Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Judge rules murder trial will continue; defendant takes the stand

LAKEPORT – The trial of two Clearlake men for a September 2009 murder continued on Wednesday, with the judge ruling against a motion for mistrial lodged by one of the defense attorneys, which clared the way for one of the men to take the stand.


Attorney Stephen Carter filed the motion for mistrial Wednesday after prosecutor Art Grothe notified him the previous day of an additional felony strike in the criminal record of Carter's client, Melvin Dale Norton, who took the stand to testify on Wednesday.


Norton, 38, and codefendant Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, are facing murder charges for the Sept. 22 death of Shelby Uehling, 25, who was found beaten and stabbed along Old Highway 53 in Clearlake.


Additionally, Edmonds 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.


Grothe filed a motion to amend the charges against Norton to add a second strike, which Judge Arthur Mann accepted.


During oral arguments for his motion to amend the complaint, Grothe said Norton knew he had two strikes, and during an interview with Clearlake Police Det. Tom Clements had stated he was a “three strike candidate.”


“So while there may be a level of disappointment by him, it should not be a surprise,” Grothe said.


Carter replied that Norton, in the interview with Clements, was referencing a 1991 hit and run case for which he was convicted, and believed that was a strike when it wasn't.


Further, Carter argued that Grothe and the District Attorney's Office had the information that revealed the additional felony conviction last October, and that they failed to act. Carter said Grothe could have and should have looked at the documents prior to the trial's beginning. “He apparently did not.”


The result, said Carter, was a change in circumstances that resulted in serious charge enhancements for Norton. “This changes the entire case,” and puts Norton “in a horrendous position which he could not have anticipated,” said Carter.


With a second strike, the defense of being an accessory doesn't help Norton, who would face six years maximum without the enhancement but with the additional strike could face 25 years to life if convicted for that charge alone, Carter said.


Edmonds' attorney, Doug Rhoades, said the situation only collaterally affected his client, who is being painted with the same brush as Norton in the eyes of the jury.


Mann allowed the amended complaint, to which both Norton and Edmonds again pleaded not guilty in court.


In arguing for mistrial, Carter said his defense would have been different in the case with the additional strike. He asked to explain some of the differences in the judge's chambers, which Mann allowed. They were in chambers about 15 minutes before returning to the courtroom.


Mann then asked Rhoades his opinion on the mistrial motion.


“We really don't want a mistrial,” said Rhoades, noting he's happy with the case's progression.


“Mr. Edmonds has confidence in this jury,” Rhoades said. While it's an unfortunate turn of events for Carter and Norton, “We do not want to do this again.”


Mann ended by ruling the trial would continue.


He then asked Grothe what prior convictions he intended to question Norton about when he took the stand that day.


Grothe brought up robbery and battery convictions from 2001 – the latter being the charge Grothe discovered Tuesday – a burglary from 1997 and a hit and run from 1991.


Mann ruled that Grothe could use the burglary and the robbery convictions, but the battery conviction – which involved the use of a baseball bat on an individual – would not be allowed because it was an assault similar to the current case in which Norton is accused of wielding a golf club against Uehling.


Before the jury was brought in for the day, Mann said they had one other issue to address. One of the jurors had been approached by a citizen who had things to say about Norton. The female juror terminated the conversation and immediately reported to the court.


Mann had the juror brought in so he could ask her about the incident.


The young woman, who sat in the jury box, was emotional as she described going to a local store while on a break from court. She had forgotten to take off her juror badge, and the owner of the store told her that Norton had hit her in a hit and run accident in the early 1990s, which put her in the hospital for two months.


After he got out of jail, he went to apologize to her, and the woman – who the juror tried to stop from telling the story – continued on to remark that he was illiterate and she felt bad for him.


Mann asked the juror if she could put it out of her mind. She said she could and that they knew there were previous criminal issues because they had come up. She said she didn't tell her fellow jurors anything about the incident, and Mann assured her that she had done the right thing by immediately reporting it.


The young woman asked to be allowed to compose herself before going back into the jury room because she was afraid of being asked about it. While the bailiff fetched her some tissue, the judge said they would recess briefly and then reconvene.


Norton recalls fatal confrontation


When the court came back into session, and with the jury seated, Norton was called to the stand, where he would stay for nearly four hours during the course of the day.


Under Carter's questioning, Norton explained that he was close friends with the family of Patricia Campbell, who had dated both Edmonds and Uehling, and who he referred to as a cousin. He was the one who introduced her to Edmonds.


During a breakup with Edmonds, Campbell and Uehling had briefly dated, and Norton recounted that after she broke it off with Uehling – who she said was “feeding her meth” – she was sleeping all of the time and very skinny.


