Saturday, 20 April 2024

Defense: Wrong man charged in Hughes case

LAKE COUNTY – While the defense for a San Francisco man has greeted his acquittal of the shooting deaths of two friends with relief, they also say the homeowner who fatally shot the two men as they ran from his home should be charged and tried.

Sara Rief worked with Stuart Hanlon to defend 23-year-old Renato Hughes Jr., who was charged with the deaths of friends Rashad Williams and Christian Foster on Dec. 7, 2005, allegedly because the three were part of a violent break-in.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins alleged that the three men were part of a “crime team” whose violent actions during an attempt to steal medical marijuana from homeowner Shannon Edmonds resulted in death.

Even though it was Edmonds who pulled the trigger, Hughes' alleged participation in the break-in triggered prosecution under the provocative act theory for the deaths which, the theory holds, he allegedly helped cause.

Last Friday, Hughes was acquitted of the murder charges, as well as robbery and attempted murder, although he also was found guilty of burglary and assault with a firearm because the jury considered him to be aiding and abetting the crime. Another charge relating to assault causing great bodily injury resulted in a hung jury.

“We obviously are ecstatic at the outcome,” said Rief.

Hughes, she added, has been waiting a long time for the not guilty verdict.

Had be been convicted of the two homicides, Hughes was facing life without possibility of parole, said Rief.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins said Monday that Hughes was looking at about eight years in prison plus a strike for the burglary based on the convictions.

Sentencing in the case will take place on Sept. 9 in Martinez in Judge Barbara Zuniga's courtroom, where the trial was moved after a judge granted a change of venue motion.

Hughes already has served more than two and a half years in jail since being arrested following the deaths. If Zuniga gives him the maximum eight-year sentence he's only looking at a year and a half in prison at most, said Rief.

However, Rief noted that according to sentencing guidelines the judge would have to cite extraordinary circumstances to sentence Hughes to the maximum term.

Rief said Hughes is ready to appeal the two charges of which he was convicted.

Hopkins had said Monday that he considered the two guilty verdicts on the more minor charges a rejection by the jury of Hughes' claim that he wasn't involved in the crime.

To an extent, Rief agreed, although she said the jury “obviously thought his involvement was very minimal.”

In questioning jurors for about an hour Monday, Rief said they had some trouble with Hughes' comments on the stand, and found some of his answers somewhat evasive.

“The convictions do show that they did not believe the entirety of what he said,” she noted.

The jury, she said, did a very good job with a very confusing case. She said the provocative act law has been around since the mid 1960s, but there isn't a lot of case law on it. Nevertheless, the all-female jury worked diligently to move through the difficult trial.

“Listening to them, they were really careful in their deliberations,” she said.

She said Hopkins indicated to the jury on Monday that he did not think he would attempt to retry Hughes on the lesser charge. If convicted it would only mean another year and a half in prison, said Rief.

With Hughes' trial over, attention has been turning to Edmonds, who shot Williams and Foster as they ran from his home. Rief said the National Association for the Advance of Colored People is looking at ways to get a case filed against Edmonds.

Likewise, she and Hanlon have felt from the beginning that Edmonds should be considered for charges. She cited his chasing after the men and shooting Foster while he was on the ground, and said by doing so he was taking justice into his own hands.

“We do feel that the wrong person was charged in this case,” she said.

Seeing Edmonds charged in Lake County isn't likely, said Hopkins.

Hopkins said he and the defense had a tremendous disagreement about what the evidence showed with regard to Edmonds' actions and the shots fired.

Hopkins said the jury agreed with his interpretation of the physical evidence that the fatal shot to Christian Foster came while he was ducking down to go out a sliding glass door.

When Hopkins' predecessor, Gary Luck, was still district attorney, he carefully considered whether or not to charge Edmonds.

“His conclusion that I agree with is that we would not be able to get a unanimous jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Shannon Edmonds did not fear for his safety and the safety of his family,” said Hopkins.

He explained that just before the shootings occurred, Dale Lafferty, the then-17-year-old son of Edmonds' girlfriend Lori Tyler, had just been viciously beaten by a baseball bat, an act that left him with permanent brain damage. Seeing the teen so badly hurt caused Edmonds to “lose it,” Hopkins said.

Edmonds himself also had been hit in the face with a shotgun. “The shotgun was out in the dark with these guys, getting away,” said Hopkins, with Edmonds not knowing if they would attack again.

“Somebody tell me how I'm going to convince a jury to convict him,” said Hopkins.

While many people have tried to cast the case in terms of race, Hopkins said he's heard from many others who believe Edmonds was defending his home and family.

“It's a convenient way to try and avoid the real issue in the case,” Hopkins 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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