Wednesday, 17 July 2024

Closing arguments begin in Clearlake murder case

LAKEPORT – Early on the morning of Sept. 22, 2009, three men were involved in a confrontation that turned deadly along Old Highway 53 in Clearlake.


Two of the men would walk away, while the third, they said, lay moaning in the roadway.


That third man, 25-year-old Shelby Uehling, would be found by police not long after the fight, his body facedown along the side of the road, several feet from a large pool of blood on the roadway and another pool of blood beneath his torso, coming from his slit throat. He would be declared dead at St. Helena Hospital Clearlake a short time later.


The two men who walked away from the fight – Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, and his best friend Melvin Dale Norton, 38 – are on trial for Uehling's murder.


As the closing arguments in their trial began on Wednesday, the prosecution and defense gave their versions of that early morning fight, suggested motives and, ultimately, reminded the six-woman, six-man jury that they would be the ones to conclude the true shape of that morning's events.


“We are not the ones who decide what happens. You are. That's really what jurors do. You tell us what happened,” attorney Doug Rhoades, representing Edmonds, said during his closing arguments in the afternoon.


Motives, as well as what Norton and Edmonds knew as they walked away from Uehling – did they know the extent of his injuries, and what had been their true intent when they walked up to his car from their homes in nearby trailer parks – were debated by Art Grothe, the case's prosecutor, Rhoades and Stephen Carter, Norton's attorney.


Grothe would begin closing arguments Wednesday morning after Carter reported to the court that information he received the previous day about a possible fight between Uehling and two other individuals a day or so before his death didn't appear to be an issue.


Grothe went over the counts with the jury – including murder charges against both Edmonds and Norton, who also are both facing three charges of assault with a deadly weapon regarding the use of a knife, an asp – an extendable police-style baton – and a golf club, a special allegation against Edmonds that he personally inflicted great bodily injury and a charge against Norton that he acted as an accessory.


A week to 10 days before Uehling's murder, Patricia Campbell – Edmond's on-again, off-again girlfriend and a family friend of Norton's – met Uehling, with whom she would have a week-long relationship marked by methamphetamine use, Grothe said.


Campbell and Edmonds, who were introduced by Norton last June, were having problems and then Campbell left with Uehling for a week, he said.


Campbell had left for brief periods before during which she was involved with other men, which Grothe suggested played on Edmonds' mind.


He and Uehling would later exchange text messages, during which Edmonds called Campbell a “bag whore” who used men for drugs.


“Know what's gonna happen and what goes around comes around, Shelby. I know a lot of bad people in this town,” Edmonds wrote to Uehling.


Campbell would then dump Uehling and return to Edmonds, although she and Uehling later would exchange messages, Grothe said.


He said Uehling was no saint, and was doing meth regularly. But Grothe argued that Uehling didn't deserve to die, and he wasn't stalking Campbell as she had told Edmonds and Norton. Rather, the bigger issue, the prosecutor suggested, was the threat Uehling posed to Edmonds' relationship with Campbell.


Grothe showed the jury the asp along with the two knives Edmonds regularly carried with him, including the Fighter Plus brand double-bladed knife with which Edmonds is alleged to have dealt the final, fatal neck wound to Uehling.


Holding up the knife in its package, Grothe said, “It's for slitting people's throats, it's for opening up human bodies, it's not for working on cars,” the latter being the use Edmonds said he had for the knife on a regular basis.


Grothe replayed portions of Edmonds' recorded interview with police on Sept. 22 in which he recounted Uehling stabbing him in the arm during the fight. Another part of the interview had Clearlake Police Det. Tom Clements confronting him about lying to investigators regarding what happened during the fight.


When Clements asked him why he didn't call police, Edmonds replied, “Because I figured he was hurt pretty f---ing bad.”


Grothe alleged that Norton had approached Uehling's car, parked and running on a street off of Highway 53, and challenged him to get out and “talk like a man.”


“That's garbage,” said Grothe, suggesting to the jury that Norton instead was telling Uehling to get out and fight.


Grothe theorized that Norton hit Uehling in the back of the head with the golf club, then went around to the passenger side of the car and swung through the window, embedding the head of the golf club in the dashboard and snapping off the handle.


Showing pictures of Uehling's body and two specific marks on the torso, Grothe compared those marks with the head of the asp, which has a ball on the end. He suggested, “They match. There's nothing else that matches that.”


