Thursday, 25 July 2024

Jury begins deliberations in Clearlake murder case

LAKEPORT – After listening to weeks of detailed testimony from 21 people – including police, criminalists and the defendants themselves – the jury in a Clearlake murder case sat down to begin deliberations on Thursday afternoon.

The six-woman, six-man jury must now decide justice for Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, and Melvin Dale Norton, 38, two friends who are accused of killing 25-year-old Shelby Uehling.

The three men were involved in a confrontation along Old Highway 53 early on the morning of Sept. 22, 2009.

Norton and Edmonds testified to walking up to confront Uehling – parked in his car, the motor running and lights off at around 1 a.m. near Norton's trailer park – and tell him to leave Patricia Campbell alone.

Campbell is a longtime friend of Norton's and a woman who had been briefly involved with Uehling during a breakup from Edmonds, who she'd lived with on and off since last June. After abruptly breaking it off with Uehling, she returned to Edmonds. When Uehling tried to see her and call her, she told the men he was stalking her.

The early morning fight with Uehling began with a shoving match between him and Norton, during which Uehling reportedly reached into his waistband to pull out a weapon, according to testimony during the trial. At that point in the fight, Edmonds arrived at the scene and charged Uehling, both Edmonds and Norton testified.

Closing arguments in the case began Wednesday, running the length of the day and continuing Thursday.

Norton's attorney, Stephen Carter, finished his arguments Thursday morning.

Carter questioned the testimony of a witness who claimed that, despite the night's dark conditions, he could see two men leaning over a body on the ground.

Due to the lighting conditions, Carter suggested the testimony was embellished, and that the man by that point was aware of the case facts from media reports.

In order to conclude Norton and Edmonds are guilty of murder, Carter told the juror that they would need to break the allegations down and look at the elements of murder, which must all be met for a conviction.

While it's accepted in the case that Edmonds struck the fatal blows to Uehling, who died of a slit throat, Norton is charged with murder also under the theory that he aided and abetted the crime. Carter explained to the jury that theory by giving them an example of another crime, such as a sexual assault, where a person holds the victim down.

He maintained that there is no evidence showing Norton had any part in the confrontation once Edmonds arrived and began to brawl with Uehling.

Norton also faces an assault with a deadly weapon charge for allegedly swinging a golf club at Uehling as he sat in the front seat of his car. Carter said Norton swung the golf club at the car to distract Uehling, who Carter said was reaching down to the floor looking for a weapon. An examination of Uehling's body at the hospital found a small knife tucked in his shoe.

During opening arguments, prosecutor Art Grothe argued that the handle end of the golf club – which broke when it hit the car – was used to make a large puncture wound in one of Uehling's buttocks.

“That was a big argument for the prosecution,” he said.

However, Carter asked, “Has that been proven? No, in fact the exact contrary has been proven to you.”

Carter cited the trial testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Gill, who performed Uehling's autopsy and noted the wound and the end of the broken golf club shaft were inconsistent.

In additional, state Department of Justice criminalists who tested the club found no biological evidence – blood or DNA – to show that it had wounded Uehling, Carter said.

Norton and Edmonds left the club behind at the scene and therefore it can't be argued that the club handle was washed to remove such evidence, he added.

Carter said that his client was being accused of involvement because he hadn't initially been forthright during interviews with police.

“It's not fair to accuse someone of something they didn't do,” he said, suggesting that should make the jurors wonder why Norton was charged.

Carter then read a portion of a transcript from a jail phone call between Edmonds and Norton's aunt Gigi.

Edmonds said of Norton, “It was self-defense for me and he was just like, he was there, he didn't do anything.” He added, “Melvin did nothing,”

Those statements, said Carter, “show Shannon in an unguarded moment, simply saying what the deal is, what the situation is in this case.”

Carter asked the jury not to convict Norton of something he didn't do. Norton didn't murder anyone and neither did he act as an accessory, since when they changed their clothes and cleaned Edmonds' knife at Norton's house a short time later, Carter argued the Norton didn't know Uehling was dead, and that as a convicted felon he was acting out of fear for himself.

“You have the power to do justice, and that's after all what we ask from a jury,” he said.

Carter said the scene where the fight occurred was left open and unguarded for hours afterward by police.

