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As the Gentle Rain from Heaven

“The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The thronèd monarch better than his crown.”

These are the opening lines of Portia’s soliloquy begging Shylock for mercy in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Forgiveness and mercy are powerful themes that occur throughout Shakespeare’s works. Shakespeare believed that mercy was the greatest quality; the highest accomplishment of the most powerful people.

David Eyster is a powerful man. As District Attorney of Mendocino County, he prosecutes criminals for the sufferings they cause. David Eyster is the law. Many in Mendocino County believe he’s done an exceptional job.

Tai Abreu’s a different deal. Twenty years ago, in Fort Bragg, when Tai Abreu was nineteen years old, Abreu and two other young men, August Stuckey, eighteen, and Aaron Channel, twenty, were responsible for the brutal murder of Donald Perez, thirty-nine. The meager motive for this awful murder was the theft of two hundred dollars plus a cheap assortment of camera gear. Perez was bound to a tree, and his throat was cut, although the wound to his neck was never firmly established in the coroner’s report. It mattered little. Three weeks after the killing, the cops were tipped by a friend of these fools. Abreu and Stuckey confessed.

But, there’s always more to the story. How did Perez come in contact with the creepy trio? Donald Perez knew Stuckey. They had established an internet relationship. Perez had visited Fort Bragg before to have sex with eighteen-year-old Stuckey in a motel. Stuckey easily lured Perez back, this time with robbery and apparently murder in mind. Was there something else involved? Stuckey’s muddled sexuality? Stuckey’s loathing for this older man, who Stuckey may have felt used him for what Stuckey believed really wasn’t himself? Graveyards are filled with innocent gay men who ended their lives this way.

The rest is the history of a legal rocket ride culminating in a one-day trial. Tai Abreu was the first to be tried. Abreu’s public defender advised him to seek a jury trial. Ostensibly, her slender defense centered on Abreu’s Miranda rights, despite the fact that the record clearly indicated that Abreu was read his rights. That was Abreu’s total defense. No juror was challenged. No witness was called. Before trial, the prosecution generously offered Abreu fifteen years to life. Abreu’s attorney turned it down, and before the sun went down, guilty was the verdict. Tai Abreu was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, mandatory in a case of this kind. 

Seeing what happened to their pal, Channel and Stuckey quickly copped a plea. Channel was sentenced to nineteen years. He’s already been released. Stuckey got fifteen years. He’s still in jail undergoing a sexual change, which adds credence to the theory that he was confused and angry when it came to who he was. Stuckey could be out at any time. Blind Justice holds her scale. Was there balance in this case when the sentences were meted out?

Hypothetically, there could be something else. I hope it isn’t so. Donald Perez was gay. He was part of the community of LGBTQs. According to the editor of this paper, Tai Abreu’s public defender was part of that community, too. Adding to the significance of this point, in the past, the editor of this paper, after criticizing Abreu’s attorney, has been called a homophobe by individuals claiming to be the former public defender’s personal friends. Diversity splits us apart. Everyone to their camp without unity to keep us whole. Was Abreu’s attorney biased? Why the speedy trial that sent Abreu to jail for the rest of his life?

Life without the possibility of parole (LWPOP) is California’s alternative death sentence. Last year, Senate Bill 1437 was signed into law by Jerry Brown. The bill stipulates that inmates sentenced to LWPOP’s, who meet certain criteria, may file to have their sentences changed, including the possibility of parole. Tai Abreu has filed to be re-sentenced under this new law. Abreu’s claim is that he was not present at the actual killing of Donald Perez. He maintains he was a lookout while Stuckey and Channel did the dreadful deed. Abreu’s contention may be substantiated by both Stuckey’s confession as well as Abreu’s confession to the lead investigator——the confession, that with the help of his public defender, put Abreu in jail for life while his accomplices got a chance of eventually going free.

Enter David Eyster. He’s doing what he can to ensure that Abreu dies in a cell. Is maliciousness involved? Or is Eyster simply contesting a law with which many District Attorneys in California strongly disagree: notably SB 1437? Publicly, Eyster has noted that this law has already been declared unconstitutional by at least one California superior court. He’s pleased with this result. With SB 1437 in mind, can we fathom Eyster’s efforts to keep Abreu in jail for life? Let me give it a try without a law degree.

Not so long ago, a majority of California voters voted NO to a proposition the would have repealed the death penalty. They also voted YES to hasten executions. In California, there are currently 737 inmates on death row. Recall the Hillside Strangler with many tortured victims under his belt; Scott Peterson, who murdered his pregnant wife; Richard Allen Davis, arrested in Mendocino County, who raped and murdered a twelve-year-old girl. Aside from the criminally insane, if Death Row went silent tomorrow with not one monster in his cell, a majority of Californians (myself included) would never shed a tear. 

Unfortunately, Gavin Newsom has recently assured death row inmates that they can continue eating,  watching TV, and ogling porno magazines as long as he’s in charge. We live in a one-party state. We’re governed by a Democrat oligarchy and their righteous friends, who tell us how to live: the monied elite whose concept of justice is nothing but themselves preaching virtue while they do whatever they want. 

