Tuesday, 23 July 2024

Judge denies motion to separate trials of murder case defendants

LAKEPORT – On Monday a judge denied a motion to separate the trials of two men accused of a September homicide.

Judge Arthur Mann ruled that Melvin Dale Norton, 38, and Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, will stand trial for murder together. Jury selection in their trial is set to begin Jan. 12.

The men are charged with killing 25-year-old Shelby Uehling in the early morning hours of Sept. 22.

Edmonds is charged with murder with a special allegation of using a knife, while Norton faces charges of murder with a special allegation that he used a billy club, and assault with a deadly weapon with a special allegation of causing great bodily injury, according to court documents.

Uehling, who had recently moved to Lake County from the Bozeman area of Montana, had been seeing Edmonds' girlfriend – who temporarily had separated from Edmonds – which is alleged to have sparked the fatal confrontation.

The prosecution alleges that Norton found Uehling sleeping in his car in the Clearlake neighborhood, known as “the resorts,” where Edmonds and his girlfriend lived after the couple reconciled.

Norton is then alleged to have called Edmonds before grabbing a golf club and leaving to join Edmonds in going to Uehling's car. Uehling was found lying by the side of Old Highway 53 near the car, with his throat slit.

Stephen Carter, Norton's defense attorney, filed a motion late last month to separate Norton's trial from Edmonds', as Lake County News has reported.

Prosecutor Art Grothe – who had indicated to Lake County News that he planned to oppose the motion – filed a response to Carter's separation motion, but Judge Mann said he hadn't had a chance to read it before the hearing started Monday morning.

Mann, who said he intended to read through Grothe's motion after the hearing in order to issue the ruling Monday, asked Carter for any further arguments.

Carter cited a 1967 case, People vs. Massey, which set fourth four points to look at when considering a severance motion: if an incriminating confession from one of the defendants exists, if there is a prejudicial association, would confusion result from multiple counts and conflicting defense, and would a co-defendant give exonerating testimony.

“All four of these issues are present for Mr. Norton,” said Carter.

Carter said that Edmonds made incriminating statements during a phone call from jail – which law enforcement reportedly had recorded, according to court records – in which he admitted to causing Uehling's death, which he stated was done in self defense.

That's incredibly important in the case, said Carter, which charges Norton and Edmonds in going to Uehling's parked car and getting into a fight with him.

Carter added that he wasn't saying that Norton was completely innocent of everything, although the jury may find that to be the case.

He said his client has stated that he went up to talk with Uehling about being a problem for Edmonds' girlfriend and the situation unfolded.

Convenience of trying both men at the same time isn't a good reason for the joint trial, Carter said.

“We don't mean to bash Mr. Edmonds but simply to show that these two defendants are very differently situated,” Carter said.

Edmonds' involvement in the Renato Hughes case also is expected to come up in the prosecution, and Carter was concerned about the potential for prejudicial impacts on his client's case.

Hughes and two friends had allegedly broken into Edmonds' Clearlake Park home in December of 2005; as they fled Edmonds shot two of the men in the back and Hughes was prosecuted for their deaths under the provocative act law because he was allegedly taking part in a crime that could result in a lethal response. Hughes later was acquitted of the murder charges.

Carter also referenced a later situation in which Edmonds allegedly tried to get his then-girlfriend, Lori Tyler, to commit suicide with him.

While those two issues may be admissable in Edmonds' trial, Carter said they shouldn't be allowed to be presented during Norton's.

“Mr. Norton has nothing to do with any of those things,” Carter said, and to have him tried with Edmonds “puts Mr. Norton in a very bad position.”

Carter said he expected both men would testify in their trials and would be forthcoming. “But having their cases joined has a chilling effect on my client, Mr. Norton, to testify,” he said.

One central concern was that neither Norton or Edmonds have waived time, meaning their trial proceedings need to move forward in short order. Carter said the time waiver issue didn't need to affect the requested separation.

In arguing against separating the two prosecutions, Grothe told the court, “The factual scenario here is rather important.”

He said the two defendants are friends. A conflict arose between Edmonds and Uehling over Uehling's involvement with the woman. Subsequently, Norton allegedly saw Uehling sleeping in his car at around 1 a.m. Sept. 22, which prompted him to call Edmonds.

Grothe said Edmonds armed himself with a knife and an asp – or a billy club – and Norton took with him a golf club which later was found buried in the dash of Uehling's car.

He said he wouldn't characterize the two mens' statements as “entirely forthcoming,” but they're not necessarily inconsistent and therefore, “There is not a conflicting defense between the two.”

Citing the 2007 Tafoya case which went before the California Supreme Court, Grothe said severing a joint prosecution only is appropriate if it would be so grossly unfair that it would deprive a defendant of a fair trial.

He said he was introducing information about prior cases involving Edmonds, but he didn't plan to use them in the case in chief, and anticipated the trial court would “severely manage” how and when that information is used.

Grothe argued that Norton and Edmonds “jointly planned and executed” the crime, afterwards changing out of their bloodstained clothing at Norton's place.

Attorney Doug Rhoades, representing Edmonds, joined Grothe in opposing the motion. “I am not in favor of severance at this time,” Rhoades said.

Addressing Grothe's allegations that Uehling's death was jointly planned by Edmonds and Norton, Carter said, “That's not borne out by the evidence.”

Carter said the trial's timing and judicial economy “should not carry the day” when a person is facing life in prison.

Mann asked Carter about the impact of the potential severance due to the time waiver.

Carter said he'd considered it but didn't have a definite answer. He suggested, however, that it would be appropriate for Edmonds' trial to move forward and Norton's to follow, since he had made the severance motion.

Grothe maintained that they couldn't do two separate trials in a narrow time frame. Carter suggested his client would waive time in a limited aspect if the motion were granted.

Noting that the time waiver and the possibility that Edmonds would testify in Norton's trial both weren't certain, Grothe said, “I don't like to rely on either of those maybes.” He said he planned to offer Edmonds' statement in a recorded jail phone call in the trial as an admission.

After speaking with Norton – seated beside Edmonds in the back row of the jury box – Carter said Norton would waive time until after Edmonds' trial was completed.

At the end of the hearing, which lasted around 20 minutes, Mann said he would take the matter under consideration and issue his ruling by day's end, which he did. The ruling against the motion came out before 4 p.m.

“It likely will be a big issue on appeal should Mr. Norton be convicted of anything at trial,” Carter said late Monday.

Two more hearings currently are scheduled before the trial starts next week, including a settlement conference on Wednesday and a trial assignment hearing Friday, Carter said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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