Last January, Fort Bragg residents were horrified at the spectacle of two young women, one with a chain, one with a hatchet, fighting gladiator-style at the intersection of Maple and Harold not far from the C.V. Starr Aquatic Center. The lady with the chain had her face and chest hacked up, and the hatchet itself “smashed through one car window, and flew past the baby’s car-seat, tomahawk-style, before smashing out the other window.”
The hatchet lady's baby was in the car seat as the weapon whistled on past her infant son's nose.
18-year-old Alissa Colberg emerged from the combat with three new white scars: One on her left eyebrow and a deep one on her cheek, judging from the thick scar tissue. The worst, though, was to her breastbone at the junction of her trachea. In the photo of the stitches, that scar looked like an oversize centipede. This wound, and the one to the eyebrow, could easily have been lethal.
Asked why she would be attacked this way, Ms. Colberg, 18, told Officer Brian Clark of the Fort Bragg Police, “I hate that pussy bitch. I always have,” adding, “And because I'm the dominant female in Fort Bragg and she wants my title.”
This charming assessment by Miss Colberg of her attacker and her speculation as to why it happened, occurred at the Emergency Room of Fort Bragg's Coast Hospital where Ms. Colberg had her wounds sewn closed by the gentlemanly Dr, Sussman.
Officer Clark was quick to suspect personal animosity.
“So there is an on-going thing with you and her?”
“Um hum,” Miss Colberg replied. “We hate each other. Nobody likes her, the stupid bitch. About three years ago, I think it was, she pulled a knife on me. And everybody told me ‘Don’t fight MariCruz, she’s crazy.’ But I wasn’t scared of her — she’s not gonna put my title down.”
The trial is expected to run upwards of three weeks and, being a gang case, it goes back, back many months, and involves characters from several other gang stories reported here lately. Fort Bragg is overrun with gang-bangers, and this latest, highly spectacular episode is simply one of the grislier of many lately in the seemingly peaceful seaside town.
The Warrior Girls hatchet fight came on the heels of gangster Gabriel Monday’s case. Mr. Monday pled last week to jumping out of a van and chasing a 16-year-old boy down a Fort Bragg street with a pistol in one hand and a baseball bat in the other. The charge included the infliction of Great Bodily Injury (GBI), and it will be counted as a “strike” under California’s “three strikes and you're out” approach to gang people.
The case is also related to the drive-by shooting — by juvenile offender Hugo Bermudez (being tried as an adult) — of the Sanchez residence in Fort Bragg.
That Fort Bragg has a gang problem is no secret, despite the fact that nobody talks about it — present company, excepted. But people are sick and tired of psychotic events on their streets and it was hard for the judge to seat a halfway, at least, unbiased jury.
One fellow summoned to jury duty had actually driven onto the scene of the crime, and saw the defendant flee.
He was excused.
A merry fellow with eyes as glassy as a teddy-bear’s was also let go, Judge Moorman offering no reasons, and a confidential source saw him again later at the Forest Club, standing everyone a round, to celebrate the clever way he had eluded jury duty.
It’s amazing how much pride people take in confounding the few constitutional rights they’re still free to exercise. Jury duty, most people seem to think, is for idealistic fools who don’t have a life.
There were three men, Mssrs. Gunn, Wade and Hansen who had admitted to defense counsel that they thought the defendant was guilty right out of the chute. Judge Moorman had just admonished them that they were to consider the defendant not guilty, but these guys just couldn't bring themselves to even try.
Peakin & Peakin of Fort Bragg represent Ms. Alvarez-Carrillo, the ax wielder and the single defendant in what was in reality a mob-sized gang confrontation. Headquartered above Pippi Longstocking's in downtown Fort Bragg, the Peakin law firm consists of Patrick and Amanda Peakin, husband and wife. Ms. Peakin has a habit of snapping her fingers imperiously at her husband when she wants him to do something, evidence of her ascendancy in the marriage. He responds to his wife's hand signals with the alacrity of a well-trained Jack Russell terrier.
