Wednesday, 07 December 2022

Judge: Hughes will be tried in Lake County

LAKEPORT – Superior Court Judge Arthur Mann on Friday denied a change of venue motion by attorney Stuart Hanlon for the trial of Renato Hughes, a young San Francisco man.

Hughes, 22, is charged with the double homicide of two of his companions who were allegedly involved in the alleged pre-dawn break-in and attempted robbery of marijuana at the Clearlake Park home of Shannon Edmonds on Dec. 7, 2005.

Hughes is being held responsible for the shooting deaths of Rashad Williams and Christian Foster under a statute holding perpetrators of a felony liable for deaths occurring during a felonious act if the act is likely to result in a lethal response. In this case, it was Edmonds who allegedly did the shooting.

Hanlon had sought a change of venue based on his concerns regarding the possibility of racial bias in the Lake County justice system and the perceived difficulty of selecting a jury here that would give his defendant a "fair trial.”

Hughes is black, as were the shooting victims. Hanlon supported his motion by citing Lake County's limited number of black citizens – the county, he says, has a population that is only 2.3 percent black – and pretrial publicity.

The San Francisco attorney, who has taken a zealous approach to defending Hughes, was respectful of Mann and, in fact, lauded him, but said immediately after the decision that he would appeal it.

"We will take it to the Court of Appeals and then if you don't win, you go from there," he said. "I think the judge showed an awareness of racial bias and unconscious racism, which is quite a statement.

"A lot of judges don't see that, so I was real happy about that. Happy is the wrong word. The judge (Mann) had a sensitivity in this case that made me hopeful."

Hanlon was not as generous in his appraisal of prosecuting District Attorney Jon Hopkins.

"He is a creatively intelligent man – the judge – but not the District Attorney," said Hanlon. "I like Jon, but not in court."

Hopkins, in turn, declined to comment on the statement.

The decision concluded nearly 14 hours of testimony and arguments by the attorneys over a period of three days.

Hughes' mother elected not to comment on Mann's edict, but a leader of the local black community said she was "not surprised" the change of venue motion was denied.

"I was hopeful that the evidence presented by Mr. (Bryan A.) Stevenson and Mr. (Craig) Haney would have been seriously considered by Judge Mann," said Aqeela El-Amin Bakheit, president of the Lake County NAACP.

"I was in the courtroom and I think the evidence was very persuasive, although I know there were other factors to consider besides the testimony of those two experts," Bakheit added in reference to Stevenson, who is the executive director of an Alabama civil rights organization and Haney, who is a professor in the University of California system with a doctorate in psychology and a law degree.

Bakheit, however, said she is hopeful that Hughes will get a fair trial here.

"We know that statistics tell only part of the story ... and there are a lot of people who don't necessarily look at a person's color," she asserted. "They will look at the evidence and they will come up with a fair assessment and evaluation and base their decision simply on that."

Hopkins anticipates that Hanlon will present a writ to the Court of Appeals in San Francisco requesting that Mann's decision be negated.

"But we will prepare ourselves for the start of a jury trial on May 1," he added. "The Court of Appeals is kind of a wild card in all of this."

If the San Francisco court upholds Mann's decision, the trial, Hopkins believes, would proceed on schedule.

"The judge raised some really good issues and he showed a sensitivity to the race issue that we need in this case in the jury selection and the trial," Hanlon observed. "That was really positive. You don't always win when you think you ought to, but the issue was recognized and I believe he'll give us a fair trial if we end up here."

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

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