The death penalty reared its ghastly head in Judge John Behnke’s courtroom last Thursday afternoon, and the specter appeared in the form of the former People’s Temple lawyer Tim Stoen, now a Deputy DA in Fort Bragg and the prosecutor of murder suspect Caleb Silver.
Silver, a Mendocino County native, is accused of killing Fort Bragg’s Dennis Boardman sometime around the end of December, 2015.
Silver, as a child, grew up on the same property as Boardman, whose alleged murder by Silver, can be considered patricide.
Boardman’s body was found January 2nd of 2016 during a welfare check at his Fort Bragg home where Silver, homeless and apparently strung out on methamphetamine, had been staying.
The Ford Bragg Police quickly determined that Boardman had been murdered. Boardman’s missing truck and its distinctive, handcrafted camper, soon turned up in Carpenteria where Santa Barbara County deputies also found Boardman’s dog on December 30th, 2015. The dog had been abandoned in the truck without food and water.
On January 5th of 2016 Silver had been seen by a CHP officer on foot north of Elk, but escaped into the woods after abandoning a bag of stolen items taken during of a series of break-ins in the Greenwood-Elk area. One of Silver’s burglary victims had posted an account of this incident on Mendocino Sports Plus. Wanted posters were put up around the area and no more was heard of Silver until he turned up in a Santa Barbara County under a false name. He was finally identified as Caleb Dain Silver and brought back to Mendocino County April 16th, 2016, and booked on charges of auto theft, animal cruelty, numerous burglaries, and murder.
Silver’s preliminary hearing was held last June 13th, 2016 in Fort Bragg.
Transcripts, long ago having been privatized, cost $2.75 per page, and this one is more than 200 pages. I’m based at the AVA’s Ukiah Bureau. I have little information about what happened in Fort Bragg, but Silver, at his Fort Bragg prelim, was bound over for trial.
Prosecutor Stoen then fell ill with brain cancer and the process went on hold for many months. (Stoen, well over 80, has also been designated for the eventual prosecution of Dr. Peter Keegan for the murder of his wife, Susan.)
Finally, last Thursday, Stoen, having eluded The Reaper at least temporarily, had recovered enough to make a court appearance in Ukiah, although he looked rather ghastly with his hair buzzed off, his skull badly nicked in places, and his beautifully cut double-breasted suit hanging off his gaunt frame like an undersize clothes hangar. As bad as he looked, though, from the nature of the hearing, it seemed Stoen might well outlive the defendant, Caleb Silver, because Stoen has filed a motion to amend the charges against Silver with a Special Circumstance called Laying In Wait, an element which carries the Death Penalty.
It was Stoen’s contention that Silver had waited for Boardman — a vigorous man in his sixties still quite capable of defending himself — to fall asleep before bashing in his head with a hammer, and that was the grounds for the Lying In Wait special circumstance, which Stoen wanted added to the array of charges against Silver.
The discussion between the judge and the lawyers – Eric Rennert from the Office of the Public Defender, was representing Silver – seemed more complicated than anyone without legal training could readily grasp, myself included. But the significance of the phrase ‘Death Penalty’ being often repeated was clearly not lost on the defendant, even though he affected an air of nonchalance and comfortable ease, which never fails to make an impression on this observer even though it happens all the time.
The issue was complex enough that Public Defender Linda Thompson was present to back up her junior colleague Rennert who consulted with her often during the hearing. There was an issue of “tactics” alluded to in the brief submitted by defense that cited a case by the name of People vs. Talamantez, and it was difficult to know at any one time if the legal beagles were talking about the particulars of the Talamantez case or the case at hand, Caleb Silver’s.
What was clear, however, was that the case has sat idle for nigh on to ten months while prosector Stoen recovered from surgery — and so much for Silver’s right to a timely trial.
“Remember,” Rennert said, “there’s a notice requirement. If defense knew the death penalty was on the table from the outset we would have considered other tactics.”
I tried later to ask Rennert for clarification of what was happening, but he seemed to be tethered to a strict silence by his boss, Thompson, mumblingly inarticulate herself, who has forbidden the revolving door attorneys to talk to this newspaper.
The AVA is also persona non grata with Mr. Stoen for having written up Stoen’s zealotry in the prosecution of Robert Forest for, of all things, a hate crime, which Stoen pursued even after his office (former DA Meredith Lintott’s administration) ordered him to let it go. Stoen was also unhappy with the AVA’s book review of his laughably self-serving memoir, ‘Marked For Death,’ Stoen’s alleged true story account of his work for the Monster of Jonestown. Stoen has never told anything approaching the truth about his crucial role with the berserk Reverend Jones.
So there was no need for a gag order in this case. Neither side will have any truck with the press.
And Judge Behnke duly agreed that defense was left at a disadvantage, not knowing beforehand that the DA had added lying in wait to make Silver death penalty-eligible.
“So if I grant the motion, I’m going to give you [Rennert] some time to prepare.”