At the pre-trial motions Mrs. Peakin asked the judge to have the prosecution sanctioned for failure to disclose that his victim, Ms. Colberg, was an admitted liar. Ms. Colberg had said several times in open court that she’d lied, lied, lied. She’d lied to everybody, it seemed, but today she was “telling the truth. Trust me.”
Judge Moorman wanted the motion to sanction the prosecution for not revealing Ms. Colberg's flexible relationship to the truth backed up. “Where’s your authorities?” the judge asked.
Ms. Peakin snapped her fingers imperiously at hubby, and he hopped to, dutifully sorting through reams of paperwork as Judge Moorman turned to Prosecutor Tim Stoen to say, “I’m going to admonish you right now,” she said. “If you think your witness is going to perjure herself, it is your duty to disclose it. I have been put on notice as to this witness, and Mr. Stoen, you have been put on notice.”
Stoen said, “Sometimes you learn things about a witness at the last moment.”
The Peakins' paperwork back-up would be forthcoming, but in the meantime Judge Moorman sensed the jury’s restlessness. They were getting tired of the many hours they’d spent idle in the moldy jury room of the Courthouse basement where, due to non-payment, even the dubious entertainments of daytime television were unavailable because the TV service has been cut off in the jury room, and sources report that after a few hours, the small-talk withers and dies — they are forbidden to discuss the cases at all — the clock freezes on the wall, while life everywhere else in Ukiah bubbles along.
Judge Moorman grew anxious at the interminable delays in the proceedings, which really had been inordinately long. First, the lawyers thought they might settle. The Peakins and the Deputy DA from Fort Bragg, Timothy Stoen, futilely bartered offers for hours until both parties decided to proceed with the jury trial.
Next, the possibility of having the charges reduced had to be argued in front of Judge Moorman, who found, after a lengthy scripture-chase through the law tomes, that the lawyers had read the law wrong. The deal proved legally moot, so Judge Moorman finally sent her new bailiff, Deputy Muños, to fetch the jury.
Then came an extensive list of “witnesses to be called.” If any potential juror knew any of these individuals, their freedom from duty was practically assured. At last, the judge had thinned the ranks of the obviously unsuitable, and the lawyers were allowed to cull the herd without a word of explanation.
Mr. Peakin challenged one, “Mr. Wade. If you had to decide right now, how would you judge my client?”
Wade said, “Guilty.”
Peakin said, “And you, Mr. Hansen?”
“What about you, Mr. Gunn?”
“That’s not fair,” Judge Moorman snapped. She was sorry the jury pool had had to stagnate a few hours in the Courthouse dungeon, but she’d already been annoyed by the contemptuous impudence of the chap who had appeared drunk for jury duty, and now this inability of three men in a row to assume innocence was, really just too much. In short, the judge lost her temper. The three obstreperously cynical males had raised their hands along with everyone else when Her Honor asked if everyone understood and agreed that the defendant was innocent unless the DA’s Office proved otherwise.
“Just like anyone else, Mr. Gunn,” insisted the judge, in answer to his guffaw.
Gunn said, “Ain’t nobody else been accused of chopping somebody up with a hatchet.” He folded his arms and snorted.
“I get the feeling you don’t want to serve,” the judge noted sarcastically. The crowd laughed. After that, the judge had the jury in her pocket. At times, she would descend, in her sleek dark robes, to sit with them in the jury box and absorb the drama.
But first, Mr. Peakin thanked and excused Wade, Hansen and Gunn.
Mr. Stoen had his wife along, but not in the capacity of a law partner. Mrs. Stoen and I made up the entirety of the audience.
Mr. Stoen thanked and dismissed a Ms. Morrison, who was adamant that she couldn’t possibly picture herself being fair and objective about someone who had recently uttered a racial slur.
“We can’t always pick our victims,” Stoen explained. “They’re not always perfect.”
Mr. Stoen is a Stanford grad, and it shows in his style. The other lawyers try, bless them, to meet his sartorial standards, but they simply went to the wrong schools, or they got to the right ones long after the dress codes had lapsed, and most of them rely on their spouses or mothers to dress them; and it shows. Stoen also dismissed for cause a Ms. Dova and a Ms. Tanney — three women, in all — to counter the three male jurors defense counsel had purged, this being as gender and ethnically sensitive a trial as might be possible that involve two women bent on mayhem.
