- Giants Lose Game 3
- Stornetta Missing
- Catch of the Day
- Burn Suspension Lifted
- Mendo Ebola Ready
- Local Food Events
- Cycling Withlacoochee
- Boonville Video
- Red Carpet Bombing
- Attorney Thompson Bags Another
GIANTS LOSE CLOSE PIVOTAL THIRD GAME TO ROYALS AT HOME
MANCHESTER MAN MISSING
A 59-year-old Manchester man has been missing since Wednesday after failing to return from a hunting outing, according to the Trinity County Sheriff's Office.
Dave Stornetta was last seen at 7 a.m. that day when he went out hunting east of Covelo just across the Trinity County line, the TCSO said. He was supposed to meet up with his son at noon for lunch, but never showed.
"It's a very remote part of the County," said Lynn Ward, public information officer for the TCSO. "It took our personnel five hours to get there from Weaverville. It's almost on the Mendocino County line near the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness."
Stornetta is described as standing 5-foot-9, 180 pounds with hazel eyes, brown hair and of Caucasian ethnicity. He was last seen wearing a black baseball cap, green sweatshirt, camouflage pants and Red Wing brand boots. Calls to his cell phone go straight to voicemail, the TCSO said. He is known to smoke American Spirit cigarettes, but is reported to be in good health.
At the time of his disappearance, Stornetta had his dog with him, a white and silver-colored McNab named Maggie, that was wearing a red collar and is reportedly deaf.
The TCSO further said Stornetta is known as an experienced hunter who was familiar with this particular area.
CATCH OF THE DAY, October 24, 2014
MARICELA AYALA-AYALA, Ukiah. Domestic assault.
EDUARDO CONTRERAS, Ukiah. Domestic battery.
DAYANARA CUMMINS, Santa Clara/Ukiah. Petty theft.
AARON LEWIS, Ukiah. Court order violation, probation revocation.
CHARLES MANIACI, Phillipsville/Leggett. Domestic assault.
ANGEL MILLER, Ukiah. Vandalism, resisting arrest.
ANGELO PACHECO, San Leandro/Redwood Valley. Possession of burglary tools, conspiracy, under influence of controlled substance, probation revocation.
CRUZ REA, Ukiah. Drunk in public. (Frequent flyer.)
JAMES RODRIGUEZ Jr., San Leandro/Redwood Valley. Possession of burglary tools, conspiracy, possession of meth, under influence of controlled substance.
BRANDON SMITH, Crescent City/Leggett. DUI.
JOHN VARNEY, Fort Bragg. Drunk in public. (Frequent flyer.)
GREGORY VELASQUEZ, Salinas/Ukiah. Ex-felon with firearm, failure to appear.
JESSE WOLFE, Willits. Possession of meth, DUI, probation revocation.
BODDY WOODS, Ukiah. Dometic assault, failure to appear, parole violation.
LOCAL BURN SUSPENSION LIFTED
CAL FIRE Mendocino Unit Chief Christopher P. Rowney, in conjunction with the Mendocino County Fire Chiefs Association, and the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District (MCAQMD), will rescind the 2014 Countywide Burn Suspension of dooryard and large pile burning officially Saturday, October 25, 2014, at 12:01 A.M.
The 2014 Fire Season has not yet been declared closed, so burn permits are still required. Residents who obtained a CAL FIRE Burn Permit last spring are advised to check the dates on their Burn Permit to ensure it is still valid. Burning Permits can be obtained at CAL FIRE’s Howard Forest Headquarters (459-7414) 8 A.M. to 5 P.M., Monday through Friday. Additionally, permits may be obtained at the following CAL FIRE locations:
CAL FIRE Station, Phone
Fort Bragg 964-5673
Point Arena 882-2151
County residents are reminded that BURNING MUST COMPLY WITH MCAQMD REGULATIONS. Open burning will be allowed only with properly obtained permits, which provide regulations for safe burning and air quality management.
MENDO IS READY! Ready for a non-existent threat and ready to add to the media-generated hysteria. And ready to go to meetings and eat donuts talking about the non-existent threat…
"The HHSA Ebola Preparedness Response Team (EPRT) meets on a weekly basis and is comprised of representatives from HHSA Leadership, Public Health Nursing, Communicable Disease and Hospital and Clinic Preparedness Staff; Coastal Valley Emergency Medical Services; the Public Health Officers; representatives for the Adventist Health System and local clinics.
The team’s focus is preparedness. The information around the Ebola virus is rapidly evolving day by day. The team members attend many conference calls weekly, sometimes daily that involve information coming from both the State and Federal levels. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) are both doing an excellent job of keeping everyone apprised of the latest guidelines, procedures and opportunities for preparedness.
On October 23, HHSA Public Health participated in the State-wide Medical Health Exercise Table Top drill. Twenty-three agencies and facilities sent forty-two representatives to the 4-hour drill. All three county hospitals were represented, eight clinics, skilled nursing facilities, Coastal Valleys Emergency Medical Services Agency as well as the Redwood Empire Hazardous Incident Team (REHIT) along with six County programs were represented.
