Hang ‘Em High Henderson

Defense attorney Keith Faulder was among the startled to find Judge Henderson hearing a criminal case. Henderson seems to regard Mendocino County's thriving defendant class as automatically guilty of whatever they're charged with. When he used to hear the criminal calendar Henderson was called “Rubber Stamp Ricky.” Whatever the charges, Henderson bought them whole, no matter how glaring the exculpatory evidence may have been.

Last week Faulder found that the judge was no more open to the possibility that a defendant just might be innocent than he'd ever been. And a new prosecutor, Dan Madow, who was sure he’d lost his case — having never brought one before Henderson — was astounded to find that he’d somehow won!

At one point, even Henderson himself admitted the case was too weak to survive a jury trial, but he went ahead and found for the prosecution and issued a holding order, just out of habit, it would seem.

The defendant in this case was Keoni Costa, of Del Rio, Humboldt County. Mr. Costa had been paying his mother’s rent on a property in Willits where he was busted for a pot grow even after his mother had moved out and squatters had taken over.

To get rid of the squatters, the owner, a Ms. Shepard, had to serve an eviction notice in Keoni Costa’s name, since one of the squatters, a tweaker named Samantha Lesley, was claiming to be Costa’s sweetheart and was living there with his permission. Ms. Lesley is in her middle 40's but could easily pass for 65, thanks to the cosmetic properties of the miracle drug she's been using for way too long.

Costa, Lesley
Costa, Lesley

The mother of Costa's young son, a pretty young woman in her 20s, didn't seem shaken by tweaker babe's claim to her spouse’s affections.

Deputy Wyant had gone to the property at 24451 Poplar Avenue in Willits with a search warrant. The deputy had  found a small amount of methamphetamine and a “pay & owe sheet,” People’s Exhibit Number 1, basically a piece of paper that said somebody owed money to the defendant, Keoni Costa.

Deputy DA Madow: “Other than Ms. Lesley, was anyone else living at the residence?”

Deputy Wyant: “No, not that I saw. Ms. Lesley said she lived there off and on and Keoni Costa was her boyfriend.”

Madow: “Nothing further.”

Faulder: “Deputy Wyant, did you know my client, Keoni Costa from before the time we are talking about here today?”

Wyant: “Yes, that’s right.”

Faulder: “And did you ever know him to go with or be involved with any older women?”

Wyant: “No, never.”

Faulder: “Did you ever know him to have anything to do with methamphetamine and the people who use it?”

Wyant: “No, never; not at all.”

Faulder: “Were you aware that squatters were on the property and that the owner had to get an eviction notice?”

Wyant: “Yes.”

Faulder: “Did you serve the eviction notice?”

Wyant: “No.”

Faulder: “Did the owner, Ms. Shepard, did she show you a copy of the eviction notice?”

Wyant: “I do not recall that, no.”

Faulder: “When you talked to Ms. Shepard did she tell you that Keoni Costa had been paying the rent at that location?”

Wyant: “Yes.”

Faulder: “Clearly, they were in eviction proceedings?”

Wyant: “She stated that whoever was in there hadn’t paid any rent.”

Faulder: “Did she tell you that Keoni Costa had a lease on that property?”

Wyant: “Shepard stated that Costa lived there.”

Faulder: “That’s not what I asked you. I asked if she stated Mr. Costa was on a lease. Did she state that to you?”

Wyant: “Yes.”

Faulder: “Did you make a copy of the lease?”

Wyant: “I don’t believe I did.”

Faulder: “So, let’s go back to the Poplar Avenue property last September 13th, did you make contact with Samantha Lesley?”

Wyant: “Yes.”

Faulder: “And she had the eviction notice?”

Wyant: “Yes.”

Faulder: “Was Keoni Costa’s name on it?”

Wyant: “I don’t recall.”

Faulder: “And you came back the next day with a search warrant?”

Wyant: “Yes.”

Faulder: “And the only document you found was the eviction notice, correct?”

Wyant: “True, the house was pretty much gutted.”

Faulder: “You mean it looked like somebody had just moved out?”

Wyant: “That’s right.”

Faulder: “But you found some women’s clothing, didn’t you?”

Wyant: “Yes, correct.”

Faulder: “Were you aware that Ms. Lesley was on probation for receiving stolen property and methamphetamine use?”

Wyant: “I found that out later.”

Faulder: “And you found a meth pipe, didn’t you? And scraper bags? And she said these things belonged to Keoni Costa?”

Wyant: “That’s right.”

Faulder: “But you had never known Keoni Costa to use meth, have you?”

Wyant: “True, I haven’t.”

Faulder: “Did you ever show People’s 1 [the P&O sheet] to Ms. Lesley?”

Wyant: “No, not to my knowledge.”

Faulder: Since September 14th have you had any contact with Ms. Lesley?”

Wyant: “No.”

Faulder called Costa's mother, René Williams. She said she’d moved out of the Willits residence on June 1st and had gone to live with her son’s family in Del Rio.

Faulder: “Was there a time, before the move, when he paid your rent at the Willits property?”

Williams: “Yes. After my boyfriend died, I couldn’t afford it by myself, and he paid the rent.”

Faulder: “Did you have a lease?”

Williams: “No, I believe it was month to month.”

Faulder: “Did you ever see a marijuana grow on the property?”

Williams: “No.”