At long last the jury was seated, and the next day the first witness was to be called. But there was a hitch. One of the jurors didn’t show. Hours passed. Where’s she coming from? someone wondered aloud. Piercy, somebody else guessed. Maybe Whitethorn? No, she’s from Mendocino.
The absent juror’s adolescent child had broken a couple of bones in a fall at school and the child needed her mother, the juror in question, to help her dress, among other things. When the tardy juror finally arrived, close to the noon break, had explained her absence and had asked to be released, Judge Moorman was obliged to refuse. There was only one alternate juror for some short-sighted reason (and this person must be kept in reserve in case something more serious than a broken limb befells another of the jurors), so the juror and child would just have to adapt to the pleasure and convenience of the State over the next three weeks, by which time, assuming the child's recovery, she would no longer need such intimate parenting.
With the audience of deciders in place, it was time to set the stage, and Mr. Stoen began his opening remarks. “Good morning — er, uh — Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.” He flashed his winning smile, pointed at an easel where a map of a Fort Bragg neighborhood was displayed, and bade the jury to take note.
Judge Moorman scurried down from the bench and made herself comfortable in one of the chairs, usually reserved for Corrections Officers, in the jury box. The jury loved it. She was one of them!
Stoen began, “The People will show beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt, that the defendant, MariCruz Alvarez-Carrillo, did, as per Count One, assault Alissa Colberg with a deadly weapon, inflicting upon her person Serious Bodily Injury. That in Count Two she did assault Richard “Ritchie” Oldstadt in same manner, and that in the Special Allegations she did this to promote a street gang.” Oldstadt was Ms. Colberg’s boyfriend at the time of the incident.
Mr. Stoen drew his audience's attention to a green splotch on his map, the dog park. He zoomed in and we saw that it was a digital splotch, all the edges squared off. Stoen pointed out features like the Catholic Church on South Harold Street, and Colombi’s Market, saying that Colberg and Oldstadt were on their way from the dog park to the market when the defendant roared by in her white Jeep, “She went past Ritchie Oldstadt, flipping him off, then she turned around down here on Maple Street, revved up her engine and came back doing about 60. How do we know it was her? Because here on South Corey Street, Curtis Bruckworth was in his front yard, and he recognized her; he works at Sport Dodge and he had sold her the Jeep.”
Stoen continued: “There were three males in the Jeep and a baby seat. The Jeep made a U-turn with the tires squealing, and Mr. Bruckworth, whose daughter had just left the yard, tried to call 911, but his cellphone didn’t work. Then the vehicle stopped at the stop sign on Madrone Street, and two male passengers jumped out and started chasing Ritchie. Ms. Alvarez wanted to head Ritchie off, so she got back in her car and went after him. She got out with a hatchet and started chasing Ritchie around a car. When Alissa saw this she came to Ritchie’s aid, after smashing the back window out of the Jeep with her chain.”
When Ritchie testified, events changed. Like Alissa — and most of the other witnesses — he had a history of telling different stories to different people.
“Don’t ever try a gang case,” Mr. Stoen ruefully advised a friend during a lull in the action.
Mr. Peakin, for the defense, said the testimony would show that a gang of nearly 20 people had surrounded his client’s car, smashed out the windows and attacked her.
With Ritchie on the stand, Stoen said, “When you left the dog park, where were you going?”
“We were going to Colombi’s on Harold and Oak.”
“You were with a group?”
“Yeah, there was 15, maybe 20 of us.”
“All gang members?”
“Some were; some weren’t”
“Was Anthony Dahl there?”
“Is he a gang member?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Then what happened?”
“A car pulled up.”
“A white Jeep.”
“Driven by whom?”
“What happened after the car stopped?”
“Two people got out.”
“What kind of people were they?”
Judge Moorman said, “rephrase your question, Mr. Stoen.”
“Can you describe them?” Stoen asked.
“They were gang people.”
“How do you know that?”
“By the blue on their clothing.”
“Were they armed?”
“Yes. One had a hatchet and they started chasing me with it.”
“What happened to the hatchet?”
“It was thrown at another kid.”
“Then what happened to it.”
