The trimmers who murdered Laytonvillle pot-grower Jeffery Settler in the early morning hours of November 11, 2016 have all been sent to prison, all but one, who is still dragging his feet.
The first to go was “the heavy,” Michael Kane, who was sentenced a week earlier to 14 years in prison; then five more were packed off last Friday morning, starting with Gary Blank, who also got 14 years; then Said Mohamed, nine years; Gary Fitzgerald, nine years; Zachary Wuester, nine years; Fredrick Gaestel, who only got two years (he didn’t actually go up the hill with the others to kill and rob Mr. Settler).
Gaestel’s contribution to the murder was lending the ax and knife team his vehicle and a hatchet used in the murder.
Jesse Wells – who had to be brought to the preliminary hearing in August of 2017 against his will – will not be sentenced until November 16th.
Michael Kane and Gary Blank were the main killers, Kane with a hatchet, Blank with a knife; the precise participation of the others was never made clear.
Said Mohamed, Zachary Wuester and Gary Fitzgerald all took early pleas for nine years each in exchange for pointing the finger(s) at the others.
Jesse Wells and Fredrick Gaestel benefited from a recent State Bill that lightened the California felony murder rule, which used to say, basically, if you were present during a murder you are as guilty as, in this case, the guy wielding the ax. The revised Murder Rule allows for distinctions. If, say, you lent the killers your car your guilt is less than the people who committed the murder.
Some glaring questions in the Settler case remain:
1. Why were the sentences so light – why no life “tail” on the sentences, which is usually the case for homicide – for the “heavies”?
2. Did the lead investigator, Detective Matt Croskey, quit the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office in disgust, as rumored, over the way the case was handled?
3. Or was Det. Croskey given a better job in the Midwest for dropping all charges against former suspect Amanda Weist (whose mother is a high-ranking officer with Homeland Security), who opened the locked door as prearranged, to let the killers in?
4. Why was Det. Croskey’s wife subsequently appointed to the highest political office in Mendocino County when the holder of that office suffered an untimely mental breakdown?
5. What happened to all the gold in the vault under the World Trade Center?
These questions have been answered:
1. The sentences were “appropriate.”
2. Rumors are just that – rumors.
3. Det. Croskey wasn’t “given” anything, he merely “found” a better job elsewhere.
4. The Governor appointed Ms. Croskey as the most eligible or qualified candidate – despite her short tenure as a Mendocino County resident – and the timing was purely coincidental.
5. Everybody knows all the gold is in Fort Knox – always has been, always will be.
The sentencings went along without a lot of comment, resulting in a more than ordinary sense of a process streamlined and foreshortened to avert and avoid too much information coming out; “the less said, the better” was the overall impression given by everyone involved – from the judge all the way down to the perps themselves, who didn’t have to be reminded by their lawyers that they were getting unheard of leniency, and that they should keep quite or find themselves facing a 25-to-life exposure.
What’s a reporter to do?
Here’s a hint: Read the online newspaper, Mendocino Voice. This online paper sort of came out of the blue in the wake of the Settler murder, ostensibly to cover the news in Mendocino County, with a special focus on the marijuana industry. But the Voice has taken no interest – none at all – in any of the many cases of murder related to pot farming, except this one case. A couple of different reporters have followed it, and reported it with such a guarded formality, that it almost seems like the Voice was started in order to cover this case, and this case only, and to do so in a way that averted and avoided any of the unpleasant questions listed above.
Family members of the victim were brought in for the sentencing and given an opportunity to comment. As the killers had never offered any signs or words of remorse, the victim’s sister was caught off guard by a sudden, last-minute apology by Jesse Wells. She was so upset by this change of attitude that she sat back down without finishing her prepared statement of the impact the murder had on her.
The victim’s brother spoke briefly, as well, saying he was a forgiving person, but would never forgive the seven men who killed his brother, and that he thinks of his brother every day.
The victim’s father said he didn’t know how any human being could commit such an awful act as the brutal murder of his son, or stand by and let it happen. “You all took my son’s life and even though the judgment wasn’t what it should have been, there is still a Final Judgment coming and you all need to think about that. Mr. Wells, you are the only one to apologize and I thank you for that. I don’t hate anyone, but your names and faces are burnt forever in my memory. As for those of you who didn’t actually kill my son, your only concern was getting the marijuana instead of stopping the killing, and you need to think long and hard about that while you all are in prison.”
DA David Eyster had nothing to add. Restitution will be reserved for the expense of bringing the family of the victim from Texas, the fines were reduced, as all but Mr. Kane were indigent, and the case was closed – except for Mr. Wells who will drag his feet for a few more weeks.
But this reporter, who confesses he reads too many conspiracy novels, thinks somebody somewhere high-up wanted this all to go quietly away, and I’ll submit it on that.