“I was upset about it,” Norton said of Campbell dating Uehling, because he was giving her methamphetamine.


He said he first met Uehling “stalking” around Campbell's mother's home, next door to Edmonds', at the Lakeside Resort in Clearlake. In that case, Norton said he and Edmonds had told Uehling to leave because Campbell was scared.


After midnight on Sept. 22, following a day of hanging out and a barbecue, Norton rode his bike home from Edmonds' – he had told police investigators that he had walked, a fact he later attributed to being scared and confused – and while on his way saw Uehling's car parked and running near Old Highway 53 and Lotowana.


He called Edmonds, told him of the car's location, then changed into jeans because he was cold, grabbed a golf club that his girlfriend kept for protection near the front door and headed up to Uehling's car to tell him to leave the area, because he had no business there. Norton said he feared Uehling was stalking him as well.


When he got to Uehling's car, Norton said he asked him what he was doing there and told Uehling he needed to leave. He said Uehling began swearing at him and reaching for something on the floor of the car.


Norton said he was standing on the driver's side of the car, and swung the golf club at the car to distract Uehling – who he was afraid was reaching for a weapon. He said the club hit near the mirror and broke, with the head of the club flying through the partially open window and embedding itself in the dash, with the handle end of the club pointed out the passenger side window.


Norton said he told Uehling to get out of the car and the two began shoving each other before Edmonds appeared and began to brawl with Uehling. He said it was too dark to see punches land, but he denied that Edmonds was using an asp – or billy club – to beat Uehling.


As Edmonds was kneeling on the ground near Uehling, who Norton said was moaning, Norton tapped Edmonds on the shoulder to tell him it was time to go and Edmonds swung around on him. Then they headed back to Norton's trailer where they cleaned up. Norton helped Edmonds bandage a wound on his arm, they changed clothes and hid the clothes and Edmonds' knife in the trailer's front bedroom.


Norton admitted to not being truthful with police during his two interviews, a fact which he attributed to fear.


Grothe would pursue that issue of truthfulness repeatedly, pointing out five areas in the interview transcripts where Norton lied to police.


During cross-examination Grothe also made a point of questioning Norton about the golf club, and how it could have ended up lodged in the dash as if it had been swung through the passenger side window when Norton insisted he had been on the driver's side. Grothe showed pictures of the car and the dash with the golf club buried in it.


Showing pictures of Uehling's bruised body, Grothe pointed to long red marks on Uehling's torso, and asked Norton if they looked like they had been caused by the asp. Norton said no.


Norton also didn't remember Uehling taking a blow to the throat, but Grothe replayed a portion of his police interview where Norton imitated Uehling making a loud “argh” sound. “He was hollering at us like, like a mad man, like a lunatic,” said Norton.


Grothe referred to the earlier testimony of a crime scene illustrator who helped document the murder scene. That illustrator's work showed blood spatter from Uehling going 90 inches up the oak tree against which his body was found, but Norton said it was too dark for him to see blood.


Showing a picture of Uehling's body against the tree, his throat cut and a bright red pool of blood under his torso, Grothe asked Norton if this was where he and Edmonds had left Uehling. Norton said no, that Uehling had been lying several feet away in the street.


Nor did Norton hear a gasping sound – which a witness in a nearby house testified to hearing – when Edmonds gave Uehling a final punch to the throat.


“All's I heard was moaning,” he said.


Norton also denied seeing Edmonds slit Uehling's throat.


The confrontation only lasted about four to five minutes, Norton said.


Under cross-examination by Rhoades, Norton recounted an incident that occurred about two to three days before Uehling's death, when Uehling went by the home of Campbell's mother.


When Norton confronted Uehling there, Uehling told Norton, “I'm not stalking her, I just want to talk to her, and she won't come out and talk to me,” referring to Campbell.


Grothe, in further questioning, pressed Norton about Edmonds getting the asp about a month before the murder, and sending text messages to Uehling from Campbell's phone.


He asked Norton about what he was intending to do when he challenged Uehling to get out of the car as their argument early on Sept. 22 was escalating. Norton said he just wanted Uehling to leave.


Carter, in an attempt to clarify that testimony, asked Norton about telling Uehling to leave when he visited the trailer park and sat outside of Campbell's mother's home. When Norton had challenged Uehling it had been effective in making him leave, and so that was his intention when he found Uehling in his running car near Old Highway 53.


“You didn't have any intention of harming him, did you?” Carter asked, and Norton said he didn't.


Norton added that he was scared Uehling was stalking his girlfriend, Jackie Shelafoe. Grothe pointed out that Uehling didn't know Shelafoe, but Norton said Uehling knew where he lived.


Edmonds will take the stand when court resumes Thursday morning.


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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