The drill allowed the group to actively assess the capabilities of the entities they represent in a table top scenario that involved a suspected case of Ebola. They focused on coordination and communication of medical surge capabilities, infection control practices and informational sharing among community healthcare and response partners. The day also allowed for participants to work with the County HHSA in the planning and deployment of functional activities to be used in the upcoming State-wide Medical Health Exercise full scale functional event to be held on November 20.
THIS IS THE FINAL WEEKEND of our 2014 C'mon Home to Eat activities. Tomorrow is the final Boonville Farmers' Market, with an End of Season Potluck following. The market is in the Boonville Hotel parking lot on Saturday, 10-12:30. The potluck will be set up there as well.
The Boonville Winter Market will begin Sat Nov 8 in front of the Boonville General Store. (Sat Nov 1 is the Chestnut Gathering at Zeni Ranch - see info below.)
Also this Saturday, Stone and Embers is highlighting local food, although they strive to always use as much local as they can. They are at the Madrones, between Boonville and Philo. They are open for lunch and dinner, but recommend reservations for dinner. Lunch is mostly pizza, but dinner has gluten free options. They can be reached at 895-3471. Info at www.stoneandembers.com.
Sunday is our AV Foodshed Fundraising Dinner for this year. If you haven't called the Hotel yet for reservations, we recommend doing so right away. Help us celebrate our 10 years of promoting local food and supporting the farmers who grow it.
The Boonville Hotel and Table 128 present: A Dinner to Benefit Anderson Valley Foodshed ~ In Celebration of Local Farmers and Local Food!
Sunday October 26th, Featuring food and drink sourced entirely from Anderson Valley. Appetizers at 4:30, Dinner at 5:30. $55- $125 Sliding Scale. (Includes 4 course meal, wine, beverage, tax and gratuity.) Please Call 895-2210 — space is limited
The AV Schools Local Food Lunch is Thursday. Deleh and her committee have put much effort into sourcing the entire meal within 100 miles.
Next Friday is the Dark Carnival, which has moved to the AV Grange in Philo this year.
Next Saturday, Nov 1:
Mendocino Permaculture's 33rd Annual Chestnut Gathering and George Zeni Memorial Potluck will be held at the Zeni Ranch from 10 am to 4 pm, rain or shine. Our event has now grown into the Zeni Chestnut Festival.
The Zeni's 100 year-old dry-farmed seedling trees are a testament to the sustainability of tree crops.
Pick your own fresh chestnuts off the ground for $3.50/lb. De-burring the chestnuts on the ground is easier with good boots and gloves. Zeni sells the de-burred clean chestnuts for $4.50/lb.
Schedule of Events
10:30 am to 4 pm: Chestnut gathering and roasting over the open fire
11 am: Tour of the ranch by the Zenis
12:30 pm: Potluck and music, show and tell of local self-sufficiency
1 pm: Discussion on what this year has taught us; best fruit and nuts
2 to 4 pm: Chestnuts, music, taste the harvest
Please bring: Potluck dish (oven available), made from local ingredients if possible, and your cup, plate, napkins and utensils.
Bring your wine, fruit, nut, or vegetable harvests to show us what works for you. Demonstration tables will be available.
Bring cuttings of fruit plants to share: this is the season to start cuttings of some easy-to-root hardwood plants. Starting early means no inputs except the rain. Bring labeled, de-leafed cuttings (leave the leaf stem on) of these plants: olive, grape, fig, pomegranate, quince, mulberry, kiwi, goji, currant, gooseberry, cherry plum, roses.
Directions: The Zeni Ranch is at mile marker 15.6 on Fish Rock Road (County Highway 122). From Coast Highway 1, junction of Fish Rock (5 miles north of Gualala), go 15.5 miles east. From Highway 128 and Fish Rock Road the junction is at marker 36.56, about 7.7 miles east of the Highway 256/128 junction, or 4.7 miles west of Yorkville, then go 13 miles on Fish Rock Road to marker 15.6. Using odometer and mile markers, it's an easy and enjoyable slow drive through a most beautiful and very remote part of the county.
For information call Mark Albert 462-7843, Barbara & Rob Goodell 895-3897, or Jane Zeni 895-2309.
For more information about the Zeni Ranch, see their website: zeniranch.com
LETTER FROM INVERNESS, Fall 2014:
Adversity On and Off the Trail
by Louis Bedrock
Death don’t have no mercy in this land.
Several roads cross The Withlacoochee Bicycle Trail just north of Inverness. Route 41 lies to the east, so it’s on the right as one heads north, on the left as one travels south. The crossings can be dangerous no matter who has the mythical “Right of Way”, especially when cars move from the highway to the side road.
We are heading back south from South Citrus Springs. Harry has led us to a new trail extension that leads to a bridge, which crosses the Withlacoochee River just before it merges with The Rainbow River. We have already crossed some dangerous crossings and are nearing Inverness. Harry is on his two-wheeled recombinent; I’m on the fast blue Cannondale R-300.