Grothe argued that Uehling took a heavy blow to his throat early on, rendering him unable to speak. A knife wound to his back punctured his lung, which would have started collapsing.


A neighbor reportedly heard a gasp outside of his home, and allegedly heard someone say, “I cut his throat.” That same witness testified to seeing two subjects near Uehling, kicking him.


Grothe alleged that Edmonds took three weapons with him to the fight – two knives and the asp.


At the fight's end, “He's down,” Grothe said of Uehling. “He is not moving. He's hurt bad. He is down on the ground and he is not capable of any kind of resistance at that point, and that's when Shannon Edmonds makes the decision.”


Grothe added, “Just being beat down is not good enough for Shannon Edmonds at that point. He makes the decision to slit his [Uehling's] throat and kill him.”


Defense attorneys offer alternate view


When court reconvened in the afternoon, Rhoades spent about an hour and a half offering his final arguments on the case.


Nothing that the case is a convoluted one, Rhoades said, “Shelby Uehling is dead, most apparently, from injuries inflicted by Shannon Edmonds.”


After Campbell and Uehling broke it off, it's Norton who intervened to tell Uehling that Campbell doesn't want to see him anymore. When Uehling shows up outside of her mother's home Norton tells him to leave, and when Uehling tries calling on her Campbell's phone when she's sleeping off the meth run, Norton is handed the phone by Edmonds and tells Uehling to stop calling. That call occurred hours before the final fight.


“His beef now could well have been with Mr. Norton,” said Rhoades said of Uehling.


He then asked, “Why does that that fit anything? Here's why. Where is he parked?”


When Norton headed home early on the morning of Sept. 22, he saw Uehling's car parked near the entrance to the trailer park where he lived.


Rhoades said that the marks on Uehling's chest that Grothe alleged were from the asp were not bruises but scrape marks, based on the pathologist's testimony. They were consistent with nylon straps used to secure patients on a backboard on their way to the hospital, Rhoades suggested.


He also questioned the thoroughness of the investigation, saying detectives didn't check parts of the scene for the location of any additional evidence, and noted that fingerprints lifted from the car weren't checked.


Rhoades questioned if Edmonds was the aggressor or if he was reacting to Uehling's aggression.


If Edmonds killed Uehling not with premeditation but just in reaction to the fight, “then you do not have a murder, you have a manslaughter,” said Rhoades.


He said the jury instructions will explain that they must have an “abiding conviction” of guilt. Rhoades said “abiding” is a somewhat archaic word with important meaning – it's not temporary or fleeting, but is for years to come.


“You can't go along to get along. It's not that easy here,” he said.


During his closing arguments, Carter explained that Campbell loved Edmonds before, during and after her brief tryst with Uehling.


Of Uehling, Carter aid, “Where he specifically lives in Clearlake, methamphetamine is a big problem for a lot of people there.”


After Campbell broke off her relationship with Uehling, “Shelby wouldn't accept that his meth wasn't enough to pull this girl in anymore,” said Carter.


Uehling had no good reason to be in Norton's neighborhood in the hours before his death, during which he was making “odd, weird, paranoid calls” to friends saying he had people after him, said Carter.


Norton rides his bike home, sees Uehling's car parked alongside of the road, running, with the lights out. “Creepy, isn't it?” Carter suggested.


Why didn't Norton call the police? Carter suggested that, with his previous criminal record, Norton was in danger of not being believed.


Norton confronts Uehling, who has weapons with him, including a knife in his shoe. When he reached down for a weapon, Norton hit the car with a golf club, which Carter said was done in panic.


“What if you're about to die? Would you swing the golf club? Melvin did. And what happened? It broke,” said Carter.


He said the prosecution hadn't explained the damage to the car's driver side weather stripping, but he suggested that is where the club would have hit before breaking, sending the head to embed into the brittle, older plastic dash.


Uehling got out of the car and would pull up his shirt to grab a weapon from his waist band. Carter said Edmonds “did something brave” by charging in at that point.


Carter said if Norton is to be proved an accessory to murder, the prosecution has to prove that he knew a murder had been committed.


“Melvin couldn't have known that,” said Carter, adding, “It's too dark and he couldn't see.”


Closing arguments will continue Thursday morning, to be followed by jury instructions.


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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