On Wednesday, May 10th, Judge John Behnke sentenced Charles Reynolds to six years in state prison for assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, resulting in the death of Kenneth Fisher of Laytonville. This was the culmination of a remarkably high-profile local case, in that the cause of death was something of a rare fluke — Mr. Fisher having died from a torn artery, the result of a single punch from Reynolds outside Boomer’s Bar in Laytonville last summer. A jury had found Mr. Reynolds guilty of the charges last month, even though the jury foreman later called Reynolds’ defense attorney Justin Petersen and told him that they, the jury, found the State’s eyewitness’s testimony not to be credible. The foreman said they brought back the guilty verdict because the single punch, whether it was a sucker punch or not, had ultimately led to Fisher’s death.
Mr. Petersen also pointed out that this same witness, Chris Bradley, had called another witness, Jessica Hall, and asked her to lie on the stand. Petersen went on to criticize the probation report and sentencing recommendation for not taking these facts into consideration, and suggested the judge also consider his client’s blood alcohol level (0.14) at the time, and consider giving him a year in jail and a strict term of probation, instead of prison.
Judge Behnke said he did indeed consider the alcohol level and found it somewhat mitigating — knocking a year off the recommended seven year sentence — but Behnke also noted that he had taken Mr. Reynolds’ plea five years ago in a similar assault charge with force likely wherein Reynolds had beaten and repeatedly kicked a 63 year old homeless man in the face resulting in serious bodily injury, injuries that included a broken nose and brain hemorrhaging.
The courtroom was packed and a phalanx of sheriff’s deputies were stationed around the room, dividing a sizable crowd wearing “Justice For Kenny” t-shirts on one side, and a smaller group of supporters for Reynolds on the other side. A great many letters had been submitted to the court for both parties and the names of these were read, then Kenneth Fisher’s mother got up and gave a tearful account of her loss and asked the judge for the maximum sentence.
Judge Behnke said that while Mr. Bradley’s testimony was not credible, the jury didn’t rely on it, and that whatever Bradley in fact saw, it was clear that Mr. Reynolds’ punching Fisher led to the chain of events that caused his death, even though three doctors said the injury to Fisher’s head was a result of hitting the pavement.
“That said,” Behnke concluded, “I don’t think Mr. Reynolds intended to kill Mr. Fisher. The whole incident amounted to no more than a matter of seconds — maybe 23 seconds off-camera — so it’s not like I think he intended kill him. But he intended to settle some kind of a score — and as to this kicking a homeless person in the face five years ago, Mr. Petersen, the reason he was sentenced to only 40 days in jail and not sent to prison then, was because, this being a homeless person, the victim was not available to testify at the time and the prosecution made a deal with the defense, Mr. [Dan] Haehl — the court has weighed all the factors and concluded that Mr. Reynolds has proven himself to be a danger to the public, having several times assaulted somebody and the last two times have resulted in serious injury. So I decline to grant the defendant probation. … It’s hard to get around the fact that Mr. Fisher died. And the defendant’s criminal history shows a pattern of increasing seriousness, a pattern I can’t overcome, and so in picking the term, though I am loath to give him the aggravated term and then add the three year enhancement [for the Great Bodily Injury] I thought about this quite a lot and I’m going to give him the mid-term of three years and add the three years for the enhancement…”At this, there was an outburst of applause — loud, hard claps from the Fisher camp.
“…I don’t think the jury found it was a ‘sucker punch’ as such, but it was a significant punch and resulted in the death of Mr. Fisher, a single punch and probably with unintended results, but Mr. Reynolds is a danger when he is intoxicated — although I don’t doubt that he’s really sorry now, but this was a totally senseless act and the fact he just walked away and went back in the bar and said something to the effect that Kenny was out there sleeping, is another reason for my decision. Did I consider that he was intoxicated? Yes, but that doesn’t diminish the seriousness of what he’s done, so the total of six years will be imposed.”
The courtroom — mostly on one side — again burst into loud, explosive applause, Reynolds was handcuffed and hustled out of the room. People rose and followed, but the judge wasn’t finished and he asked everyone to remain quiet while Reynolds was brought back in and advised of his right to appeal. It appeared from the comments made about the trial by Petersen, that this would probably be the case. Restitution was ordered to cover Fisher’s funeral expenses, and further restitution reserved for medical and ambulance bills, which would likely be forthcoming.
AN ON LINE READER COMMENTS: The sucker punch story is amazing. This killer has a record of this type of behavior… And he does it again, but this time he kills someone. And the DA, the probation department and the judge come up with a 6 year sentence…which could be less I suspect when it’s all said and done…Seems like we need some new justice folk around here…If I was the dead man’s folks, I’d be terrible pissed off… As always, Lazarus/Willits.
BRUCE McEWEN REPLIES:
As Justin Petersen pointed out, Kenny Fisher’s family would not have thought the maximum of seven years was enough – the DA charged what could be proved by the evidence — Murder One would never have worked with a guy like Mr. Bradley on the stand (hell, he nearly blew it in the assault trial) — and the judges have to go by the law books, not whatever they want to impose. But I agree, it does seem like we need some new justice.
When Reynolds attacked that old man five years ago I was hitchhiking through Willits and Laytonville, and that could just as easily have been me. But Reynolds is not the only one in Mendo’s North Sector and SoHum I had to watch out for — there’s plenty of other tattooed, musclebound and overgrown Ninja Turtles out there who’d relish catching some harmless old man with no family or friends to retaliate, so they could use him for a punching bag.
It’s a sick world, Laz, and I’ve seen some of the worst cases right there in your beloved Willits. The Willits Mafia boys, who went to prison for attacking a party of Willits homeless people at Bushay Campground and shot two, killing one (the old guy who took a bullet for his young friend), Marvin Johnson and Simon Thornton, just had their sentences reduced and will be coming home soon.
And I’m sure these two will come looking for yours truly.