Small town murder case leads to 3 arrests
(May 30, 2014, by Ken Kiunke)
The small town of Covelo in central Mendocino County is nestled in the Round Valley, to the west of the Mendocino National Forest and east of Highway 101, miles inland from the coast. It is located within the Round Valley Indian Reservation of the Pomo Tribe, though the town itself is only 40% Native American. With a population of under 1300, Covelo is known as a home to many artists in a variety of media, including traditional native craftspeople.
This small community was shocked with the Sunday morning discovery of a local young woman, 21-year-old Rosalena Belle Rodriguez, dead from bullet wounds and lying in the road at Hopper Lane in the wooded north part of town. Someone driving through on Sunday at 7:14 am discovered the body and contacted the Sheriff’s office. Detectives responding to the scene identified her as they began their investigation. A forensic autopsy conducted Tuesday confirmed that she had suffered multiple gunshot wounds, while a complete toxicology analysis is still pending.
As part of the homicide investigation, on Wednesday night detectives contacted 28-year-old Covelo resident Nicole Hawkins at a home on Creekside Drive in Willits, 44 miles south. Hawkins has a history of trouble with the law, with at least five arrests going back to 2005, on charges of battery, assault, and vehicle code violations such as DUI, driving with a suspended license, and lack of insurance. When contacted this time, she was arrested on elder abuse charges and probation violations. It is not clear at this time what her connection to the murder of Belle Rodriguez was, but the two were at the least Facebook friends. She may have been out with her Saturday night, as it was reported that Rodriguez had gone out with friends the night of her killing.
Hawkins’ arrest then led to two more later that night. At 1:00 am, back in Covelo, the investigation continued with the detainment of brothers Jeremy Jason Freeman-Britton, 21, and Sidney Lewis Freeman, 23, at Sidney’s home on Yuki Street. Both had outstanding warrants allowing their immediate arrest. Jeremy had an outstanding warrant from neighboring Lake County for criminal threats in an unrelated incident. Sidney had a misdemeanor probation violation warrant from Mendocino County. Once in custody, detectives were able to establish probably cause connecting them to the murder of Rodriguez. The brothers, along with Nicole Hawkins and Belle Rodriguez, are reported to be Native American and tribal members.
As the investigation continued Thursday afternoon, detectives and the District Attorney determined that Jeremy Freeman-Britton was at that point the lone suspect in the murder of Rodriguez, and would only be filing murder charges against him. The investigation continues, and anyone with information is encouraged to contact the tip line at 707-234-2100.
No motive for the killing has been released by investigators. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has quoted Round Valley tribal member Cora Simmons describing Belle Rodriguez as “sweet but troubled.” She said she grew up poor, with little family support, but did well in high school, even earning valedictorian of her class. Simmons, a relative of Rodriguez, said that her life took a downward turn afterwards, as she was unemployed and abusing alcohol. Records show an arrest in 2010 at 18-years-old for disorderly conduct. A sad but ironic post she made on her Facebook page in October of last year reads “LIVE EVERYDAY AS IT WERE TO BE UR LAST, CUZ U’LL NEVER KNOW WHEN SUMTHIN UNEXPECT WILL OCCUR..”
2. AVA, Off The Record, June 11, 2014
BIG TROUBLE IN COVELO seems to be heading in the ominous direction of a revival of the Lincoln-Britton Feud of 1995. That one resulted in three shooting deaths, one of the fatalities famously being Mendocino County Sheriff's deputy and a former Navy Seal, Bob Davis. Bear Lincoln, defended by the legendary Tony Serra, was acquitted of responsibility for the death of Davis who, ironically, was also a Native American and enjoyed a reputation in Covelo for just law enforcement.
THE YOUNG COVELO WOMAN found murdered by gunfire last month is remembered as a bright, vivacious girl with no criminal involvement. Rosalena Belle Rodriguez, only 21 years old, was a member of the Lincoln family; her killers, and there was more than one, are presumed to be young members of the Britton family.
ALTHOUGH MISS RODRIGUEZ'S family still hasn't received the autopsy report, a prevalent assumption in Covelo is that in the terrible hours before she was riddled by gunfire and left dead on Hopper Lane, the young woman had been repeatedly raped and beaten by several men.
A SECOND PREVALENT assumption in Covelo is that at least five persons were involved in this terrible event while only one of the responsibles remains in custody. A third prevalent assumption is that unless law enforcement moves quickly to make additional arrests, retaliatory violence is a real possibility.
COVELO remains plagued by methamphetamine. The murder of Miss Rodriguez bears all the signs of the meth-driven evil constant in Round Valley and throughout Mendocino County.
