“But liquor and love, they just don’t mix, leave the bottle or me behind, and don’t come home a-drinking with loving on your mind.” — Loretta Lynn
Lorenzo Rodriquez took the stand at the end of his court trial last week, opting to appear before a judge rather than a jury. The defendant proceeded to pitch a no-hitter — not one hit did he make with the judge, the Honorable David Nelson, whom he had to convince he was not guilty of five felony counts against him stemming from a “domestic dispute” that turned out to be more like The Guns of Navarro.
It all happened the afternoon of April 23rd. Lorenzo had taken five point blank .22 rounds to his head and chest but still managed to make his way to Philo, then Boonville where an ambulance was finally summoned for him. After a brief stay in the hospital, the seemingly bulletproof farm worker was soon arrested.
Judge Nelson said he had to decide who to believe, Cassandra Gowan and Bobby Kuny or Lorenzo Rodriguez. The judge chose the first two, and found Lorenzo guilty of four felonies: two counts of criminal threats, one count of attempted murder, and one count of assault with a deadly weapon, a knife.
From all accounts, a dependable worker and a fine fellow when he isn’t drinking, Lorenzo, a veteran of several deportations, has lived in the Anderson Valley for more than a decade.
His pitch to the judge was that he never threatened to kill Cassandra, despite her testimony that he did so “in a calm, deadly serious tone of voice that scared me half to death.”
Ms. Gowan said that she had made love to Lorenzo the previous night, and he’d stayed over in his former room, even though he’d officially moved out of the house, which Ms. Gowan and her kids shared with Lisa Kuny and her kids on the Gowan property near the Greenwood Bridge, Philo. Ms. Gowan referred to Lorenzo as her “Sancho” — a comic Spanish appellation translating roughly as “boy-toy.” Ms. Gowan suggested that Lorenzo was only temping for her husband who had gone to prison and then had been deported. But Husband would be back, at which time, presumably, Lorenzo would be left to find affection elsewhere.
Lorenzo, whatever his function in the busy household by the bridge, was welcome at Ms. Gowan’s house so long as he didn’t drink, and on this Saturday he had been drinking, and he continued to drink as threats and recriminations resounded throughout the house.
Following the threat from Lorenzo that she said had made her fear for her life, Ms. Gowan went downstairs and asked Lisa Kuny to call Deputy Walker, Anderson Valley’s resident policeman and, like all cops, a veteran of many domestic disputes.
Deputy Walker was on duty in Ukiah at the time, so Lisa Kuny turned to her sons, Bobby (18) and Christian (16), both students at Anderson Valley High School known for their calm dispositions. Ms. Kuny and her two boys climbed the stairs to tell the raging Lorenzo he had to leave. Then all the parties went back downstairs where the one-issue dispute — Lorenzo had to go — grew more heated.
Lorenzo said this version of events was all wrong. “No. No, that’s not what happened, not at all,” he said.
He’d had a blow-out on his truck tire, he explained, and ran into a ditch on Highway 128 near the Roederer vineyard; eventually, he got a ride back to Greenwood Road, got dropped off at the bridge, spoke briefly to the kids from the Gowan house who were playing there, and went up to the house to ask Cassandra Gowan to call Starr Automotive for a tow truck.
“No, no,” Rodriguez insisted, he never asked Cassandra Gowan to take him back to check on his truck, or to borrow her car — all of which she said had happened and that her refusal to provide transportation was what had set Lorenzo off.
Ms. Gowan: “When I told him No, he said I would go to Hell, so I slapped his face. He’s not God, damn him. He can’t say that to me! Then he grabbed me by my jaw, pinched my cheeks between my teeth, and pulled my face close to his. He looked me right in my eyes and said in a calm, deadly serious voice that he was going to kill me.”
When District Attorney David Eyster, on cross-examination, reminded the witness of this testimony, Lorenzo said, “No, no, I never said that. I went back in my van and the CHP was there so I just drove on by, then I went back to the house [after getting more beer in Philo].”
He also denied that Lisa and her boys had come upstairs to confront him.