“It was thrown at the Jeep.”
“Did you stick around?”
“No, I took off running.”
“Did you notice any damage to the Jeep?”
“Yeah, that hatchet hit the window.”
“Was this the window broken by Alissa?”
“Nah. She broke the back window.”
“A metal dog leash.”
“What were you doing?”
“I was on a bicycle.”
“What did you do?”
“I started running.”
“I wanted to get away.”
“Where did you go?”
“Up to the CV-Starr Center.” (The local indoor swimming pool.)
“What did MariCruz do?”
“She got out of the car and started chasing me around with a hatchet. She was screaming at me saying ‘Why did you break out my window?, and I was like, 'Get away from me you crazy bitch.”
“What was your reaction?”
“To run away.”
“I dunno. I’z scared. She acted like she wanted to kill me.”
“Did she say why?”
“Yeah. She said her baby was in the car.”
“Did the car move?”
“Who moved it?”
“One of the guys who got out.”
“Did you know who this was?”
“Nah. He had a blue bandana on his face.”
“What did you say to MariCruz?”
“I told her I didn’t do anything — I didn’t hit her window or anything.”
“Then what happened?”
“Alissa came down the hill and started yelling at MariCruz.”
“F-you. Stuff like that.”
“What happened next?”
“MariCruz hit Alissa in the face and chest with the hatchet.”
“What was Alissa doing?”
“Standing there swinging her chain.”
“How did this fight end?”
“Anthony Dahl tackled them both and knocked them to the ground. He ripped the hatchet out of MariCruz’s hand, and everybody started running up to the CV-Starr Center.”
“Did you see the vehicle move again?”
“Yeah. First, only a couple of feet, then it went down Lincoln Street.”
“See who was driving?”
“Yeah. The man with the blue bandana.”
“Did you see a baby in the car?”
“No, I just saw him [the driver].”
“Did you give a statement to the police later that afternoon?”
“Was your statement truthful?”
“Is that part of gang psychology?”
“Are you still a gang member today?”
“Uh, no — wait… yeah, yes.”
“Why don’t you resign from the gang?”
“I don’t want to step out and become a target.”
“Is Anthony Dahl a gang associate?”
Mr. Peakin rose to cross. He looked the witness over with a deprecating grin, and Mr. Oldstadt — a youth with a long blond ponytail, the sides buzzed-off gang-style — visibly stiffened.
“So you say you had a bicycle, eh?”
“Yes,” Oldstadt said warily.”
“What about Mr. Dahl. Did he have a bicycle too?”
“You said Alissa had a dog. What kind of a dog was it?”
“So you were with Anthony Dahl and Alissa?”
“No, Alissa wasn’t there yet.”
“But wasn’t she at the dog park with her dog?”
“Uh, yeah. But… she was back behind.”
“Well, okay, but when did your group of three turn into 20?”
“When Alissa showed up she was with others.”
“Then other people just started showing up, as you were walking down the street?”
“You just all sort of randomly met?”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
“Where were you all going?”
“I, uh, I didn’t ask anybody where they were going. I was going to Colombi’s.”
“So Alissa came to meet you at the dog park?”
“So Alissa was with you?”
“I was trying to avoid Alissa. She was at the back of the group.”
“Now, you say the back doors to the Jeep opened and two males got out. Did they both have bandanas?”
“I dunno. I’z only paying attention to the one with the hatchet.”
“Anyone in your group have any weapons?”
“You say one got out and threw a hatchet.”
“At a kid?”
“Yeah. It landed at his feet and he picked it up and threw it back at the Jeep, and it went through the window.”
“The back window?”
“Nah. The side window. I took off running, but the hatchet went through one window and hit the other window.”
“And how old was this kid?”
“I dunno… Maybe 12-13. But both windows got busted out.”
“Did you see this?”
“I saw him throw the hatchet.”
“Did you see the hatchet fly out of the car and hit the street?”
“So, you ran.”
“What about the bike?”
“You said you were on a bicycle!”
“Screw the bike. I wanted to get away.”
“So you left the bike, then you saw MariCruz drive up.”
“And it was her driving?”
“And she parked the car.”
“And you were alone?”
