In a coincidence of homicidal misogyny too malevolent to contemplate the implications of, two young local women have apparently been brutally murdered within a few days of each other — in unrelated horrors — right here in our own pretty little Peace & Love Utopia, Mendocino County.
On February 4th, Autumn Johnson, 22, was shot dead — allegedly, I hasten to stress for the sake of form even though there was an eyewitness — by her former boyfriend, Andrew Crowningshield, on Highway One at a pull-out near Caspar.
And then, three days later, Khadijah Britton, 23, disappeared from her father’s Covelo home on February 7th, after a violent altercation with her boyfriend, Negie Fallis the week before he swore he would kill her.
The evidence presented in a preliminary hearing last Friday indicates that it is very likely that Fallis did kill Ms. Britton, and he will be back in court on April 6th to be arraigned on the information — the same day, coincidentally, that Mr. Crowningshield’s preliminary hearing in the murder of Ms. Johnson is scheduled to begin.
Fallis has not been charged with murder, as no body has been found. There have been a series of searches leading up to Fallis’s prelim, but Ms. Britton is still missing and the investigation into her fate is ongoing, which has caused some delay at the prelim.
Fallis’s lawyer, the new Assistant Public Defender Christiane Hipps, began the hearing with a motion to compel discovery. District Attorney David Eyster replied that the investigation was ongoing and that everything to do with it — five felony counts which included kidnapping and assault with a dead weapon, specifically a hammer, that could be turned over without compromising the ongoing homicide investigation, had been turned over to defense, or was already in the public record — or so the DA thought.
This was incorrect as it turned out. A declaration at a bail hearing had somehow not been put in the court file, due to some clerical oversight, and when it was finally produced in court, copies were made for all parties. One of the things Ms. Hipps found particularly objectionable in this declaration was the news that the defendant’s own mother had made statements that resulted in bail being set at $400,000 by Judge Ann Moorman on February 20th. Besides this document, the motion to compel further discovery was denied by Judge Cindee Mayfield, the presiding judge at the prelim.
DA Eyster called only one witness, Deputy Jason Logan, who had spoken with Khadijah Britton at an address on Hopper Lane in Covelo, on January 30th. She told Deputy Logan that she had been in a relationship with Fallis for about a year and had left his residence after an argument the day before and had been picked up by Felix Swearinger, who took her to his (Swearinger’s) grandmother’s house on Logan Lane.
Ms. Britton told Deputy Logan that she and Felix were “hanging out” when Fallis suddenly appeared in the house, yelling at Britton she “needed to get the fuck out of the house.” She said Fallis then grabbed her by the hair and pulled her out, calling her a whore and saying her parents had raised a whore. Fallis pulled her to a white Mustang where she fell to the ground and was kicked in the chest, hit in the face with Fallis’s fists, and struck in the head with what she believed was a hammer.
DA Eyster: “Did the defendant say anything to her?”
Deputy Logan: “Yes. That if she didn’t get in the car he was going to kill her.”
Eyster: “Anything else?”
Logan: “Yes. She said he told her he’d kill her if she got away, and make sure she was dead if she survived the incident.”
So she got off the ground and into the Mustang and they left the Swearinger residence, but after another brief verbal argument, Fallis drove back to the Swearingers’ to confront Felix (aka Tiki or Kiki) and at this point Khadijah Britton got out of the car and hid behind a stump in a nearby field until the white Mustang left. She then went to her father’s residence and called the Round Valley Tribal Police for help.
This, then, was what Ms. Britton stated to Deputy Logan, who was contacted by Officer Rabano of the Tribal Police.
On cross-examination, Assistant Public Defender Christiane Hipps asked about the date and time of Mr. Fallis’s arrest, but Deputy Logan didn’t seem to know. After he spoke with Ms. Britton it was past 3:00 a.m. and Logan spent the rest of his shift patrolling Covelo and looking for Fallis, until he was relieved by Deputy James Elmore at 5:00 a.m.
Public defender Hipps also found that the statements given by Ms. Britton had been recorded, and that until Britton was reported missing on the 7th of March there had been very little follow-up into the incident. This lack of information was apparently why Hipps thought she needed the motion to compel discovery. Also, at some point before she disappeared, Ms. Britton reportedly recanted her statements about the violent altercation on January 29th, but there were no details available on this point, however.
Judge Mayfield held defendant Fallis to answer on Count One, the kidnapping charge, for having forcibly taken Ms. Britton away in the white Mustang, despite Ms. Hipps’ argument that her client also brought the victim back to the Swearingers’ (where she got away); and Count Two, the assault with a deadly weapon, a hammer; as well as Count Four, entering an occupied residence with the intent to commit a crime.
Then began an extensive bail reduction argument that ended inconclusively and will be revisited at the arraignment on the information, April 6th at 9:00 a.m. In the meantime Ms. Hipps was to be provided with information as to when and how her client first came to be arrested. We can only conjecture that this information is somehow related to the ongoing investigation into the victim’s disappearance, and judging by the number of deputies involved, the ring of tight security around the defendant, it is clear the police consider him to be a violent murder suspect.
This reporter counted one lieutenant, one sergeant, four patrol deputies, two corrections officers, one detective sergeant, and two investigators from the DA’s Office. A similar force of officers had brought Mr. Crowningshield to court on his last appearance, and even though there were a number of people in support of the victim in that murder case, the entire hallway leading to the courtroom had been sealed off, and Crowningshield was arraigned and gone before the public was allowed in.
On this coming April 6th, a Friday morning, both suspects are scheduled to be in court again on the same day. We expect an absolute nightmare in security arrangements.