Lorenzo’s pitch to the judge was that he was the very voice of reason, the personification of patience while the others — namely the two women, Cassandra and Lisa — had become completely hysterical.
As the situation in the living room escalated, Bobby Kuny got all the kids out of the house and had his brother Christian take them down to the river to play. He also got his gun, an old .22 revolver out from a drawer under his bed. Then, as Cassandra Gowan, came into Bobby’s room to get away from her fill-in lover, Bobby took up sentry duty at the door, his gun hidden behind his leg. But Lorenzo wouldn’t leave and he wouldn’t leave Cassandra alone. He also wanted Lisa Kuny and her son Bobby to butt-out. It was none of their business, he said.
Bobby testified that at this point he “wasn’t scared” but conceded he was “getting worried.”
Lorenzo was trying to push past Bobby to talk to Cassandra. Bobby pushed him back, wouldn’t let him in, so Lorenzo threatened Bobby.
“So, you think you’re a man? You want to be a man, I’ll have to kill you too!”
It was Cassandra Gowan’s testimony that Lorenzo said this to Bobby. Lorenzo denied it. But Lisa Kuny was there too, and she’d armed herself with a BB gun, a Crossman pump. First she hit Lorenzo with it, holding it like a ball bat and, Lorenzo said, dared him to, “Go ahead, hit me again!”
Lorenzo denied being clubbed with the airgun, however. He had no memory of it, or of taunting Lisa to hit him with it again. His third pitch was that Lisa shot him in the face with the BB gun, had shot him repeatedly in fact. He tried to say the doctor at the hospital had picked BBs out of his face, but Eyster had this testimony stricken as hearsay.
By now fully enraged, Lorenzo hurtled down the hall to the kitchen and came back brandishing a butcher knife. As he charged at him, Bobby opened fire with the .22 — “the first shot hit him in the shoulder, then it misfired, but I just kept on pulling the trigger, as he got up and kept coming.”
“Cassandra said you told Lorenzo you didn’t want to shoot him — not to make you do it — did you?”
“I don’t remember saying anything like that.”
Anderson Valley-based Detective Luis Espinoza examined the six-shooter and found five empty shells — one hadn’t gone off. He went to the hospital where he saw that Lorenzo had sustained five wounds from .22 bullets.
On cross, defense attorney Douglass Rhoades asked if there was not also at least one small puncture wound that could well have been made by the impact of a BB or pellet from the Crossman air rifle. Detective Espinoza said there was. Also, a BB had been found on the floor of the crime scene, although a thorough search had not been made.
The pitch about the BB gun attack lacked credibility for the simple fact that these things have to be pumped up by a leaver on the forestock, two or three times at least between shots, to get any appreciable muzzle velocity — so at best, Lisa could have only gotten off one or two shots with it. And Lorenzo had no recollection of her ever pumping it up or even cocking it and loading a BB with the little bolt on the breech. Also the buttstock and forestock were pink, and he had no recollection of that, either.
“Would you have remembered if it had been pink?”
“Oh, yes. I would definitely have remembered that.”
When Eyster held the pink gun up for him to identify, Lorenzo’s face fell.
Another pitch Lorenzo made to the judge concerned a cut on his arm. He said that after he was shot and had fallen to the floor, Lisa got the knife and tried to stab him in the belly. He fended off the lunge with his arm, and that’s how he got cut.
The prosecution said the gash was from a bullet that entered his wrist and ended up in his elbow. It was Bobby’s testimony that Lorenzo went down on the first shot, then got up and kept coming as Bobby emptied his gun at him. Bobby then held it by the barrel, like a hammer, as Lorenzo came within two feet of him. Bobby grabbed Lorenzo’s wrist and disarmed him. He kicked the knife away and called to his mother to come get it. He said he got between Lorenzo and his mother to separate them from each other, so apparently there was something to Lorenzo’s insistence that Lisa tried to stab him. Or at least hit him.
Lorenzo testified he’d slumped to the floor, half on the couch, and cried uncle: “No more, stop… stop… no more.”
