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Murders Most Foul

The courthouse in Ukiah has been festooned with yellow ribbons, each one with a rosebud pinned to it, a gesture by the family and friends of Autumn Smith, shot dead by Andrew Crowningshield early last month. Mr. Crowningshield has yet to be arraigned on murder charges. On February 20th he was supposed to appear for arraignment with his lawyer, and a group of supporters for the family of the victim were waiting for the arraignment in the hallway. But the courtroom, Department H on the top floor of the courthouse, was sealed off and no one allowed in until it was over and Crowningshield had been returned to jail.

I caught up with DA David Eyster and asked for an explanation. Here’s what he said, “Humm, I did notice security was a bit tighter than normal, and that usually means someone has been shooting off their mouth.”

“What happened?”

“Mr. Crowningshield still hasn’t retained a lawyer, and Victoria Shanahan appeared specially, so it [the arraignment] was put over until March 8th at 9am.”

An undisclosed source later informed me that Crowningshield’s lawyers are Christine Burke, who will appear as lead counsel, and Victoria Shanahan as co-counsel. My source says the arraignment will now go forward as scheduled, more than a month after the murder – oops: I meant, the alleged murder of Ms. Smith, Crowningshield’s former girl friend and the mother of the couple’s child. Whether the public will be allowed to attend is still uncertain. Death threats are taken seriously and security will likely be heavy handed again. Whether the defendant made the threats, as rumor has it, or they were made by someone from the victim’s entourage is unclear.

A hearing to determine if a defendant is mentally competent to aid in his own defense, a “1368 hearing,” was held last week for Jewel E. Dyer, accused of killing his father with a baseball bat in Laytonville nearly two years ago.  Mr. Dyer, over his obstreperous objections, was deemed too nutty to stand trial – this is not to be confused with an insanity defense (NGI-Not Guilty by reason of Insanity), incidentally. For the sixth time, Dr. Kevin Kelley of Ukiah, with doctors Apostle and Sheridan concurring, concluded that Mr. Dyer did not have the mental agility to participate in his own defense.

“Dr. Kelly’s report,” Judge John Behnke said, indicated that Dyer had “some appreciation” of the charges and evidence against him, “but was unable to assist in any rational manner -- and I know you disagree with this assessment, Mr. Dyer, but if you will just let me finish…”

Mr. Dyer did not let the judge finish. “I want my constitution,” Dyer howled. “I demand a speedy trial!”

Judge Behnke: “Mr. Dyer disagrees with the substance of the report…”

Mr. Dyer: “Why are you guys doing this to me?”

Behnke: “…but he’s currently unable to assist in his own defense and I’m referring him for placement.”

Dyer: “I want my jury trial! I should have had 20 jury trials by now! I demand my constitution!”

Public Defender Linda Thompson said something about Dr. Molly Brown and the need for involuntary medication, but Dyer kept shouting over her.

Dyer: “I want a hearing on that [the involuntary medication order]!

Behnke: “You’ll get one, Mr. Dyer.”

Dyer: “I’ve only got five months to live! I want a speedy trial! You guys are dirtbags!”

Mr. Dyer’s “constitution” appeared quite robust to this casual observer, so whatever he may have meant by having only five months to live, perhaps he will kindly inform the readership in his own words, as he has been a fairly dependable writer of letters-to-the-editor in the past, and he has some – one, at least, by the name of Eric Sunswheat – sympathetic ears to build a nest in.

“Enough said!” Dyer shouted over his shoulder as the corrections officers led him from the courtroom.

A hearing date was set for March 21st.

Caleb Silver, awaiting his third jury trial* for the murder of Dennis Boardman (a father-figure to Silver), was brought in to plead no contest to the string of burglaries he committed on the south coast a few days before he murdered, allegedly, Boardman and stole Boardman’s truck and dog, both of which he abandoned in Carpenteria, leaving the dog seawater to drink. The plea also included the theft of a pickup in Boonville, which Silver wrecked, first by plowing through a locked gate in Boonville, then later crashing it into a tree near Elk. The burglaries will go down as a strike, since these were inhabited residences, for which Silver will get six years, with another three for the pickup theft. His pending murder trial is now set for April 16th.

(*Silver’s first trial was cut short by the firestorms last fall, which affected some of the jury members, and his second trial ended in a hung jury.)

The group murder of Laytonville pot grower Jeffery Settler is still slogging its way through the courts, and last week the three fellows who turned on the other four accused murderers were back in court for a status update.

