nine years each in exchange for pointing the finger(s) at the others.

Jesse Wells and Fredrick Gaestel benefited from a recent State Bill that lightened the California felony murder rule, which used to say, basically, if you were present during a murder you are as guilty as, in this case, the guy wielding the ax. The revised Murder Rule allows for distinctions. If, say, you lent the killers your car your guilt is less than the people who committed the murder.

Some glaring questions in the Settler case remain:

1. Why were the sentences so light – why no life “tail” on the sentences, which is usually the case for homicide – for the “heavies”?

2. Did the lead investigator, Detective Matt Croskey, quit the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office in disgust, as rumored, over the way the case was handled?

3. Or was Det. Croskey given a better job in the Midwest for dropping all charges against former suspect Amanda Weist (whose mother is a high-ranking officer with Homeland Security), who opened the locked door as prearranged, to let the killers in?

4. Why was Det. Croskey’s wife subsequently appointed to the highest political office in Mendocino County when the holder of that office suffered an untimely mental breakdown?

5. What happened to all the gold in the vault under the World Trade Center?

These questions have been answered:

1. The sentences were “appropriate.”

2. Rumors are just that – rumors.

3. Det. Croskey wasn’t “given” anything, he merely “found” a better job elsewhere.

4. The Governor appointed Ms. Croskey as the most eligible or qualified candidate – despite her short tenure as a Mendocino County resident – and the timing was purely coincidental.

5. Everybody knows all the gold is in Fort Knox – always has been, always will be.

The sentencings went along without a lot of comment, resulting in a more than ordinary sense of a process streamlined and foreshortened to avert and avoid too much information coming out; “the less said, the better” was the overall impression given by everyone involved – from the judge all the way down to the perps themselves, who didn’t have to be reminded by their lawyers that they were getting unheard of leniency, and that they should keep quite or find themselves facing a 25-to-life exposure.

What’s a reporter to do? 

Here’s a hint: Read the online newspaper, Mendocino Voice. This online paper sort of came out of the blue in the wake of the Settler murder, ostensibly to cover the news in Mendocino County, with a special focus on the marijuana industry. But the Voice has taken no interest – none at all – in any of the many cases of murder related to pot farming, except this one case. A couple of different reporters have followed it, and reported it with such a guarded formality, that it almost seems like the Voice was started in order to cover this case, and this case only, and to do so in a way that averted and avoided any of the unpleasant questions listed above.

Family members of the victim were brought in for the sentencing and given an opportunity to comment. As the killers had never offered any signs or words of remorse, the victim’s sister was caught off guard by a sudden, last-minute apology by Jesse Wells. She was so upset by this change of attitude that she sat back down without finishing her prepared statement of the impact the murder had on her.

The victim’s brother spoke briefly, as well, saying he was a forgiving person, but would never forgive the seven men who killed his brother, and that he thinks of his brother every day.

The victim’s father said he didn’t know how any human being could commit such an awful act as the brutal murder of his son, or stand by and let it happen. “You all took my son’s life and even though the judgment wasn’t what it should have been, there is still a Final Judgment coming and you all need to think about that. Mr. Wells, you are the only one to apologize and I thank you for that. I don’t hate anyone, but your names and faces are burnt forever in my memory. As for those of you who didn’t actually kill my son, your only concern was getting the marijuana instead of stopping the killing, and you need to think long and hard about that while you all are in prison.”

Settlers at cemetery

DA David Eyster had nothing to add. Restitution will be reserved for the expense of bringing the family of the victim from Texas, the fines were reduced, as all but Mr. Kane were indigent, and the case was closed – except for Mr. Wells who will drag his feet for a few more weeks.

But this reporter, who confesses he reads too many conspiracy novels, thinks somebody somewhere high-up wanted this all to go quietly away, and I’ll submit it on that. 


  1. George J. Dorner January 1, 2020

    Another Mendocino misdemeanor murder….

    • Misty Dawn Settler December 11, 2020

      My name is Misty Settler. For whatever reasons that were not right for anyone to make I have been kept from attending my brothers trial. I was not allowed to address his murderers or voice myself or be part of any of his interviews and everyone at his funeral was wondering why I was not there to represent him. Jeff was 18 months younger than myself and he was my best friend and soul mate and the person I have always known from the day he came home from the hospital that I loved the most in this world. He was practically my twin. Whenever I described him to other people my entire life I always told them that he was the boy version of me and I was the girl version of him and everything that I or he am or ever was due solely to the other. I LOVED him so much more than I can begin to describe and I knew I loved him the most. (I pause, so that I can swallow my grief that catches as a lump in my throat and I have to wait for floods of tears to stop drowning my vision, as I try to convey and express or articulate to you how very much I was aware and understood and valued his importance to me.) As I was saying, I knew that I loved my little brother the most in this world and I did not begin, even knowing as I did, to comprehend how very… VERY much I LOVED HIM.
      I’m not trying pick sides or point fingers. I don’t begin to know all the details of everything that went down because I was not there. My two children and my ex-husband that had lived all over California in the same motel room with Jeff for years had came back home to Texas because my husband had started having increasing and worsening Grand Mal seizures and attempted to get medical care for him back home.
      I am fair. As was he. Sometimes people get beat up because we all need to I guess. We are human and we make mistakes. It happens. Maybe it shouldn’t but it does and we learn or we don’t. I’m not advocating that this is right. I realize that even this is primitive, but it’s what we know currently. Right or wrong, either way, we figure things out and we are able to walk away. I’m in no way trying to say that maybe my brother was inhuman or infallible or beyond making mistakes or above getting beat up every now and then but that might just be his sibling speaking and I will always wrestle my brothers if they ever need it and know and expect them to do the same for me.
      These people did something very different. They took a life. Maybe, to them it was just some random life that didn’t hold the value to them that it it held for me, but those people chose to inflict by force their will on another person and chose to end his life and that is and was wrong and not their choice to make. Only God has that right and we are not God. I will never agree with any individual, group, elected or chosen anyone to make those choices other than an individual personally choosing for themselves to choose or decide who lives or dies. Yes, God gave us free will. So who is to say we can’t choose life for others if God gives us the will to choose it? All we have to remember is the Golden Rule to KNOW the answer. You don’t do something you would not want done unto you. That being said… Yes, God gave us free will, but we should not force our will upon others, and that is the simplest way for me to convey the wrong that they have done. I no longer get my brother so I don’t really care if they feel remorse or if they don’t. I don’t really care that three of them are already out of prison for my brothers life which he nor I will ever get back. Who cares if I find it insulting or not? Who cares whether they were judged fairly or not? Who cares if they sat everyday of their lives in prison? What would that really do for me or my brother? Nothing. It would not bring my brother back either way. So it doesn’t really matter does it that he and I and our family will suffer forever either way because no matter what we no longer get to be with him. I would personally like to thank everyone with any part or hand in any of it for taking half my soul away from me without knowing or asking me because I would have gave every moment of the rest of my life trying to convince you to please choose anything in the world other than taking him from me.

      • Eli from 1985 February 11, 2021

        Very well said Misty.

        I’m so overly sorry for all of your loss.

      • Jesse October 13, 2022

        Misty, it’s Jesse, he told me it was gonna happen, all wild, love you how to I get a hold of you

  2. Lazarus January 1, 2020

    Another guy killed a fellow outside Boomer’s in Laytonville with his hands…I thought at the time he got off light.
    Consequently, I got called out here for my opinion, by the DA. Oops…
    Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
    As always,

  3. Rebecca February 1, 2023

    Jeff was a drug dealer and tormented and screwed his killers. Karma.

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