About three miles north of The Inverness Trailhead, we approach a crossing a mere ten feet in from U.S. 41. Cars have the right of way, so Harry and I yield to a car coming off the highway; however, the young driver stops before the trail and gestures for us to cross in front of him. Harry and I wave a thank you, and start to ease across the side road when a black Camaro driven by an even younger driver tears off of 41 and flies past the other car on the left. We miss getting killed by about ten feet. Had another car been approaching 41 from the opposite direction on the side road, there would have been a head-on collision.
The driver in the stopped car shakes his head in disbelief. I shout as loudly as I can, “Nice work, asshole”, and Harry contributes an appropriate expletive or two. We exchange salutes with the polite driver, take deep breaths, and finish an otherwise idyllic forty-one mile ride.
Stupidity is always amazing no matter how used to it you get--Part I:
—Stupidity is always amazing--no matter how used to it you get. (The late Leo Cawley, former producer and host of Fearful Symmetry, a radio program dealing with politics and economics.)
I am in a no-smoking room. Someone is smoking just outside my room. It is a pony-tailed man, about fifty years old, and his demented squirrel-like wife who is squatting next to him. Every time I see her, she is squatting on the walkway alongside the rooms. The first time I saw her, I thought she was relieving herself.
"If you’re smokers, why don’t you rent a smoking room? There are plenty of them on the other side of the motel."
"I don’t like anyone telling me where I can smoke," says the man. "This isn’t New York or California. So why don’t you just mind your own damn business."
"Hey, if you don’t like it, call the Sheriff or the cops. Complain to the motel management. Write to The Environmental Protection Agency. This is Florida and the law says we can smoke wherever we want."
I ride my bike over to the motel office and speak to one of the women from room maintenance. "The people in room 28 are smoking outside their room. The smoke is getting into my room. Room 28 is a non-smoking room. Can you speak to these people?"
"No sir. They’re allowed to smoke outside the room."
"I don’t understand. All the rooms on that side are non-smoking. What good is a non-smoking room if some cretin is allowed to smoke outside your room?"
"Smoking is permitted outside. That’s why there are ashtrays outside all rooms."
"But that makes no sense. Why am I paying extra for a non-smoking room if people are allowed to rent a room in the non-smoking section of the motel and smoke outside of it?"
"I’m sorry sir: that’s Florida State law."
Jesusfuckingchrist. "Why do smokers rent a non-smoking room?"
"Some smokers just prefer non-smoking rooms."
I call the local Sheriff’s office and speak to a woman who has answered the phone. She confirms what the pony-tailed moron and the room service lady have told me.
"This is absurd."
"I’m sorry sir, but this is the law."
"If I shoot and kill him, will I be protected by the Stand Your Ground Law?"
"That’s not funny sir."
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
I had a room reserved in The Central Motel for Wednesday morning, October 15th, but left New Jersey Sunday evening after chilly weather caused cramps and thwarted a ride. I arrive Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. after driving all night from Savanna, Georgia. Colleen is at the desk and she finds me a clean room that I can move into immediately. I lug in my stuff from the car, change into biking clothes, and am on the trail heading north before 9:00.
I am ten minutes and less than three miles out of Inverness when I run into Harry and Mary on their recombinant tandem. They are riding with some friends.
"Hold on," says Harry, "Got to speak to this young ‘un."
"I thought you were arriving Wednesday," says Mary.
"Change of plans."
We chat a while, plan a breakfast together, and arrange a couple of rides.
I continue north and after six miles have the trail to myself.
I hear nothing but the wind, the hiss of spinning bicycle wheels on pavement, and songbirds.
The silence of the trail is lush. I live in Roselle, New Jersey under twenty-four hour a day assault by decibels: lawn mowers, leaf blowers, helicopters, low-flying airplanes from the three area airports, cars, trucks, motorcycles, trains, and screaming children. I pull over to the side of the trail for a drink of water and bask in the stillness.
The sun is bright, the temperature in the low eighties, and I’m a long way from snowy woods, frozen lakes, and the darkest evening of the year; nevertheless I whisper Frost’s lines,
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
Stupidity is always amazing—Part 2
Back at the Central Motel, I am unpacking my bags. I have brought my computer down so I can communicate through e-mails, watch movies online, and write. I find that there is no desk and no reading table in my room. I go to the office to speak to the usually helpful Colleen.
"There’s no writing table in my room."
"We can move you next door to room 27. It’s a smaller, less expensive room, but it has a writing table."
"Couldn’t we just move the writing table to the room I’m in now?"
"No. We couldn’t rent room 27 without a writing table."
"But my room, room 26, doesn’t have a writing table."
"Yes, but it has other matching furniture."
"How much is room 27?"
"$50 per day. Room 26 is $70 per day."
"Let me see if I understand this. You’re going to move me to a room that’s $20 cheaper than the room I’m in now. I’m here for two weeks; that’s about $280 less than I’m paying now. And all of this is because you don’t want to move the damn table?"