He struggled to his feet, leaned on the wall, and Bobby, with a hand on his back, guided Lorenzo down the hallway and out the front door. Lorenzo left blood spatters all along the way, and there were larger concentrations of blood where he had fallen, and places along the wall where he had steadied himself. Outside, he left bloodstains on all the cars and trucks as he leaned on each in turn to rest on his way to his van.
He’d been shot in the right shoulder and armpit, the right nostril and cheekbone, the left wrist and elbow, the right thigh, and his upper forehead had been grazed near his hairline. These were from the .22 bullets. The smaller wounds, possibly from the BB gun, were near his eyebrow and jaw.
Lorenzo drove to his brother’s house in Philo, and from there he was taken to the ambulance in Boonville, then to the hospital.
After all the evidence was in, Judge Nelson said he’d have to take some time to go over it all again before he came back with a verdict. It took until late in the day before the judge reappeared to say, “It was a bad situation that escalated into something worse, and I have to decide who to believe and make a credibility determination. Essentially, I believed Ms. Gowan and Mr. Kuny. I was impressed by their testimony as they didn’t appear to take any pleasure in it and it was all consistent with the evidence.
“Mr. Rodriquez, for his part, minimized his role and his anger, and while he was intoxicated, though not totally drunk, this would affect his ability to remember everything correctly. It was he who started the whole problem and we wouldn’t be here today if he’d simply left when asked to do so. Then we have Bobby Kuny who sends the kids off to the river and arms himself, so things must have been pretty bad by then and the situation continued to escalate until Lorenzo Rodriquez runs off to the kitchen to get a knife and comes out with it. Why would anyone get a knife that size and come running with it — which has been corroborated by statements from both witnesses — why if not with the intent to kill?
“He could have left by either of the two doors to the kitchen if, like he said, he wanted to. So self-defense doesn’t apply to the reason for getting the knife. He finally does leave, but only after being shot and disarmed. So as to count one, threatening to kill Cassandra Gowan, I find the defendant guilty; as to count two, threatening to kill Bobby Kuny, guilty; as to count three, threatening to kill Lisa Kuny, I didn’t hear enough evidence to convince me of that so I’ll find him not guilty; as to count four, attempted murder, guilty; and I’ll also find the special allegation that he used a knife, I’ll find that to be true, as I don’t see any other explanation for it; as to count five, assault with a deadly weapon, a knife, guilty.”
Four out of five counts stuck, just like four of the five bullets hit. A coincidence? My colleagues will insist it was ironic. It’s the first class they teach in J-School 101: a whole lesson titled, How Ironic.
Judgment and sentencing was set for December 9th.
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JUDGE FINDS LORENZO RODRIGUEZ GUILTY OF PHILO KNIFE ATTACK
After waiving his constitutional right to have his charges decided by a jury, defendant Lorenzo Gomez Rodriguez, age 34, of Philo, was tried by judge this week on charges of attempted murder using a knife, assault with a knife, and three counts of criminal threats. The underlying incident occurred earlier this year on property adjacent to Hendy Woods State Park in Philo.
After having listened intently to the witness testimony and exhibits offered by the parties over two and a half days, evidence which included testimony by the defendant, Mendocino County Superior Court Judge David Nelson then took a recess to consider the evidence and to deliberate on verdicts. Later in the afternoon the Court returned to the courtroom and announced it was finding the defendant guilty of attempted murder with use of knife, assault with a knife, and two separate counts of criminal threats. The defendant was found not guilty of a third count of criminal threats. Once the verdicts were entered into the record, the defendant was referred out to the Adult Probation Department for a social study and sentencing recommendation. The defendant will remain in jail in lieu of $250,000 bail pending sentencing. Pronouncement of sentence is now scheduled for December 9th at 9 o'clock in the morning in Department B of the Ukiah courthouse. Anyone with an interest in this matter is welcome to attend that hearing. The prosecutor who presented the People's trial evidence and arguments was District Attorney David Eyster. The investigating law enforcement agencies were the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and the California Department of Justice Crime Laboratory in Eureka.