Thursday, 23 May 2024

Jack sentenced to 12 years for Womachka's death

LAKEPORT – A man who early last month accepted a plea agreement for the 2007 death of a taxi driver received a 12-year prison sentence on Monday.

Judge Arthur Mann sentenced 33-year-old Morgan Matthew Jack of Nice to the upper 11-year term for voluntary manslaughter plus a year for the use of a knife in the death of 38-year-old Paul Womachka in June 2007.

On April 2, Jack – who was facing first-degree murder and a possible life prison term if convicted of that charge – accepted a plea agreement in which he pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and admitted a special allegation of using a knife or sharp object, as Lake County News has reported.

Jack was the last person seen with Womachka, who picked Jack up from Robinson Rancheria Resort & Casino in the early morning hours of June 27, 2007, and drove him to Big Valley Rancheria in Lakeport, according to investigators.

Days later, Womachka's body was found submerged in his taxi minivan in Big Valley Rancheria's marina, with an autopsy later determining that he had suffered four “sharp force injuries” to his upper body. Among those wounds was a cut to his jugular vein.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff said the Probation Department suggested the 12-year sentence that Mann ultimately imposed.

That report took into account Jack's lengthy criminal history, including three previous prison terms, and Jack's “abysmal failure” on parole and probation, Hinchcliff said.

Hinchcliff said the court weighs factors of aggravation and mitigation in sentencing. Aggravating factors in Jack's case included violent conduct, prior violations and prison terms, the fact that he was on parole at the time of Womachka's death and his poor previous performance while on parole.

There were no mitigating factors – such as provocation, coercion to perform the crime, no previous record and early admission of guilty – Hinchcliff said.

Carter said the upper term sentence was what the defense was expecting “and that's what we got,” but he noted it was a better option than the possible life sentence Jack could have faced had he been prosecuted and convicted of murder.

Also speaking during the sentencing were Womachka's parents and one of his three sons, all of whom held Jack responsible for the death, Hinchcliff said.

The case was a challenging one, primarily because of its lack of evidence. Hinchcliff, a prosecutor for 16 years who has tried some extremely tough cases, said of the homicides cases he's prosecuted “this was by far the one with the least evidence.”

The evidence Hinchcliff said he had available included a tiny speck of Womachka's blood on one of Jack's shoes, which was so small that it was used up during crime lab testing.

Besides that, Hinchcliff said the prosecution had witnesses who saw Jack get into Womachka's taxi, and a surveillance videotape from a few hours later taken at Konocti Vista Casino showing Jack wearing different clothing.

“And that's all we had,” he said, adding there were no admissions, confessions or witnesses, and no other circumstantial evidence.

“I was hoping the case would get better,” he said, explaining that homicide cases often do, with people coming forward. But that didn't happen in this case, although Hinchcliff believed that someone saw or heard what happened.

Hinchcliff said he could have put on a case with any number of scenarios, but with the limited state of the evidence, the concern was that there would be an acquittal or a hung jury, which would mean no one would be held responsible.

From that came the decision to pursue the voluntary manslaughter plea bargain – not a sentence bargain, he emphasized – after he discussed it with the investigators and with Womachka's family, who agreed.

“We didn't do anything without the consent of the family,” he said.

If there was any doubt in Hinchcliff's mind that it was the right course to take, those doubts were removed after spending an hour in his office with the Womachka family on Monday.

“When I met with them today I became convinced that we did the right thing, because you could see they were really relieved,” he said, explaining that they're able to try to start moving forward with their lives.

Jack received credit for 816 days of time served in the Lake County Jail, with another 120 days of credit, totaling 938 credit days, Carter said. That leaves just over nine years, of which Jack must serve 85 percent, or about 8 years.

In addition, Jack must pay a $2,400 restitution fine to the state, more than $4,600 for the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board – which helps cover funeral expenses for victims and counseling for families – plus nearly $10,000 in restitution to Womachka's parents and just over $1,000 to Womachka's sister, Hinchcliff 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 and on Facebook at .

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