Monday, 24 June 2024

State NAACP seeks Hughes trial change of venue; DA responds

LAKEPORT – The case of a young San Francisco man who is to be tried for the murder of two childhood friends took another turn Wednesday, with the arrival of advocates from the California State Conference of the NAACP. {sidebar id=30}

In a noon press conference on the courthouse steps, representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) California conference stated that no justice can be found in Lake County for 23-year-old Renato Hughes, who is being held responsible for the deaths of Christian Foster and Rashad Williams on Dec. 7, 2005.

The man who actually shot the two men as they allegedly ran from his home, Shannon Edmonds, has not been charged in the case. But Hughes is being tried under the provocative act legal theory, which holds him responsible for his friends' deaths because they were allegedly engaged in a crime – in this case a residential robbery – that could result in a lethal response.

NAACP is asking that Renato Hughes be released from custody and that his case be moved from Lake County.

Judy Hughes, Renato Hughes' mother, was also there to speak on behalf of her son. She also sat in on the lengthy jury selection process that continued throughout the day Wednesday.

Ken Nelson, president of the NAACP Richmond Branch, said the California State Conference of the NAACP unanimously voted Oct. 29 to advocate in the case.

“There is absolutely nowhere in America that this kind of situation should go on and not be addressed,” Nelson said. “Nowhere should someone be allowed to shoot and take the life of another human being and not be held accountable.”

The NAACP has dubbed Hughes, Foster and Williams the “Clearlake 3,” and compared them to the “Jena 6” of Jena, Louisiana. The Jena 6 are six black students charged with second-degree attempted murder in the wake of rising racial tensions at their high school.

“We believe this is worse than Jena 6, right here in Lake County, California,” said Nelson.

Nelson added, “We know that there is no way that Renato Hughes Jr. will receive a fair trial in Lake County.”

The NAACP filed an amicus brief in the Hughes case Wednesday in support of Hughes' case being moved out of the county.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins said in a late Wednesday interview that the brief is meant to support a motion to move the trial that Hanlon is expected to make – but hasn't yet done.

In addition, Nelson said the NAACP plans to file paperwork with the California Attorney General and the US Attorney General by week's end seeing charges be filed against Shannon Edmonds “for the violence we know he has committed.”

Nelson said they also are seeking an investigation by the California State Bar into possible prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Hopkins.

Ida Johnson, an officer of the state NAACP conference, said the pool of jurors did not represent Hughes' peers.

“There's nobody his color, there's nobody his age, there's nobody of his standing,” said Johnson. “Everybody that I saw in the pool was over 35.”

By the time the morning recess was called, the jurors seated in the jury box so far consisted of seven women and five men, all white, based on this reporter's observation of the proceedings.

Aqeela El-Amin Bakheit, president of the Lake County NAACP branch, said she had a “slightly different” view of the case, which she has followed since its beginning. El-Amin Bakheit has bee a fixture at court dates and also has visited Hughes in jail.

She said she wasn't going to talk about the local chapter's difference with the state. “We stand with the state conference. Our slight differences are not a big deal.”

The bigger issue, said El-Amin Bakheit, is justice.

“Wherever the trial is held, I just want to make sure the young man has a fair trial,” she said.

Just where the state NAACP wants the trial moved is unclear.

“We're looking for an area where we believe he will get a fair trial. Where that is, we'll leave that up to the attorneys,” said Nelson.

Hopkins: Come and see the evidence

Following Wednesday's jury selection session, Hopkins said that if the NAACP goes through with seeking to have the case moved, it won't be the first time.

The state NAACP has gone to the state attorney general twice with this case, once with former Attorney General Bill Lockyer and, after he left office, to his successor, Jerry Brown, Hopkins said.

After completely reviewing the case, including reading transcripts of the preliminary hearing, both Lockyer and Brown responded with letters declining to remove the case from Hopkins' office, he said.

The attorney general got involved again when defense attorney Stuart Hanlon made a recent motion to have Hopkins removed from the case, and the Attorney General's Office argued against that, too, said Hopkins.

“They've really had three times to have the Attorney General's Office say they see something wrong here and step in, and they haven't,” said Hopkins.

Responding to the allegations about his office's failure to prosecute Edmonds, Hopkins explained that the decision was made by Gary Luck, who Hopkins succeeded as district attorney late last year.

“Gary's view was that it was not something that could be proven,” said Hopkins.

To make the case stick, the District Attorney's Office would have had to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Edmonds had not acted in defense of himself, his home or his family, said Hopkins. Luck considered all the evidence and concluded the case couldn't be made.

Hopkins invited anyone who has questions to come to the trial and listen to the evidence, which includes audio from a surveillance camera that picked up the alleged attack by Hughes, Foster and Williams in the Edmonds home.

During that attack, Dale Lafferty, the son of Edmonds' girlfriend, Lori Tyler, was bludgeoned with a baseball bat, which reportedly caused long-term disabilities, including brain injuries, according to previous statements by Hopkins.

It's that kind of evidence that Hopkins said he is using as the basis of his decision to push forward with the case.

Trials are the place for the kind of debate about motive and evidence that the NAACP is trying to carry on in the public arena, said Hopkins.

“It's kind of interesting to me that they don't believe in the jury trial system and they want to go on a personal attack because they can't get anywhere with the arguments they've been making,” he said.

Hopkins said the NAACP's statements show that they misunderstand Lake County and its makeup. And for Hopkins, who had thousands of black clients while a public defender in Los Angeles, their allegations about his unfairness to blacks is particularly troubling.

“It's a pretty sad commentary,” he said.

Just when the trial will get started is still up in the air, said Hopkins.

On Thursday jury questioning continues, he said. Although the jury could finally be seated on Thursday, he expects Hanlon could file a change of venue motion which will cause a pause in the proceedings.

Next week, the court is adjourned for Thanksgiving, said Hopkins, which means the trial's beginning – if it isn't subject to a venue change – could be another week out.

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


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