“And MariCruz was alone?”
“Yeah. And she got out and started chasing me around.”
“So the younger kid broke the window out but she started chasing you around, correct?”
“So it’s your best estimate that the hatchet went through one side window and out the other, tomahawk-style, with the baby-seat in between?”
“Who broke the driver’s window out?”
“I don’t know who broke that — it wasn’t broke when the fight was over.”
“Now, when you spoke with Officer Clark, you didn’t mention these two males jumping out.”
“I think I did.”
“But isn’t it difficult to remember because everything you told Officer Clark was a lie?”
A CD of the interview with Officer Clark was played, and by the time it was over the jury had lost a lot of respect for the unfortunate Mr. Oldstadt who had told some real whoppers.
Then Alissa Colberg was called to the stand. Her scars were not very pretty but she seemed quite proud of them.
She, too, had lied to Officer Clark about the two men getting out of the Jeep. Now, on the stand for a second time — she had testified at the preliminary hearing earlier in the year, but admitted that was all lies too — she expected to be believed.
“Previously, you testified that they all ran from the two men who exited the car. Is that not true?”
“It is true. But when somebody yelled ‘cops!’ everybody ran but Anthony.”
“Then you saw Mr. Oldstadt run from MariCruz — so you didn’t hand off your dog at the top of the hill?”
“Show me on the map where you met MariCruz.”
“I started swinging my chain.”
“Were you hitting her with it?”
“Yes. I think I had her by the hair, swinging her around, keeping her away.”
“You testified before that you didn’t recall being hit.”
“I know I was hit.”
“Yes, you know it now, but you’re using analysis to determine that you must have been hit at that time. Then you were tackled by Anthony Dahl, right?”
“So Anthony tackled both of you simultaneously?”
“Yes. Then I rolled on top of MariCruz, holding her down. Then I saw blood drip on her and saw how disgusted she looked at what she’d done, so I got off her and went to the CV-Starr Center to see how bad it was.”
Mr. Peakin played the CD of the Alissa Colberg interview with Officer Clark, and as Alissa sat listening on the stand, she couldn’t help smirking.
“Why are you smiling?” Peakin asked her.
“I was pretty off the morphine,” she said, trying to stifle her mirth.
Mr. Stoen had warned the jury that Ms. Colberg had used some “racial slurs” and it was at this time that we heard them: In the recording, Alissa pretended to not know MariCruz and referred to her as “that Mexican girl.” You can’t be too politically correct in Mendocino County where even mentioning a person’s national ancestry is considered “inappropriate.” It took about 25 minutes to play the CD. At the end, Alissa admitted it was all lies. She also seemed to have forgotten what she’d said about the two men just before the CD was played.
Peakin said, “That’s your natural instinct, not to talk to cops, right?”
“So, you’re with this big group of friends going to Colombi’s. Do you remember any of their names?”
“Oh my gosh, I can’t even remember everybody who was there.”
“Was Stranger there?”
“Then MariCruz pulled up —?”
“Umhum. She stopped and jumped out and our whole group of friends started running up Willow Street.”
“Why?” Peakin asked incredulously.
“Cause they were chasing us! And I saw MariCruz chasing Ritchie around a car with something in her hand. She was in some old guy’s yard and I started running and yelling, ‘Get away from my boyfriend or I’ll kill you!”
“And you were on Lincoln Street?”
“Umhum. And Ritchie was screaming ‘Get away from me you crazy bitch,’ so I handed my dog off and dropped my backpack and called her out. She doesn’t like me. I started smacking her as hard as I could with the dog chain. I had her by the hair swinging her around so she couldn’t hit me then Sunshine [Anthony Dahl] tackled us and knocked us down. She was screaming ‘My baby’s in the car’ and I said, ‘You shouldn’t have fucking stopped!’”
“Anthony. He finally got the hatchet from her and started running, thank God. Then I saw blood dripping down on her face and she had this disgusted look. I got up and ran up the street thinking, ‘I’m bleeding pretty freaking bad.”
“What did MariCruz do?”
“I don’t know. We went our separate ways. My friends took me in the bathroom at the CV-Starr Center and got me cleaned up, then the ambulance showed up.”
