Tuesday, 16 August 2022

No decision yet in Hughes' change of venue

LAKEPORT – After a day of nitpicking newspaper coverage by the defense and nibbling at its findings by the prosecution on Wednesday, there was still no decision regarding a change of venue motion for the trial of Renato Hughes, a young black San Francisco man charged with murder by accomplice of two of his companions in an alleged burglary.


On Wednesday, the hearing of the motion filed by Hughes' attorney Stuart Hanlon concluded 13 hours of testimony with the likelihood that Lake County Superior Court Judge Arthur Mann will render his decision when the hearing resumes Friday morning.


Hanlon and his key expert in the hearing, Craig Haney, spent most of Wednesday going over 72 articles from assorted publications regarding the case, which stems from the alleged forced 4 a.m. entry into the Clearlake Park home of Shannon Edmonds on Dec. 7, 2005.


Hughes' companions, Rashad Williams and Christian Foster, also black, were fatally shot down by Edmonds after the alleged break-in, where the men were allegedly attempting to steal marijuana that Edmonds claims he uses for medicinal purposes.


Hughes, however, is charged with causing their deaths under the provisions of a law that holds the perpetrator of a felony responsible if the felony results in a lethal response.


Hanlon concluded his final argument in the hearing Wednesday afternoon and District Attorney Jon Hopkins was all but finished with his presentation when Mann ended the proceedings.


Hanlon reasserted his position against trying the case in Lake County because of pretrial publicity and the county's racial demographics.


According to research Hanlon has presented, only a little over 2 percent of the county's population is black.


In his final comments, Hanlon told Mann, "The only way you can find (that Hughes) will get a fair trial here is by disregarding the testimony of Mr. (Bryan A.) Stevenson and Mr. Haney. No one is calling this county racist; we're saying he can't get a fair trial."


Stevenson, the executive director of an Alabama civil rights group, and Haney have supported Hanlon's claim that a representative jury cannot be selected for Hughes in Lake County.


"It is speculation on his (Hanlon's) part to make it an emotional issue rather than a judicial one," Hopkins countered. He added that he didn't believe Mann's decision could be decided "simply on numbers."


Hanlon and Haney presented statistics showing that blacks comprise 6 percent of the state's population and pointed out that only nine of the state's 58 counties exceed the state percentage, most notably San Francisco County (13.7 percent), where Hughes lives.


Hopkins questioned if Hanlon and Haney believe that all trials for crimes which blacks are charged with should be tried in those nine counties that exceed the state average in order to get a fair trial.


Hanlon, meanwhile, castigated Hopkins for responding publicly to a document and comments issued by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a civil rights organization in support of Hughes.


Among other things, Hopkins called civil rights-oriented charges by the Baker group a "smokes screen" and he questioned why a well-meaning organization such as this one would comment when he said it didn't know all the facts.


Hanlon said that Hopkins' comments "polarized the community" and by contributing to advance publicity the district attorney was giving "the perception of a problem."


Neither Hanlon nor Hopkins made mention of a document on the letterhead of Hanlon's law firm that surfaced early in the case.


Presumably circulated to raise funds for Hanlon to take over Hughes' defense from Steven Carter, the document asserted that Hughes was being "railroaded" by the Lake County justice system.


Hanlon claimed that he had no knowledge of the document at the time.


Haney occupied the witness stand for easily half of the 13 hours the hearing has taken up so far.


Throughout his time on the stand his theme was the word "allege," which he cited as missing from many of the 72 newspaper articles and other news documents in the case.


Hopkins, however, pared the documents down to 14 by eliminating duplications and sources that prospective jurors in Lake County would never see, such as the Willits News, a law profession publication and comments made on an FM radio station.


Hanlon criticized Hopkins also for failing to bring his own experts to the hearing to refute the findings of Stevenson and Haney.


"The burden's on the defendant," reasoned Hopkins. "I don't think it's my burden to bring in experts.”


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


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