Wednesday, 17 July 2024

State makes suggestions on where to move Hughes trial

LAKEPORT – The prosecutor and defense attorney in the Renato Hughes case received unexpected news Friday when they went to court to find out where the state proposes to move the trial.

The surprise is that the state Administrative Office of the Courts suggests that the trial be moved to Southern California.

On Friday morning District Attorney Jon Hopkins and defense attorney Stuart Hanlon were in Judge Arthur Mann's court to hear what alternate counties could host the trial, which Hopkins estimated will take about eight weeks.

The 23-year-old Hughes is being tried for murder in the deaths of Rashad Williams and Christian Foster, who he was allegedly accompanying during a residential robbery in Clearlake Park on Dec. 7, 2005.

Williams and Foster were shot by homeowner Shannon Edmonds as they ran from his home, but Hughes is being held responsible for their deaths under the provocative act theory.

On Nov. 15, after weeks of jury selection, the judge assigned to the Hughes case – retired Alameda Superior Court Judge William McKinstry – granted Hanlon's change of venue motion.

McKinstry cited the number of potential jurors who were dismissed for various reasons as the basis for his concern that Hughes might not receive a fair trial in Lake County.

Although Mann had not received a formal written report from the Administrative Office of the Courts by Friday, Hopkins said Mann reported that he had a conversation with an official who proposed the trial be moved either to Los Angeles or San Diego County.

Neither Hopkins nor Hanlon welcomed the proposal for those counties, based largely on concerns of distance and additional cost.

“I have a real problem because it's so far away,” said Hanlon.

Hanlon said he proposed Solano, Alameda or San Francisco counties, wanting to avoid counties with less diverse populations.

In the case of Solano, it has the highest per capital population of black residents of any county in the state. “I think Solano would be really good,” said Hanlon. “They don't want it but that's not the issue.”

Alameda and San Francisco also are diverse. However, Hanlon added, “We all know San Francisco is not the best place because of the media.”

Hanlon said it will be up to Mann to decide where the trial may go, and convenience to the parties has to be a consideration.

“The cost and expense of moving the case that far is humongous,” said Hanlon.

Hopkins also was concerned about the distance involved in moving the trial so far south.

As to where he wants to see the trial move, he said, “I would like to be close and also not in the counties that have had a lot of publicity in the case, and the Bay Area has.”

Hopkins suggested Yolo or Sacramento counties would be better choices, and considerably closer for all parties. Hanlon agreed that a Sacramento Valley location would be preferable.

Said Hopkins, “I'm actually surprised that they're having trouble finding a court to accommodate a two-month trial.”

Official explains reasons for suggesting LA, San Diego

Brad Campbell, supervising analyst for the Administrative Office of the Courts, told Lake County News he had spoken directly with Judge Mann about the possibility of moving the trial to either Los Angeles or San Diego counties.

Campbell said Judge Mann should have his official report on the change of venue early next week.

It's been difficult to find a place to host the case, said Campbell.

“We had other courts that would be able to do it but not until much later in the year,” said Campbell, explaining that late spring would be the earliest some of the alternate courts could take the trial based on their caseloads.

In Los Angeles and San Diego, Campbell said they were looking at having the trial on the calendar as soon as January or February. “You want to get a case on schedule as quickly as you can.”

Hanlon, however, said he was not available in either January or February, so the trial can't be held then. He suggested late spring would be better.

Hopkins said they'll be back in court on Jan. 4, 2008, at which time they'll discuss the change of venue location.

Campbell said if the defense and prosecution can't agree on where to hold the trial, Mann must schedule a McGowan hearing, in which the two sides will make their arguments about where they want the trial to go.

State and local responsibilities

Campbell said the county and state will share the expenses for moving the trial.

While trial courts are funded by the state, the home or “sending” court bears the cost of any extraordinary costs, including daily transcripts and extra security, said Campbell. The receiving court won't bear any charges.

Lake County would have to share costs of having Hughes housed at a jail facility in the county where the trial is held, said Campbell. The county won't have to pay for defense costs, he added.

As to the number of changes of venues he works on, Campbell said the number is very small – only about two to three across California each year.

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


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