Rennert complained that he was now prevented from bringing forth any evidence outside the preliminary hearing saying, “I can’t refer to any evidence outside the record and there was evidence — not speculative evidence, either — that wasn’t brought out at the prelim. So it’s disingenuous of prosecution [Stoen called it speculative] to say so. And I’d have had to give notice if I wanted to bring in any evidence.” … “Defense wouldn’t be bringing any evidence, as there’s always a danger of introducing more issues.” … “Some of the issues, such as his [Silver’s] having a key to the truck [Boardman’s truck], and he admitted he’d stolen the truck, and umm, as to his relations with the decedent’s dog and, uh, um, some of the other points prosecution raises – well, whether the judge at the prelim gave any weight to that, or whether the defense had any opportunity to pursue different matters…”
Rennert’s courtroom style involves a lot of what Grandpa used to call ‘hemming and hawing,’ and as he spoke of strategies and tactics, it appeared that this style was one in and of itself. He said there had been some prejudice against his client, but hemmed and hawed as to the particulars. The way he spoke of the defense and judge at the prelim in the third person gave the impression that neither Rennert nor Behnke were involved, and I was again reminded that the whole case had already been presented at Silver’s prelim at Ten Mile Court in Fort Bragg.
Deputy DA Stoen assured Judge Behnke that the death penalty had never been discussed.
Behnke said, “But when you file for these special circumstances the specter of the death penalty is raised.”
Stone added, “We [the People] never put it on the table, whatever the inferences that have come into play.”
A glance at the young defendant, Caleb Silver, saw him squirming as if suddenly aware that he just might get the midnight needle.
Rennert, after some legalistic back and forth with the judge, said, “I’m confused why the death penalty keeps coming up if it was never on the table…
Behnke, “You don’t believe it sufficient?”
Rennert, “It’s pretty clear from the transcript that the DA had in mind the lying in wait charge.”
There was then a brief incident in the dock involving the bailiff and the defendant — which in my concentration on the proceedings, I missed. Apparently, Silver had done something and had been disciplined for it. The bailiff (Deputy Cameron Munoz) looked like he’d lost his patience with the defendant over some antic and had hustled over to Silver to suppress whatever it was that had gotten his attention.
Rennert resumed, “Defense has been sandbagged by prosecution. They’ve set things up with the defense not being informed. The witnesses called [during the prelim] could have been directed to address it at the time, and now I won’t be able to. In the original moving papers, prosecution mentions a ruse.”
Behnke, “What ruse?”
Rennert, “It’s a stratagem, judge.”
Behnke, “I know what a ruse is, counsel. What I want to know is what was the ruse?”
Rennert mentioned some pages from the transcript, pages 111-116 that talked about Silver waiting for Boardman to fall asleep, then picked up the hammer— the blood spatters, Rennert said, had not even been analyzed to confirm they were Boardman’s — and he would now have no chance to cross-examine the witness as to the reason why this wasn’t done. He also griped that there was no proof that his client was at the residence at the time of the murder.
If there were such gaping holes in the People’s case then maybe this death penalty specter was only raised as a strong-arm tactic to force a plea bargain, a bargaining chip, and avoid the risk of a trial that was likely to fail for lack of evidence.
Behnke said, “Let me be clear. Under the circumstances the prosecution is allowed to make its amendment, and I have before me an amended information and I’m going to order that it be filed.”
Court Clerk Bonnie Miller duly stamped the document with the time and date seal. “And now I do wish to arraign Mr. Silver on the amended information.”
This was all pro forma. Rennert walked up to the bench, took a copy of the information, strolled back to the rail, entered not guilty pleas, denied all special allegations and added that he wasn’t ready to set a trial date until he first filed for the 995 (to have the charges reduced or changed based on being new since the Preliminary Hearing). Judge Behnke said he understood perfectly and gave Rennert three weeks to do so. They were all ordered to reconvene on April 27th at 1:30 to set a date for trial.
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CHARLES REYNODS FOUND GUILTY of Assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury.
The Guilty verdict came in at 10:30 Wednesday morning for Reynolds on Count One, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury; the jury also found the Special Allegation to be true, that the assault did in fact cause great bodily injury, resulting in death. The incident occurred in the parking lot outside Boomer’s Bar in Laytonville last August when Reynolds punched Fisher after an argument in the bar. Reynolds’ attorney argued that the incident was a mutually agreed-to bar-fight, not the “sucker punch,” the prosecution alleged. Judge John Behnke declined to remand Mr. Reynolds into custody, citing his record of reliably making all his court appearances and he was directed to go to the County Probation Office for a pre-sentencing evaluation and report. Judgment and sentencing was set for May 10th at nine o’clock.
Prosecutor: Deputy DA Luke Oakley
Lead Investigator: Detective Matt Croskey
(— Bruce McEwen)
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UKIAH, Wed., April 5. — A Mendocino County Superior Court jury returned from its deliberations this morning with a guilty verdict against Charles Wallace Reynolds, Jr., age 32, of Willits.
Reynolds was found guilty of having committed battery causing serious bodily injury, a felony. The jury also found true a special allegation that the defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury on Kenneth Wayne Fisher, said injury causing Mr. Fisher's death on August 28, 2016 in Laytonville. As required by law, the defendant was ordered to report forthwith to the Adult Probation Department so that the required background investigation, social study and sentencing recommendation can be timely prepared and submitted to the judge and parties for consideration. Reynolds was further ordered to be present in court for imposition of sentence on May 10, 2017 at 9 o'clock in the morning in Department H at the Ukiah courthouse. Anyone interested in this matter is welcome to attend that sentencing hearing. Pending that next court date, the defendant remains out on bail.
The prosecutor who presented the People's evidence and argued the circumstances and law to the jury was Deputy District Attorney Luke Oakley.
The primary investigating law enforcement agency was the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office was supported in their investigation by the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of Justice forensic laboratory in Eureka, local forensic pathologist, Dr. Jacqueline Benjamin, M.D., and the District Attorney's own investigators. The presiding judge of the Mendocino County Superior Court, the Hon. John Behnke, presided over the seven-day trial. (DA’s Press release)