"Don’t use the name of my Lord in vain."
"The name of your Lord is 'Damn'?"
"I don’t wish to continue this conversation. Do you want to move to room 27 or not?"
I move to room 27. Later I come back to the office to make up with Colleen whom I like a lot. Colleen is a smoker, but she always goes outside to smoke -- even if it’s very hot. If someone approaches, she puts out her cigarette in the large, sand-filled ceramic pot just outside the motel office.
Bonnie and Jack:
After the argument with the smoker, I burn up my rancor on a fast, exhausting, but cathartic trip to Ridge Manor at the southern end of the trail. When I’ve finished, I feel euphoric and I celebrate the forty-six mile ride with a shower, a change into my swimming trunks, and a seat by the pool. I have my writing notebook and Don Quixote in Spanish of which, remarkably, I’ve read over 300 pages so far.
At the pool is an attractive young couple, Bonnie and Jack. Except they’re not young: they’re near sixty and have a thirty-six year old son who played minor league ball. Jack is tall, athletic, and ruggedly good-looking; Bonnie looks like a model or an actress. They ask about the trail. I go to my room and get them some maps and a guide to Inverness.
They now live in southeastern Florida, but are from upstate New York. They are smart, good listeners, good talkers. Interesting people. Jack is a multi-talented fellow who has a plumber’s license, is in the Coast Guard reserves, is a captain of a fishing and tour boat, works part-time in a tackle shop, and competes in triathlons. Bonnie is also multi-faceted and a triathlon athlete. They are planning a combination thirty-mile bike ride and twenty mile run.
They know and have ridden one of my other favorite trails, The North County Bicycle Trail, which runs along the old Putnam Railway route from Yonkers through Westchester County in New York State. They have a lot of family member who are educators and talk knowledgeably about the disasters that are crushing the public school system.
I recommend some places to ride and to eat, but make no plans to hook up with them again. They’re only here for a few days, and I don’t want to intrude.
Alive Between Two Parentheses
As I ride north toward the Gulf Junction Trailhead for the final time during this visit to the Withlacoochee Bike Trail, I cross the intersection where I was almost killed by a reckless driver. I recall the second verse of a short poem by Octavio Paz:
De una palabra a la otra
lo que digo se desvanece.
Yo sé que estoy vivo
entre dos paréntesis.
(From one word to the other
What I say vanishes.
I know I am alive
Between two parentheses.)
I entered my 70th year on this planet on May thirteenth and am quite aware of the fragility and ephemerality of life. Several friends have died this year, the most recent yesterday. Other important people in the landscape of my life have vanished since the beginning of 2014: Adolfo Suarez, President of Spain during the transition, who defied the coupsters and their machine guns by ignoring their order to lie down on the floor when the thugs invaded the Chamber of Deputies; Pete Seeger; Gabriel García Márquez; Philip Seymour Hoffman.
When the two young protagonists of The Fault In Our Stars question one another about their beliefs, August Waters tells Hazel Grace Lancaster that he believes in an afterlife, because “otherwise, what is the point?” Hazel replies, “Maybe there is no point.”
As an existentialist and bicyclist, I believe that life is its own point, its own meaning. At this moment, the ride is the point. I’m balanced on the edge of an evanescent present, leaving the past behind, and rolling into the future, which this morning is the Gulf Junction Trailhead, Inshallah.
THE LATEST BOONVILLE MOVIE
PUBLIC DEFENDER LINDA THOMPSON did a lousy job for Kenneth Wilkinson, but it didn’t matter because his crime was too awful, and he was beyond help.
Superior Court of California, County of Mendocino.
The people of the State of California, plaintiff; versus Kenneth Lee Wilkinson, defendant.
Case number SCUK CRCR 12-20966.
Ruling on motion to withdraw. October 24, 2014.
This matter came on regularly for hearing on 9/12/14 on defendant Kenneth Wilkinson's motion to withdraw plea. Defendant Wilkinson was represented by attorney Jan Cole Wilson and the people were represented by assistant District Attorney Paul Sequeira. The defense submitted a declaration of Kenneth Wilkinson together with the exhibits thereto in support of the motion. The defendant was advised by the court of his right not to take the witness stand. He elected to testify. He was first briefly examined by the defense and the prosecution started cross-examination. Due to witness availability issues the matter was continued until 9/26/14 for further hearing. The prosecution completed its cross-examination and the defense completed its redirect. The defense rested and the prosecution called and examined attorney Linda Thompson. After the cross-examination of Attorney Thompson additional documentary evidence was received. The matter was then argued and submitted.