3. Letter from Jeremy Freeman-Britton, AVA, July 16, 2014
JEREMY SAYS HE DIDN’T DO IT
My name is Jeremy Jason Freeman-Britton, and I am currently being held in the Mendocino County Jail for the murder I did not commit of [Rosalena] “Belle” Rodriguez. I sit here alone with the support of very few. Because of the articles that people have read it’s being assumed that I am a murderer. A murderer I am not. I am a son, a loving father, a brother and friend of those who still believe in my innocence.
I am writing this letter because there hasn’t been any follow-up on the case in the articles. Just because someone is arrested doesn’t mean they are guilty. This is America and I’m innocent until proven guilty. And I am confident that I will be walking out these doors a free man. And shame on everyone who I thought loved me and turned their backs on me since being locked up. For those of you who still believe in me I could really use a show of support in the forms of letters, as I am locked down 24 hours a day.
Jeremy ‘Juice’ Freeman
4. Letter from Eric Lincoln, Covelo, Dec 23, 2014
On May 25 of this year there was a very suspicious and wrongful death here in Covelo. The young woman's name was Rosalena Belle Rodriguez. Age 21. She had been hanging out with her so-called "good friends"!
Belle had been missing for three days. On the early morning of May 25, 2014, Belle's lifeless body was found lying in the road on Hopper Lane. This is the name of the road where the killers chose to leave her body which is coincidentally the same road that some of those "good friends" call home.
This is the last thing we had expected. Hearing the news about what happened to Belle was unbelievable. As time went by more information was revealed and the worse it became.
Apparently Belle had been shot after being beaten, being tortured, being choked with a belt (to the point of hemorrhaging), and being sexually assaulted. These are some of the things the Belle's friends had witnessed and even participated in!
There have been numerous names that have been coming up. Who was involved in this vicious, senseless assault that these cowards took out on Belle?
For the life of me I cannot think of a single thing that Belle could have done to incite such hateful, destructive anger out of these psychotic people she had called her "friends."
On another note: the cops got one of the suspects who has been involved in this tragic incident. He has been in custody since Belle's death.
While incarcerated this person is on video confessing to his involvement in the death of Belle. He will be coming to trial in a fewmonths. His name is Jeremy Freeman.
These investigators doing his case are a piece of work! First of all, it would seem like any idiot would check and recheck any and all evidence that would strengthen the case against these motherfuckers.
For example: Her blood. Belle's tormentors had been keeping her sedated throughout their sick, twisted plot to dehumanize poor unsuspecting Belle.
Also, check her body for traces of semen because she had been sexually assaulted.
And to my knowledge these "professionals" didn't even get the scrapings underneath Belle's fingernails. Some of the suspects had scratch marks on their bodies, of course, by someone trying to defend themself. And also, let's not forget, traces of blood splatterings found in a vehicle belonging to a Nikki Hawkins (one of the main suspects).
A few days after the funeral this Nikki Hawkins, for some reason drove over to uncle Thit's home (Sylvester Joaquin, Sr.).
My niece Sadacia and her two babies stay there also. Sadacia and Nikki Hawkins began to get into an argument about Belle. Sadacia said at one point that Nikki Hawkins mockingly said, "At least I'm not that dead bitch on the road."
By then their argument escalated. My niece asked Nicki Hawkins why they had to do that to Belle? Her reply was (holding a pistol to the sky), "Cuz I'm a gangsta bitch."
At that point Nikki Hawkins got out of the truck. My niece and Hawkins began to fight. This is when Nikki Hawkins knocked over Uncle Thit (Sylvester Joaquin, Sr.), a respected elder of the Indian community.
Nikki Hawkins caused him enough pain that he needed to get medical attention!
To this day, this woman continues to walk the streets of Covelo without a care in the world.
Nikki Hawkins and all of her accomplices are a serious threat to the community. Her cavalier attitude, after the fact, is the ultimate example of such a conscious disregard for human life.
Both the Indian and the white communities need to be aware of these godforsaken, lame excuses of what is supposed to be a proud people. These spineless individuals put the name "Native American" to shame. They are so disgraceful. But eventually one by one to get themselves out of the spotlight they will dry-snitch each other out. Until every single one of them faces the kind of justice they deserve, we just need to bide our time.
When the time comes every one of them will have to stand up and be accountable for their involvement in what happened to Belle.
This senseless murder needs outside attention. We need to find the answers to the questions that the investigators are unable or unwilling to get.
All of the answers are out there. We just have to push the right buttons. I strongly urge the outside public to help put this wrongful death of Belle to a conclusion. That way, her family, her relations and Belle's "true" friends can have some closure.
There is absolutely no excuse for what Belle was put through. And there is absolutely no forgiveness for those responsible.
"No farewell words were spoken, no time to say goodbye, you were gone before we knew it, but for now only God knows why."
"Those we love don't go away, they walk beside us every day, unseen, unheard, but always near, still loved, still missed, wish you were here."
"Just when the caterpillar thought her world had ended, she became a beautiful butterfly."
Eric Lincoln, a concerned citizen for human justice and an advocate for victims of a wrongful death.