Wednesday, 17 July 2024

Defense attorney to seek mistrial in murder trial of Clearlake men

LAKEPORT – New information about a previous conviction against one of the two men charged with a September murder in Clearlake led to a trial delay on Tuesday and a defense attorney's statement that he plans to seek a mistrial.


Defense attorney Stephen Carter told the court Tuesday morning that he will file a mistrial motion on behalf of his client, Melvin Dale Norton, because the discovery of new information about another felony conviction makes Norton a three strikes candidate.


Judge Arthur Mann said he would hear the motion and arguments when court resumes Wednesday morning. At that time Mann also will hear a motion by prosecutor Art Grothe, who is seeking to amend the charges against Norton to include a second strike enhancement.


Norton, 38, and his codefendant, Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, are on trial for the Sept. 22 death of Shelby Uehling, 25, who had moved to Lake County from Montana earlier in 2009.


Both Edmonds and Norton are each facing a murder charge; Edmonds also is charged with murder with a special allegation of using a knife, and Norton is charged with a special allegation that he used a billy club, assault with a deadly weapon, being an accessory and a special allegation of causing great bodily injury, and is charged with having a previous strike.


The trial – which had been scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday – didn't reconvene until an hour later, after the attorneys went into Mann's chambers and a brief recess was called.


When court was called back into session at 10 a.m. Carter told the court – out of the jury's presence – that he was not prepared to proceed with trial.


The reason, he said, was that Grothe had just advised him that he had found another previous felony conviction which constituted a strike against Norton that hadn't shown up on the rap sheet provided by the Department of Justice.


An abstract of judgment document from a 2001 robbery conviction against Norton revealed that additional felony conviction for battery with serious bodily injury, Grothe told Lake County News later on Tuesday.


“He whacked a guy with a baseball bat and took his bicycle,” Grothe said.


While the robbery conviction showed up, the battery charge didn't, Grothe said, which is unusual because such records are carefully checked and usually “spot on correct.” He attributed it to a clerical error.


He said he spotted the conviction at about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday when he was preparing for court and his cross-examination of Norton, who had been set to take the stand that day.


The extra strike enhancement would significantly change the prison time Norton would face if convicted, said Grothe.


As just one example, if Norton were convicted of the charge of being an accessory, it would go from a maximum of six year to 25 years to life, Grothe said.


Judge Mann has the option at sentencing of striking the strike through a “Romero motion,” but Grothe added, “That's nothing that you would want to bet the rest of your life on.”


Defense attorneys say discovery information is critical


In court, Carter said he requested the court clerk pull the original files on Norton's 2001 conviction from storage, which the court clerk indicated they would have for him Tuesday afternoon.


“I need to examine that first of all,” he said.


Second, Carter said he needed to file the mistrial motion.


“This comes very late in the case. The people have rested already,” he said, referring to Grothe's case, which wrapped up on Feb. 18.


“My inclination has become that I need to move for a mistrial,” Carter added. He said he would lay out the reasons for that decision in his motion, and asked for a trial delay until Wednesday.


Mann asked Grothe if he planned to amend the complaint to add the newly discovered felony conviction. Grothe said he was awaiting the court's permission to file it, to which Carter responded that he also wanted a chance to reply to that motion.


Grothe had already submitted a copy of his motion to amend the case against Norton, a copy of which Mann had in hand. The judge took a few moments to read over the document.


“What I would request the court to do is allow the motion to be filed at this point and let us proceed with at least what we can today and put off ruling on that motion until tomorrow,” said Grothe, adding that he understood that Carter needed time.


Mann asked attorney Doug Rhoades, Edmonds' attorney, for his opinion on the matter.


Rhoades said both he and Carter had met at length with their clients on Monday to discuss whether the two defendants would testify, which they decided they would. He said the plan was for Norton to testify first, with Edmonds to follow.


“To put Mr. Edmonds on first now would disrupt what we had laid out,” he said, adding that he understood Carter's dilemma.


When defense attorneys look at discovery materials such as a criminal history, “we rely on that,” said Rhoades, calling that information “absolutely vital.”


The information on the felony changes changes Norton's position dramatically, and increases the penalties, Rhoades pointed out.


“We are obligated to rely on the information that is provided in discovery,” said Rhoades, adding they have no way of getting information but through discovery, and they have to assume it's accurate.


“It certainly is a dramatic alteration of the events that bring us here,” he said.


With the trial now in its seventh week, Rhoades said the new information is somewhat of a bombshell, and he was not opposed to whatever relief is appropriate.


Carter said he would have done many things differently in structuring Norton's defense had he known the prosecution would be alleging two strikes in the case.


He said he hesitated to go into too much detail about how his defense might be altered in front of the prosecution, but he would discuss it with the judge in chambers. Carter said he also would address it in his mistrial motion.


Mann said the law allows criminal complaints to be amended up until sentencing, and the amendments can even be made orally.


He ordered the motion to amend the complaint be filed, and “out of abundance of caution” said he would give Carter the extra time he requested.


Grothe also asked to have Sgt. Tom Clements, the lead investigator on the case who has been beside Grothe at the prosecution table throughout the proceedings, released as a witness, because he had a personal family issue. The defense offered no objection.


Mann had the jury brought in and told them that legal issues had arisen. “Those issues are going to take a little bit longer to solve,” he said, telling them to report Wednesday at around 10 a.m.


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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