Defendant Kenneth Wilkinson was charged in a first amended complaint filed March 21, 2012, with the first-degree murder of his grandfather. A single special circumstance allegation charged Wilkinson with the intentional infliction of torture on the victim within the meaning of the Penal Code. If found guilty of first-degree murder with the special circumstance the defendant would face a sentence of life in prison with parole. The death penalty was never sought in this case. The defendant was arraigned the same day that first amended complaint was filed and attorney Linda Thompson, the Mendocino County Public Defender, was appointed to represent Mr. Wilkinson. The court advised that this was potentially a life without parole (LWOP) case and the district attorney would have to give notice if the death penalty was later sought. Within the public defender's office the matter was assigned to attorney Ferris Purviance. In June of 2012 after waiver of the preliminary hearing, the defendant was arraigned on information containing the same charge and is a special circumstance allegation as the complaint. Time was waived and the matter was set for trial to commence in November of 2012. In September of 2012 attorney Purviance moved to continue the November trial date. That motion was based in part on the untimely accident and death of the defense psychiatrist Douglas Rosoff. The motion was granted and a new trial was reset to February 4, 2013.
In October of 2012 the defendant filed a pro per declaration requesting a change of venue to Sonoma County and complaining about the representation by attorney Purviance. The Court construed Mr. Wilkinson's declaration at least in part as a Marsden motion (an application to remove an attorney) and held a hearing on November 8, 2012. Attorney Purviance represented that he and the public defender Linda Thompson would be teaming up on the case and that Ms. Thompson would probably take the lead on it. The Marsden motion was denied without prejudice to renewing it at a later time. Mr. Wilkinson was specifically advised that he could make the motion again if he still felt he wasn't being properly represented. Attorney Purviance developed significant health problems and by early 2013 the public defender Linda Thompson stepped in to personally take over the case. The trial was reset at her request to May of 2013. That trial date would not hold either as on March 29, 2013 defendant personally entered an additional plea of not guilty by reason of insanity or NGI. The defense decision to enter that plea was influenced by attorney Thompson's extensive confidential consultation with Dr. Howard Terrell who had conducted a detailed examination of the defendant at the defense request. The court subsequently appointed Dr. Paul Good and Dr. Donald Apostle to examine the defendant and report to the court pursuant to the Penal Code. The last of their reports was not received by the court until late June of 2013. The court meanwhile had set a further trial date in September of 2013.
Shortly before the September trial date the people moved for a continuance based on the recent disclosure by the defense of Dr. Terrell’s extensive psychiatric report. Attorney Thompson floated various possible dispositions both in and out of court initially seeking a determinate sentence and later offering up a second degree murder plea. The District Attorney never wavered from insisting that the case was first-degree murder. Meanwhile unbeknownst to the court, the defendant, through correspondence with his attorney, was seeking a disposition that didn't involve a life sentence. Due to witness availability issues, after further continuances prefer trial date of April 14, 2014 was finally arrived at. A pretrial conference was held on March 27, 2014. In open court the defense offered a plea to second-degree murder. The prosecution refused to accept that offer. Motions in limine were set for April 10. Significantly, the court heard and denied a defense motion for change of venue without prejudice to renewing the same during jury selection. Additionally, the prosecution motion for a jury of the route driven by defendant Wilkinson while his grandfather was tied to the back of the truck was granted. The court also made and in limine ruling regarding expert testimony about mental states. After a discussion about witness scheduling issues the parties were ordered to return on April 14 at 9 AM for jury selection.
On the morning of trial the attorneys advised the court that there would be a change of plea. Ms. Thompson stated that the defendant wanted to take advantage of the prosecution's offer to drop the special circumstance in exchange for a plea pf guilty to first-degree murder. Mr. Wilkinson, who was present in court when Counsel stated the agreement confirmed that he was prepared to accept that his disposition and the court proceeded to take his plea. He was advised that the penalty would be 25 years to life and that if at some point in the future he was to be paroled he would remain on parole for the rest of his life. He acknowledged that he had adequate time to discuss the matter with his attorney and that no threats or promises had been made to him other than the promise that the special circumstance would be dismissed. The victim in this case was dragged six miles behind a pickup truck leaving body parts and fluids in its wake. Counsel for defendant acknowledged that based on the police reports there were facts sufficient to support a first-degree murder conviction and possibly the special circumstance as well. Mr. Wilkinson personally acknowledged that he understood everything that had been said in that proceeding including the consequences of the plea before he entered a plea of guilty. The case was set for judgment and sentencing on May 9-20 14.
The Request To Withdraw The Plea:
On May 9, 2014 when the case came on for judgment and sentencing the defendant stated he would like to withdraw his plea. The court put the matter over for two weeks to allow time for the defendant to discuss such a request with his attorney. On May 23, 2014 the defendant appeared with his attorney Ms. Thompson. Ms Thompson reported she was unable to make a motion to withdraw the plea because she found no legal basis for it. The court therefore appointed a skilled and experienced private attorney, Jan Cole Wilson, to represent Mr. Wilkinson with respect to his request to withdraw the plea. Ms. Cole Wilson took some time to investigate the matter before announcing on June 19, 2014 that she believed there were grounds to withdraw the plea. The court then set a briefing timetable. Ms. Cole Wilson also requested and was granted funds for an investigator to interview witnesses. The motion to withdraw the plea was ultimately filed on August 15, 2014. The People's opposition was filed September 11, 2014 and the hearing was ultimately completed on September 26.