This state of affairs is a problem for most DA’s. They must deal with reality: the actual victims of a crime along with their grieving families and everyone else who’s hurt. Simultaneously, they must contend with the pastel unicorn crowd, those social-justice elves believing that justice is always unjust. If Jack the Ripper was arrested in Ukiah, the DA would naturally seek life without the possibility of parole. If the Ripper was tried for death, the do-gooders would emerge from the weeds, and Jack might walk if the death sentence was in play. 

In California, if a LWPOP is the sentence, juries will convict. DA’s count on this. On the other hand, what member to a jury, what District Attorney wants to deal with the social justice mob that will  call them murderers for condemning a murderer to death? Life without the possibility of parole—it’s easy to see how a DA would fight for this alternate death penalty. 

To date, the Golden State Killer has not entered a plea—thirteen murders, fifty rapes. The DA in his case has not indicated if a sentence of death will be sought, but death is what most Californians would applaud. Why the hesitation? They say the case could take ten years at twenty million bucks. If a DA asks for death, they always take a chance that a single juror might secretly oppose the sentence of death. A hung jury could ensure the case would start all over again, provided people like the Golden State Killer hadn’t passed away in jail. If the DA goes with a LWPOP the death sentence doesn’t arise. If fact, with an LWPOP on the table, this monster will undoubtedly cop a plea. And, save the state a lot of dough.

But Tai Abreu is not the Golden State Killer. In fact, he may have never killed anyone at all. He was a helper. He was a lookout. He was a liar and accomplice before he chose to confess. But should Abreu spend the rest of his life in jail to contest a change in the law——a law the district attorney doesn’t like?

I’ve encountered District Attorney David Eyster two times in my life. The first was long ago at a trial for the editor of this paper after he slugged the county’s superintendent of schools. An insult led to a smack. Eyster prosecuted the case. At that time, David Eyster was young. He was a new hire in a buttoned-down suit, unsmiling, serious, and slim. The editor’s friends had stacked the courtroom: a bubbling mob of righteous, radical jerks, which included myself. Unintimidated, skillfully, Eyster easily won the case. The editor got thirty days, and a mini-riot ensued with a future supervisor of Mendocino County hand-cuffed in a Sheriff’s van.

Recently, I encountered Eyster in a bar — Bobby Beacon’s Cocktail Lounge where the louche and semi-normal meet because the view is quite spectacular, Beacon has charming opinions, and the drinks are always cheap. This was shortly before the last election, which was only days away. Eyster appeared with friends. Eyster had changed. (Haven’t we all?) A bit heavier now, he was attired in casual clothes. Smiling beneath his pork-pie hat he resembled Gene Hackman in the role of Popeye Doyle. (recall The French Connection. Did you pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?) That night Eyster was loquacious and out for fun, chatting with everyone at the bar. Such a change I thought, from the reserved young man I saw so many years ago.

Eyster has acquired a public persona, effervescent with a common touch for the common man. It’s doubtful he remembers me, but we exchanged a word or two. It came out that I occasionally wrote for this paper. He said he admired the AVA, which takes on issues that other papers won’t touch, or words to that effect. I thought this a decent admission from a stand-up guy who once put the editor of this paper in jail, and still has occasional jousts with the editor in print. In parting, I wished him “good luck” in his coming election. He assumed a puzzled look. He said he was “running unopposed,” which exactly was my point, but, alas, another joke flat on its face. Nonetheless, Eyster got my vote.

Tai Abreu is no joke. His situation is serious. The rest of his life’s at stake. Tai Abreu was once a screwed up kid who participated in a heinous crime when he nineteen years old. He’s been in jail going on to twenty years. His jail record is spotless, save for one mistake: possession of a law book he hadn’t signed for. One accomplice is already out of prison and the other will soon be too––the actual culprits that wielded the knife. 

I understand Eyster's beef  with SB 1437. Life without the possibility of parole is an important tool in the DA's arsenal as he seeks justice for the dead. But is Abreu your best case to challenge this senate bill? Might you back away a bit? Is there a better way forward in your fight, perhaps a different case where leniency should unequivocally be denied? Place compassion above the law, for compassion is what the law is truly all about. Sir, I beg your kindness and leave with you with these antique words: Mercy blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The thronèd monarch better than his crown.

District Attorney Eyster, you’re the king of Mendocino County law. Please grant mercy to this man; wear it as your shining crown.

One Comment

  1. Marilyn Davin April 13, 2019

    Great essay, Mike. I’m glad you brought up the fact that juries are less likely to vote to execute a person than to condemn him or her to LWOPO, a subject I have myself written about. It’s one thing to pull the lever in a voting booth to execute those convicted of capital crimes; it’s quite another to imagine doing it personally after seeing the accused in the flesh at trial. I have also read that first degree murder charges are sometimes reduced to second degree because of the greater surety of conviction. Turns out we’re not all so hard-line law and order when we’re on the hook for the fates of our convicted fellows.

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