Friday, 24 May 2024

Wells convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Shull death

LAKEPORT – A teenager accused of the March 2006 stabbing death of a Clearlake man was convicted Tuesday morning of involuntary manslaughter.

After two hours of deliberations, a jury found Bruce Emerson Wells, 19, guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 54-year-old Vietnam veteran Samuel Shull, reported Wells' attorney, Roy Miller of Santa Rosa.

Wells, who was a few months shy of turning 18 when the stabbing took place, was tried as an adult in the case, after a fitness hearing last year found him unfit to be tried as a juvenile, according to Deputy District Attorney David McKillop.

The confrontation that led to Shull's death took place on a Friday night – March 24, 2006 – outside of Shull's 33rd Avenue home, according to the police reports.

Wells and six other minors ranging in age from 14 to 19 were at the Shull home for a party, said Miller.

At the party was a half-gallon of brandy and 48 beers. Miller said several witnesses testified that Shull and his stepson, Jacob Rines, brought the liquor there. McKillop said testimony conflicted on just who actually did bring the alcohol, whether it was Shull or another adult named “Herb.”

The alcohol proved to be a critical factor in how the evening unfolded.

Wells and the other teens, who had known each other for some time and were friends, were drinking and partying in the home's living room, said Miller, while a number of adults were in another area of the home.

“The testimony at trial revealed that most of the kids were drinking heavily,” said Miller, a statement with which McKillop concurred.

A quarrel started after a teen at the party, Joshua Carter, playfully “goosed” Wells while trying to walk around him, Miller said.

Eventually the argument died down but Samuel Shull's wife, Linda, asked Wells to leave, said Miller.

Confrontation and death

Miller contends Wells did leave, although both he and McKillop reported testimony from witnesses that Wells stayed outside the home, yelling and pacing before throwing a softball-sized rock at the home's front door.

Wells then began walking down 33rd Avenue in the direction of his home, said Miller, followed by Shull, who went out into the rainy night wearing a pair of jeans and bedroom slippers but no shirt.

Why Shull followed Wells isn't clear, but both sides agreed that the two had a confrontation down the street, which no one heard.

The result, said Miller, was that Wells stabbed Shull once with a three-and-a-half-inch long fixed blade knife.

Said McMcKillop, “Our feeling is, that there was good, strong evidence that he (Wells) drew the victim out and stuck him.”

Shull then walked to the corner of his property and collapsed, said Miller.

Witnesses testified that they began screaming at Wells, who came back to the front yard. There, Shull's stepson, Jacob Rines, hit him more than once over the head with a 5-foot-long walking stick, which Miller said caused a significant head injury.

Both Shull and Wells were transported to Redbud Hospital, said Miller, where Shull was pronounced dead on arrival in the early morning hours of March 25, 2006.

Wells, who had bleeding into his brain from the blows to the head, was transported to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for treatment, said Miller.

McKillop and Miller both reported that Shull's autopsy revealed he had a blood alcohol level of .30, while Wells had a blood alcohol level of .19 coupled with marijuana.

Investigation and trial

The witnesses in the case weren't interviewed until three days afterward, both sides reported.

“You have to interview people as soon as possible,” said Miller. “They didn't.”

McKillop defended Clearlake Police's actions. “That night the scene was very chaotic and it was pouring down rain, so they wanted to preserve the physical evidence,” he said.

Police tried to set up interviews at the hospital after everyone had been checked out, but by the time police arrived at the hospital, everyone had left, said McKillop. Police found many of the teen witnesses at school the following Monday.

In a murder case, the degree isn't charged, said McKillop, although the jury can choose a degree in making a conviction. He said the District Attorney's Office felt the case was close – between second-degree murder and manslaughter – but they were looking for the higher murder charge.

For murder, McKillop explained, “You have to be able to form a certain intent, and being intoxicated can make it tougher to form that intent.”

Miller said Wells' consistent testimony was that he did not remember the confrontation with Shull, or for that matter anything after the argument with Carter. He said he presented testimony at court about how head injuries can cause that type of memory loss.

Wells, said Miller, “had no history of violence like this.”

McKillop and Miller both confirmed that Wells had contact with police as a juvenile, but those records are sealed and could not be used in this case.

Miller said he believed the conflicting, sometimes changing testimony of some of the witnesses led the jury to their verdict.

In particular, he pointed to the testimony of Jacob Rines and his sister, LeeAnn, who he said made statements on the stand that didn't match what they told police. Jurors pointed out that testimony to him as problematic, said Miller.

Miller accused Jacob Rines of witness tampering for having admitted that he told other witnesses what to say and, in particular, that they should say it was Wells who brought alcohol to the party.

Miller said he presented information to the District Attorney's Office in February regarding his allegations against Rines for witness tampering, which his investigator, Gary Hill, unearthed.

The District Attorney's Office declined to take any action, said McKillop, because it was neither dramatic nor pertinent information.

The jury's decision Tuesday, said McKillop, means that they found no malice in Well's actions.

Miller said he was thrilled with the verdict in the case, which is a tragic one.

“It's tragic that Sam died, but it's also equally tragic that he forced the confrontation,” said Miller.

Alcohol at the root of the incident

Both McKillop and Miller agreed that the case illustrates one vital point – teenagers shouldn't drink.

McKillop, who specializes in alcohol-related cases, particular those involving drinking and driving, said teens don't have the physical ability to handle alcohol, nor the life experience and judgment to make good decisions about alcohol use.

“What happened that night happened because of alcohol on both sides,” said Miller. “No parent should be allowing kids to drink in their home. It's insane.”

When Wells returns to Superior Court's Department 3 for sentencing at 8:15 a.m. Monday, Oct. 15, Judge Arthur Mann will have sentencing options ranging from probation to a maximum of five years in prison, said Miller.

The case now goes to the Probation Department, which will interview Wells and make a suggestion on how he should be sentenced, Miller added.

Because he's now 19, and he was tried as an adult, Wells would serve time in an adult facility, McKillop said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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