This is a tragic case with horrific facts. The 22-year-old defendant with a minimal prior criminal record killed his disabled 84-year-old grandfather and dragged his grandfather behind a pickup truck for about six miles before disposing of what remained of the corpse down a steep hillside. There was evidence of voluntary intoxication drugs and alcohol but no evidence of significant pre-existing mental health condition or treatment for the same. The defendant told Dr. Terrell a year after the killing that he didn't know what precipitated his homicidal attack on his grandfather. Dr. Terrell's report indicates that the defendant claimed his grandfather had told him he was a "junky drug attic" [sic] before the defendant killed him. The defendant said at one point he thought he had killed his grandfather with an ax before he tied him to the trailer hitch of the pickup. The pathologists for the prosecution were prepared to state that the grandfather was still alive when the dragging started and the expert pathologist the defense consulted was unable to refute that contention. The defense reasonably feared that a trier of fact [the jury] might find the torture allegation true. Either a second or first degree murder conviction would trigger a sentence with a life tail. A first degree murder with a special circumstance would result in an LWOP commitment. Neither court appointed psychiatrist supported an NGI plea. The stakes were quite high and the options clear. Go to trial and risk an LWOP commitment or plead to the first-degree murder and accept a sentence of 25 years to life without possibility of parole. On April 14, 2014 the defendant and his counsel chose the latter.
Defense submitted a sentencing memorandum which included the toxicology report and Dr. Terrell's report. The toxicology report was positive for metabolites of marijuana and positive but below the standard cutoff levels for the Department of Justice Lab for methamphetamine. Dr. Jarrell's report gave some insight into the defendant’s actions and state of mind when the homicide occurred and into how the defense would be presented at trial. It also explained why Ms. Thompson entered the NGI plea. The report date was approximately one year before the final trial date. The probation report attached copies of the reports of Dr. Good and Dr. Apostle at the defense request. The defendant cooperated in the probation interview and took "full responsibility" for his grandfather's death. He was not as forthcoming about his specific involvement in that death with probation as he was with Dr. Terrell. On May 9 at the sentencing hearing the defendant indicated that he wanted to withdraw his plea.
Defendant's motion to withdraw his plea was supported by his declaration, copies of a number of letters he had written, a short declaration from Ms. Cole Wilson, and accompanying points and authorities. The thrust of the motion is that the defendant claims he pled guilty to first-degree murder on the morning of trial because he felt that as a result of his attorney's failure to provide competent assistance he and his attorney were not prepared for trial. Ms. Cole Wilson's brief correctly points out that the Sixth amendment right to counsel extends to the bargaining process. She alleges that Ms. Thompson's conduct in investigating the case, preparing for trial and communicating with the defendant fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. She further claims prejudice by alleging that but for those lapses of counsel the defendant would not have pled guilty. Counsel for defendant also contends that the factual basis for Mr. Wilkinson's plea was not adequately stated on the record.
Factual Basis for Plea:
In hindsight, the factual basis of the plea issue could have been better handled by this Court, however, the stipulation of counsel with reference to the police reports (and autopsy report) is legally adequate. At the outset of the plea the court read the charge to Mr. Wilkinson from the information stating each element of the charge to which he said he was prepared to plead. The prosecutor, Mr. Sequeira, stated for the record essentially that the defendant tied his grandfather to the back of a pickup truck and dragged his grandfather for about six miles causing traumatic injuries and killing him. He then dumped the body down an embankment. Ms. Thompson agreed that her client acknowledges that the facts alleged are supported by the police reports. Defense counsel also specifically acknowledged that the facts were sufficient to find first-degree murder and possibly the special circumstance as well. This Court had a firm basis for finding the defendant knowingly and voluntarily entered his plea. The facts as alleged supported the charge the defendant pled to. Under the rules set forth in People v Holmes the factual basis colloquy with counsel in the presence of the defendant is sufficient.
Allegations of Incompetent Representation:
The argument with respect to alleged substandard representation is more complicated. Under penal code section 1018 the burden is on the defendant to show good cause for the withdrawal of his plea. Good cause is generally demonstrated if the defendant shows that he was operating under "mistake, ignorance or any other factor overcoming his exercise of his or her free judgment including inadvertence, fraud or duress." The defendant’s burden is to show good cause by clear and convincing evidence. That burden is tempered somewhat by the fact that the penal code provides that the statute should be liberally construed "to affect these objects and promote justice" and by case law which suggests that in doubtful cases the pre-judgment motion should be granted.
Even if a defendant meets the burden of demonstrating that he was acting under a mistake, he or she must still demonstrate prejudice, i.e., but for the mistake he would not have pled guilty. Whereas here the defendant is claiming that his attorney's performance was deficient, he must still demonstrate prejudice. Even erroneous advice of counsel does not necessarily compel the court to grant a plea withdrawal. A defendant can't withdraw his plea simply because he has changed his mind. Guilty pleas resulting from a plea bargain should not be set aside lightly and the finality of proceedings should be encouraged.