“Have any idea why she did this?”
“Me and her had a prior fight. At a fair. I ran up to her and socked her in the face and she pulled a knife on me.”
“How long ago was that?”
“I dunno. Three years ago, I think. We don’t like each other. People told me for years, ‘Don’t fight MariCruz, she’s crazy,’ but I won’t let her put my title down.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m the dominant female in town.”
It turns out that MariCruz, at the time, was living with her boyfriend, Jorge Sanchez, at 101 Minnesota in Fort Bragg. Later that night there was an attack on the residence. Then another attack there on February 11th, followed by a third in July. Mr. Sanchez, it turns out is a Soreño gang associate, whereas the group with Alissa are Norteños. The gang affiliation starts early in Fort Bragg, and MariCruz’s baby is perhaps the youngest, having been only perhaps a month old when the hostile hatchet zipped past his infant nose last January 28th. The baby’s grandmother, Josephina Sanchez, was called next.
She lives at 101 Minnesota Avenue with her husband, Jorge Sanchez; the father of MariCruz’s baby is her oldest son, Jorge; and, yes, the baby is Jorge, too.
Josephina Sanchez was driving with her youngest son to rent some movies when they came across the scene that was unfolding on the streets of Fort Bragg.
“Did you see MariCruz?”
“On Maple Street.”
Ms. Sanchez was being helped by the court’s certified Spanish language interpreter, Timothy Baird.
“Four, 4:30 — something like that.”
“What was she doing?”
“She was fighting with another girl.”
“Had anyone called you to tell you this was going on?”
“So you just happened by?”
“Notice anything else?”
“There were many people around and my son, Jorge, was in MariCruz’s vehicle with the baby.”
“Did you tell Officer Clark that you took the baby home?”
“No, my son took the baby home.”
“Was he wearing a blue bandana?”
“Does he ever wear a blue bandana?”
Mr. Stoen had nothing further. He had however been able to make Ms. Sanchez admit that her son was a gang member — Jorge, that is. She wouldn’t concede as much regarding her three younger sons.
Mr. Peakin asked if she’d seen the hatchet.
“Yes,” she said she had.
“Who had it?”
“Anthony, the one they call Sunshine.”
“Did he threaten you with it?”
“Did they run?”
“There’s a swimming pool there; that’s where they went.”
“At 9:45 that same night, did these people attack your home?”
“Did you call the police?”
“A person in the front apartment did.”
“Ivan Sanchez is one of your sons?”
“Is he a gang member?”
“…Yes, I believe he is.”
“On February 11th was your house attacked again by this group of people?”
“Did you call the police?”
“Did they come?”
“No. Well, eventually they did.”
“When the police came, did the people run away?”
“Was Alissa Colberg in that group?”
“Was your husband injured?”
“They threw a rock at him.”
“Were you injured?”
“Yes. They pulled my hair.”
“Did you and your husband go to the hospital?”
Jorge Sanchez, the boyfriend of MariCruz, was called. As may be expected, his testimony was more favorable to the defense. He’s a confessed gang member, on parole for gang-related convictions, and he said he fled the scene to get the baby out of there and keep himself from going back to prison.
“We had gone to the church, to pray. As we were leaving, we were surrounded by all these people. They started breaking out windows. MariCruz started screaming about the baby and got out to check on him. When she got out she got chased off by the group.”
“Who in the group chased her?”
“She didn’t get back in the car?”
“Nah. She got chased off.”
“What route did she take? Did she go up Willow Street?”
“But weren’t you concerned about her?”
“Yeah. But more about the baby.”
“What did you do?”
“I carried the baby to my house.”
“Did you drive the vehicle?”
“I don’t have a driver’s license.”
“When did you first hear about MariCruz being in a fight?”
“I dunno, a week later, maybe, it was in the newspaper.”
“So, she didn’t tell you anything about it?”
“Is your mother Josephine Sanchez?”
“Did she take the baby to you?”
“If your mother said she took the baby out of the car, would that be true?”
After some statements by gang experts and other law enforcement officers, the prosecution rested. The next stage of the trial will be a long list of defense witnesses presented by the Peakins. We’ll pick up where we left off next week.