Monday, 20 May 2024

Hughes case may return to Lake County for sentencing

LAKE COUNTY – An obscure new legal rule will bring the case of a San Francisco man whose trial was moved to Martinez back to Lake County for a hearing to determine where sentencing will take place.


It's another twist in the most unusual case of Renato Hughes Jr., who turned 24 on Friday and was acquitted earlier this month in a homicide trial for which he was tried for the deaths of friends Christian Foster and Rashad Williams.


The two men were shot by Clearlake Park homeowner Shannon Edmonds, into whose home Foster, Williams and Hughes had allegedly broken in search of marijuana on Dec. 7, 2005. That resulted in Hughes' trial under the provocative act doctrine, because he was taking part in a crime that could result in a lethal response.


The trial was moved to Martinez in Contra Costa County after a judge granted a change of venue late last year.


On Aug. 8 the 12-woman jury found Hughes not guilty of the two homicide counts, robbery and attempted murder, with the jury hanging on assault causing great bodily injury three days later, as Lake County News has reported.


Hughes was convicted of burglary and assault with a firearm.


On Friday morning, Judge Barbara Zuniga summoned back to her Martinez courtroom District Attorney Jon Hopkins and defense attorney Stuart Hanlon.


Hopkins said there is a new judicial rule, passed in 2007, that sends a trial granted a change of venue back to the transferring court for sentencing. It's the first time he's run across it.


"No one has heard of it," Hanlon added Friday.


Hopkins said Zuniga remembered it and called them back to discuss it.


The rule is so new that there's not much legal history on it, said Hopkins.


But Zuniga felt her choice was clear – that the case will return to Lake County, where hearings will be held about where the sentencing should take place, Hopkins said.


"The idea behind it is the community in which the crime occurred is the court with the most interest in the post-conviction proceedings," Hopkins explained.


A hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, in Judge Arthur Mann's courtroom, to decide if the sentencing will stay in Lake County or return to Martinez, he said.


Hopkins said the discussion will involve balancing Hughes' interest between having his sentencing conducted by the judge who heard the case and the community's interest in arriving at a decision.


Hanlon, who had filed three change of venue motions before succeeding in having the trial moved, said Friday he's happy to see it come back to Lake County for sentencing.


"I think we're probably better off with sentencing before Judge Mann," said Hanlon.


That's because he believes Zuniga – though she was very fair – probably thinks Hughes is guilty.


Sentencing had been scheduled for Sept. 9 in Martinez. Hopkins said that hearing was vacated, although Hanlon added that Hughes hadn't waived his time. That means sentencing could take place in Lake County on that date.


Hopkins, however, said the Lake County Probation Department will be hard-pressed to finish its sentencing recommendations by Sept. 9, especially if they're currently unsure of where the sentencing might be held.


Hanlon said he's hoping for a sentence where Hughes can get out of jail soon. He's been held in jail since December of 2005.


The burglary and assault with a firearm charge could bring an upper term of eight years in prison, with the burglary counted as a strike, according to Hopkins.


With credit for time served plus 50 percent, Hughes should have credit for four years and may spend very little time, if any in prison, due to sentencing guidelines that require the judge to sentence to the middle term unless there are extraordinary circumstances, as Lake County News has reported.


Even with those convictions, and with the uncertainty of the possible sentence, Hanlon said, "I think we've already won the case."


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


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