Mr. Wilkinson's key contention is that he entered his plea to first-degree murder because he didn't believe he and his attorney were prepared to go to trial. His declaration filed June 24, 2014 emphasizes that he was never told by either Mr. Purviance or Ms. Thompson but the special circumstance allegation carried a life sentence without the possibility of parole until the day before trial. That same day according to Mr. Wilkinson's declaration Ms. Thompson told him his case was hopeless and she made it sound like the first-degree murder offer was "new" and at least it provided him with a way to get out of prison someday. If the court believed that Mr. Wilkinson learned that the special circumstance carried life without possibility of parole for the first time on the day before trial, this motion would be granted. These contentions, however, are not credible. Mr. Wilkinson specifically told Dr. Terrell in March of 2013 that he knew he would get life without the possibility of parole if he was convicted of the charges. The first degree murder offer by the district attorney was made early in the case and reiterated in open court in response to Mr. Wilkinson’s offer to plead to second-degree murder. From his testimony and his letters Mr. Wilkinson was keenly interested in trying to resolve his case without a life tail long before the morning of trial.
When Mr. Wilkinson testified at the hearing on this motion he denied that he knew he could be facing life without possibility of parole if he was convicted. He said that concept never occurred to him until the day of the plea bargain. He testified he thought he was facing 25 to life "absolute max." In 2013 he wrote that he was gun shy of going to trial after reading the coroner’s report. From his testimony it is clear that Mr. Wilkinson knew over a year before the plea that the coroner concluded his grandfather was alive when the defendant tied him to the back of the truck and drove off. The correspondence and his testimony demonstrate that Mr. Wilkinson knew that was the basis for the torture allegations and knew that the consequence of having it found true was life without possibility of parole more than a year before the plea. He also knew well before the plea was entered that Ms. Thompson had consulted with an additional pathologist who could not refute the conclusion that the grandfather was still alive at the onset of the dragging.
The defendant in his declaration, testimony and correspondence hits common themes of wanting and claiming he was denied his full discovery and wanting to spend more time with him with the result from the defendant’s perspective, that he did not feel he was prepared for trial and didn't know if his lawyer was. Defendant did know that Ms. Thompson had retained Dr. Terrell to explore a mental defense. He also knew that Ms. Thompson intended to call Dr. Good and to introduce evidence of defendant’s intoxication on the night of the offense through the prosecution’s witnesses. The defendant stated the defendant testified that he knew this wasn't a "who done it?" and there was no issue of self-defense. The defendant knew he had killed his grandfather and that he had made a number of statements about the killing, many of which conflicted and not all of which were true. It is apparent to the court that he knew his counsel wanted to call him as a witness. She had told him repeatedly that he was a good client to put on the stand because he didn't have priors for impeachment purposes and likable. No doubt defendant was nervous about testifying and the court accepts as true that he did not feel prepared to testify at the time he entered the plea. Counsel's explanation that she wanted to wait until the prosecution’s case was concluded before going over his testimony in detail with him is within the range of tactics that a competent attorney might apply. One advantage defense has is that the defendant can listen to the entirety of the prosecution case before deciding whether and how to testify. A better practice what have been fully communicate that strategy and the reasons for it to the defendant.
In the weeks before trial the court heard and decided not to grant a defense motion to change venue. Motion was denied with leave to renew during jury selection but the defendant felt that was a blow to his case. Defendant had contented as early as 2012 that he could not get a fair trial in Mendocino County. Court also tentatively granted a prosecution motion in limini to allow a jury view of the route took while dragging his grandfather from the point where the defendant tied his grandfather to the truck to the spot where he dumped the body. Both Mr. Wilkinson and his attorney felt that was a huge blow to his defense in that it would undermine his intoxication and mental state contentions. The route was lengthy with many twists and turns. Defendant’s ability to navigate that stretch of road to the place he intended to dump the body was a factor that could influence the jury.
When Ms. Thompson talked to the defendant about a possible resolution as first-degree murder without the special circumstances she did not tell him he had to take it. The court does not believe that she said the case was hopeless. Both Ms. Thompson and the defendant claim that they discussed the risks of going to trial and the significance of obtaining a possibility of parole. Ms. Thompson told him to think about it and let her know the next day whether he wanted to plead to first degree murder. There is no evidence of coercion, fraud or deception on the part of counsel. The defendant admitted that there was no arm twisting. The defendant had clearly been interested in negotiating the best resolution he could get for more than a year before the plea bargain was struck. The district attorney made it clear from the outset that he would never accept anything less than a first degree murder plea. Ms. Thompson communicated that to the defendant.The defense offer to plead to second-degree murder was rejected by the prosecution in open court in the defendant’s presence. There is no evidence to suggest that somehow Ms. Thompson could have negotiated a better disposition. From the prosecution contention, the special circumstance could stick. The defendant tied a living human being to the back of his pickup and dragged him six miles resulting in a horrible death. From the defense perspective the defense could argue that Mr. Wilkinson had already killed his grandfather before he dragged the body behind the truck. believed, that would defeat the special circumstance but not the murder charge. Defendant was adequately represented in the plea negotiations. The public defender was committed to this young man and clearly wanted to avoid an LWOP commitment for one so young. The district attorney would not budge. The defendant had a clear choice. He could plead to first-degree murder and obtain the possibility of parole or he could go to trial and risk life without the possibility of parole.