“It's not good police work, that's true,” he said. “In a scene like that mistakes are made, but what a heck of a mistake, to leave the scene unguarded for that long.”

There was a search of one field near the area, but that was it, said Carter.

He asked the jury to think about how Norton felt, riding his bicycle home early on Sept. 22, and seeing Uehling parked not far from his home.

Norton already was concerned about Campbell, who had claimed Uehling was stalking her. “You ever see somebody get played like that before?” Carter asked, noting that Norton had not reason not to believe Campbell.

“Now we've got a different mindset for Melvin, one of wanting to protect,” both himself and Campbell, Carter explained.

“I ask you to convict Melvin Norton of nothing,” Carter concluded.

In a rebuttal argument that took about 45 minutes, Grothe said the witness who claimed he saw Edmonds cut Uehling's throat had no reason to lie, but Grothe said Norton's first statements to police were filled with lies. A second police interview never hinted at self-defense, Grothe added.

Regarding Carter's statements about the quality of the police work, which Edmonds' attorney Doug Rhoades also had challenged on Wednesday, Grothe said Uehling's car has been locked up in an evidence holding facility since day one.

“If any one of these folks wanted something out of that car, it was there and available,” he said, adding that instead they want to take “cheap shots” at investigators.

Grothe also dismissed Rhoades' suggestion Wednesday that marks on Uehling's chest – which Grothe had argued during his initial closing arguments were caused by an extendable baton, or asp, that he alleges Edmonds wielded – were caused by nylon backboard straps used to transport Uehling to the hospital.

“They match up with nothing else in this case but an asp,” Grothe said.

He replayed brief portions of Norton's police interviews. During that interview, Norton mentioned Edmonds jumping into the fight after Norton and Uehling had been shoving each other.

Clearlake Police Det. Tom Clements asked Norton, “Why didn't you tell us that in the first place? I told you, you have to be completely honest with us.”

Although both Rhoades and Carter has questioned the investigators' thoroughness on scene – it was noted that a knife that Edmonds said Uehling used to stab him in the arm was never found – Grothe said investigators looked very closely at the scene. They accounted for everything from doughnuts scattered about the site to blood spatter that had been found about 8 feet up a nearby tree.

“If there had been some kind of knife out there they would have found it,” he said.

Grothe told the jury that a person who engages in mutual combat or first engages in force can only use self-defense as a legal defense if they try to stop the fight. He said Uehling tried backing out of the fight several times, but added, “Shannon Edmonds kept pressing that fight,” and he wanted “a piece of Shelby,” Grothe added.

The right to use self-defense exists as long as the danger exists, then it ends, Grothe maintained.

“At the end of this fight, Shelby's down on the ground and Shannon Edmonds is standing over him, Melvin's about 20 feet away, yells at Shannon to stop, 'Let's go.' Shannon is standing up at that point. Shelby is on the ground,” Grothe recounted.

Then, he alleged that Edmonds bent down and took one last punch, slitting Uehling's throat with the knife.

Norton, who first arrived on the scene, kept Uehling from leaving, got him out of his car, got between Uehling and the car so he couldn't get away, Grothe said.

“He kept him there until Shannon got there. And he kept him there so Shannon could take care of business.”

Uehling was beaten down to the point that “there was no danger of any kind of resistance,” Grothe said, and as Uehling lay there screaming as a neighbor had testified, Edmonds reached down and cut his throat.

“That is deliberate, premeditated murder,” Grothe concluded.

With about an hour left in the morning session, Judge Arthur Mann read through the jury instructions, which explained how to consider charges, what information jurors can and can't use in deliberations, how to weigh testimony, the differences between perpetrators and those accused of aiding and abetting, and the difference between homicide and manslaughter.

Words, he said, no matter how offensive, and nonthreatening actions don't justify assault.

Mann also cautioned jurors about stating their opinions too early in the deliberations process, which can interfere with working toward a solution.

The clerk of the court then swore in the bailiff, who took charge of the jury.

After breaking for lunch, the jury began deliberations at 1:30 p.m. and went beyond 4:30 p.m., according to Carter.

They'll be back to continue deliberations on Tuesday 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 and on Facebook at .

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