Faulder: “Did you ever go back?”

Williams: “No.”

Faulder: “Did you take all your belongings?”

Williams: “I think I may have left some boxes of old bills and papers, stuff my boyfriend and I had accumulated."

Faulder: “Were you aware that squatters had moved onto the property after you left?”

Williams: “I got the eviction notice from Ms. Shepard and told her I was no longer there; then she told me she had to get the eviction notice to get the others [the squatters] out.”

Faulder: “That’s all I have, thank you.”

Madow: “Have you seen People’s Exhibit Number 1?”

Williams: “No.”

Madow: “May I approach the witness, you honor?”

Henderson: “Yes.”

Madow: “Do you recognize this?”

Williams: “Yes.”

Madow: “How?”

Williams: “It’s my handwriting.”

Madow: “Is that Keoni’s name on it?”

Williams: “Yes.”

Madow: “Why?”

Williams: “Because I owed him this amount of money.”

Madow: “You said you never saw a marijuana grow on the property?”

Williams: “Yes.”

Madow: “And you moved out and went to be with your son in Del Rio?”

Williams: “Yes.”

Madow: “But Keoni was there often before you moved?”

Williams: “Yes.”

Madow: “Why was that?”

Williams: “So I could see my grandson, and him, too, of course.”

Madow: “So he came on a regular basis?”

Williams: “For a couple of months, yes.”

Madow: “Thank you.”

Faulder: “As to People’s 1. That was written when your boyfriend was still alive and left in a box of trash?”

Williams: “Yes.”

Faulder: “Ever hear of someone named Samantha Lesley?”

Williams: “No.”

Henderson: “May this witness be excused?”

Madow: “Yes, but I want to recall Deputy Wyant.”

Faulder: “Objection.”

Henderson: “Why is that, Mr. Madow?”

Madow: “I intend to ask Wyant if in his opinion the defendant was involved in marijuana cultivation.”

Henderson: “What’s your offer of proof, Mr. Madow?”

Madow: “The defendant has a prior 11360 [cultivation of marijuana] conviction.”

Henderson, the very sole of sweet reason: “I don’t think that qualifies the deputy to reach the conclusion that the defendant is guilty of this particular grow. I have no objection to him testifying that the marijuana was grown for sale, but I won’t accept that the prior makes him guilty of this grow.”

Faulder: “We’ve already stipulated that the marijuana was grown for sale, your honor.”

Nevertheless Henderson allowed Madow to put Wyant back on the stand and, after a lengthy routine of establishing that Wyant was familiar with pot pharming techniques, Madow asked if it was likely that the pot could have been grown without Ms. Williams seeing it?”

Wyant: “Not based on the size of the plants.”

Faulder: “But hasn’t it been your experience that often times plants are started elsewhere, then transplanted to a different location?”

Wyant: “Yes, that’s true.”

Madow: “But there’s a shed on the property where the plants could have been started?”

Wyant: “Yes.”

Faulder: “But you have no proof that they were, do you?”

Wyant: “No.”

Henderson: “You may step down, Deputy Wyant.”

Madow: “This is a case that relies entirely on a certain witness [Ms. Lesley] but when the mother comes in and says she lived there, I think it’s enough to survive the requirements of a preliminary hearing, because the defendant was named in the eviction notice.”

Faulder: “I’m frightened by what the government is asking the court to do here, your honor. The State hasn’t shown that my client was ever there except occasionally to visit his mother, well before the marijuana was ever there. The People are relying on this woman, this tweaker, who gets caught with the grow and says it’s my client’s — a name she knows only by having been shown the eviction notice.”

Madow blurted a nearly indecipherable stream of words in his desperation and the court reporter snapped at him: “Counsel, slow down!”

Madow took a breath and resumed: “It’s a stretch, I know, but more likely than not, I think.”

Henderson: “Looking at the evidence I don’t think a jury would have any choice but to acquit. Ms. Williams testified credibly that she was unable to pay the rent and her son helped out, and also that the exhibit, People’s 1, was a debt she owed her son for money he lent her, but I also still believe there may be some connection to Mr. Costa”—

Faulder: “Your honor!”

Henderson: “Ms. Lesley said she had a relationship with the defendant”—

Faulder: “But, your honor, she couldn’t even identify him! All she knew was the name she was shown!”

Henderson: “I think the testimony is extremely weak, but sufficient to hold Mr. Costa”—

Faulder: “Your honor! This is absurd!”

Henderson: “Mr. Faulder, I’m ready to set a date for arraignment on the information.”

This is what infuriates the public when they are summoned to jury duty: To be handed a case like this, with all the waste of time and expense thrown into something utterly nutty.

* * *

Wright
Wright

The same thing happened to a Mr. Jeffrey T. Wright, pulled over for no light on his bicycle with a bunch of spurious complaints subsequently tacked on. Wright was forced to spend several months with ace prosecutor Paul Sequiera in hot courtroom pursuit of a guy who couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer and didn’t trust the Public Defender Linda "Go Directly To Jail" Thompson to do anything for him other than parlay the no light on his bicycle into life without.

The bike light case rumbled pointlessly on until last week when the intransigent Wright made it clear he would take his case to a jury if he had to and the raft of tacked-on crimes he'd been charged with were magically reduced to the infraction they should have been in the first place. Riding a bicycle without a light limps through the halls of justice for weeks? Good grief.

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