Mr. Wilkinson was clearly advised of the consequences of his plea. It was a bargain that he entered into. In exchange for his plea the special circumstance was dismissed. The court read the charge to him as it appeared on the information. The defendant agreed that he had sufficient time to discuss the matter with his attorney. Mr. Wilkinson answered the questions directly and gave no indication that he was under any kind of duress.
At the time the plea was entered a jury panel was gathering in a jury assembly room. Numerous witnesses had been subpoenaed and the court was prepared to go forward with a lengthy trial. Ms. Thompson represented that she was prepared to try the case. She had competently tried a first-degree murder case in the same courtroom just months before. She intended to demonstrate intoxication through the prosecution witnesses and mental state evidence through Dr. Terrell and Dr. Good. She decided to let detailed preparation of the defendant for his own testimony ride until the prosecution had presented its case.
Ms. Thompson has over 28 years experience in trying criminal cases. She has handled a substantial number of homicides and handled a first-degree murder trial in this court while the Wilkinson matter was pending. She ultimately assigned the case to herself because of her experience level and the emotional burden involved. She recognized early that a mental state defense with the best shot for the defense. She enlisted a trusted expert, Dr. Terrell, to help her explore that. The subsequent court-appointed expert reports pursuant to the NGI plea, although not supportive of legal insanity, produced more material than she could use in presenting the best defense supportable by the evidence. In view of the coroner's conclusion that the grandfather was alive when dragged Ms. Thompson consulted with another skilled pathologist to see if that opinion could be negated. Dr. Haddix could not from the evidence opine that the grandfather was dead before he was dragged. As Ms. Cole Wilson points out she might have been helpful in attacking the basis for the coroner’s opinion. Ms. Thompson seems to have taken the approach that calling a forensic examiner couldn't negate the prosecution expert’s opinion would not be helpful. Reasonable lawyers could disagree.
As the district attorney pointed out in his opposition, the defendant does not have the right to have the case conducted as he sees fit. Competent counsel can make tactical decisions that are subject to criticism by other competent counsel. Ms. Cole Wilson would have handled this case very differently. She would have spent more time with the defendant and would likely have preliminarily prepared him to testify much earlier than Ms. Thompson did. As far as the court can determine from the evidence the defendant had a number of contact and noncontact visits with Miss Thompson at the jail and about five visits from the defense investigator, and at least a dozen in court contacts with counsel. He was provided several times with the discovery that counsel thought he should have and at one point a couple of months before the plea he sent a packet of discovery to another lawyer to seek review and advice. No party actually advised the court as to exactly what Mr. Wilkinson had been given or introduced copies of what he had been given. It is clear to the court that the defendant knew that the nub of the case was whether his grandfather was dead or alive before he was dragged. The defendant voiced criticism of the coroner’s conclusion. The court is not convinced that the discovery issue reflects deficient performance by counsel.
The defendant obviously wanted more contact with and reassurance from counsel than he got. Ms. Thompson felt that the defendant had sufficient contact with counsel for effective representation. Competent counsel have a wide range of practice as to how much client contact is necessary and appropriate in the preparation of a case. Ms. Cole Wilson would have interviewed or taken statements from more witnesses and likely would have lined up character witnesses as well. She would have made sure that Dr. Haddix was under subpoena for impeachment purposes. She would have spent much more time with Mr. Wilkinson. All this may have made the defendant feel better represented but it is not clear that the outcome would change in any way. Mr. Wilkinson would still be faced with the choice of risking an LWOP conviction or taking the only deal available. The court is supposed to give deference to counsel's tactical considerations. There was certainly a risk that the special circumstance would be found true at trial. No doubt the defendant faced a very hard choice and he knew he had to make it that morning. That choice had been pending for quite some time. The court has no doubt that he understood that choice and the consequences of that choice and chose the certainty of having a possibility of parole in the future over risking the possibility that the special circumstance would be found true and he would never be paroled.
Conclusion: Defendant has not met his burden of proof for the court to permit the plea to be withdrawn. The defendant has not demonstrated that the conduct of his lawyer fell below objectively reasonable standard or that but for the below standard conduct of counsel he would not have entered the plea. Clearly he was angry and upset with counsel after entering a plea but he entered the plea knowingly and intelligently with an understanding of the consequences after weighing his alternatives. The bargained for avoidance of the risk of life without the possibility of parole and not some perceived failing of counsel motivated him to take the plea.
Signed, John A. Behnke, Judge of the Superior Court, 10/24/14.