These three stooges were Said “Richie” Mohamed, Zachary Wuester, and Gary “Giggles” Fitzgerald.

We’ve had some person write in to the mighty AVA saying she knows all about the case, and that my reports are in error as to the facts, to which I can only reply that this woman had better go to the authorities – either the DA or the defense lawyers — and set the facts straight – before she finds herself in legal difficulties herself. I personally don’t know any of these alleged facts; I only report what I hear and see in court; and I’m no lawyer and have no intention of dispensing legal advice, but any layman knows that withholding information in a capital crime is an obstruction of justice and punishable by law.

My own take on the case is that the three who turned state’s evidence are the most culpable and, my, what a rotten little trio of songbirds they are for pinning the onus onto their one-time pot trimmer compatriots in order to save their own sorry asses. Good luck dealing with the Snitch Patrols when you get to the prison yard, dudes.

At the status conference it was agreed that the three stool pigeons would roost at the jail until the trial begins in August, then sometime in September, reports from probation would begin prior to sentencing. We can only assume that the sweeter the song they sing on the witness stand, the less time they will get, but the deal was nine years each for robbery in concert, with sundry special allegations, and no credit for time served. That’s a long time with your back against the wall. Will it end after they get out? Not likely. These guys have entered a hell of their own making, and for all intents and purposes, it will be an eternal one.

As for the others, their sentences will likely go by a lot faster, even if they get twice as much time, since they can do their time with dignity, like men with clear consciences and the consolation of a little self-respect.


  1. John Fremont March 7, 2018

    Are murder trials no longer conducted at 10 Mile Court, no matter if all the witnesses live on the coast?

    • Bruce McEwen Post author | March 7, 2018

      Nay, Sir.
      The Ten Mile court judge, the Hon. C. Brennan lost all respect when he let a private school child molester slide, soon after his influential wife got him elected to the judgeship, which has been a complete disaster; howsome e’r, you (and I don’t mean you, particularly, my dear sir, but instead I refer to the second person plural — which English doesn’t provide for, even though there are some dialectical and colloquial aberations, like the Northern Yankee Redneck term, “youse,” which tries to capture it… and I think, sometimes when I’m in my cups, that if adequate search were made, this instance of what snooty people would call a “solecism” has a deep, almost integral tradition in the English tongue) you can’t disrobe a judge, so one makes the best of it…. — I say, who would trust the fellow with a capital crime, given his history?

    • Bruce McEwen Post author | March 7, 2018

      + Were murder trials ever held on the coast?

      • Bruce Anderson March 9, 2018

        I think they were, but unfortunately the criminal element among Fort Bragg’s commercial class burned down the old 10 Miler Courthouse and the old library adjacent to it thus, in one glorious night of wholesale arson, much of Fort Bragg’s historical archive was lost. The present courthouse was erected by Mr. Dominic Affinito, to whom the County of Mendo, ever the sucker, pays him a mighty long-term lease when, as Supervisor Pinches pointed out, the county could have built its own Ten Mile Courthouse for less, much less. The Affinito courthouse, incidentally, was sold to our eternally gullible supervisors as a convenience to Coast people. No longer would they have to travel to Ukiah. Legal matters large and small would be heard in Fort Bragg. And here we are.

        • David Eyster March 10, 2018

          Murder trials were not held on the coast in the old days. Before consolidation, the courts outside of Ukiah and spread all over the county were Justice Courts, inferior court not given the legal authority to conduct felony jury trials … only misdemeanors. Felony preliminary hearings could be held in any of the justice courts and, when a holding order resulted, the case was transferred to Ukiah for arraignment on an information in the higher court criminal departments of the Superior Court and handled there through jury trial and sentencing. In the 80’s and 90’s, I generally accepted and handled all post-preliminary hearing felonies sent from the coast courts (Point Arena Justice Court and Ten Mile Justice Court) to the Superior Court in Ukiah.

  2. Eric Sunswheat March 11, 2018

    District attorneys are among the most powerful government agents in the American criminal justice system. They have complete and unrivaled access to the evidence that can determine a person’s guilt or innocence, and it’s on them to share it with the defense. They can cut deals with witnesses, co-conspirators and defendants. They determine the charges a defendant will face, and therefore set the parameters for the eventual punishment a suspect might receive.
    03/09/2018 05:01 AM EST
    A Mass Shooting Tore Their Lives Apart. A Corruption Scandal Crushed Their Hopes For Justice.
    As prosecutors fixated on the death penalty for a killer, some family members of his victims found solace in an unlikely figure… the gunman’s attorney. By Matt Ferner…

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