Monday, 24 June 2024

Jury convicts teenager of voluntary manslaughter

CLEARLAKE – On Tuesday a jury found a teenager guilty of voluntary manslaughter for the May 2008 death of a Clearlake man.


The verdict was handed down to 19-year-old transient Erik Michael McPherson Tuesday morning, according to defense attorney Stephen Carter of the law firm Carter & Carter.


The District Attorney’s Office had charged McPherson with murder and a special allegation of using a knife for the death of 40-year-old Nicolai Chukreeff.


However, after a week of deliberation, a jury convicted McPherson of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.


McPherson’s sentencing is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. June 11 before Judge Stephen Hedstrom, who presided over the trial, which lasted two and a half months. Jury selection had begun on Jan. 13, according to the District Attorney’s Office.


McPherson could face as many as 12 years in prison, and must serve 85 percent of the term, said Carter, who noted that by the time of his sentencing McPherson will have been in jail for 13 months, which he’ll receive credit for as time served. He said that McPherson should be out of prison by the time he’s 30 years old.


Chukreeff’s family did not respond to messages left for them on Tuesday.


Carter said the jury had only been deliberating a few hours on Tuesday morning before they sent out a note requesting clarification on the manslaughter law.


Within a half hour they issued the verdict, which found McPherson guilty on the one count of voluntary manslaughter and the special allegation of using a knife, and acquitted him of the murder charge, Carter said.


Deputy District Attorney John DeChaine said he wouldn’t speculate as to the reason for the jury’s verdict, but said they were faced with a lengthy trial and arrived at a good result. “I think the evidence strongly supports that verdict.”


The verdict came just a day after another local teenager, 18-year-old Gabrielle Varney, reached a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office that allowed her to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter for the June 5, 2008, stabbing death of 17-year-old Heather Valdez, as Lake County News has reported.


DeChaine said it’s unclear whether Chukreeff and McPherson knew each other before the encounter at the Harbor Lite Resort in Clearlake on May 4, 2008.


Chukreeff and several friends were having drinks in the resort’s gazebo when McPherson arrived. DeChaine said the two got into a heated exchange and violence erupted.


The evidence, said DeChaine, was that Chukreeff was the primary aggressor in the fight, and that he died as the result of unreasonable use of deadly force by McPherson.


Carter, who spoke with a juror after the verdict was announced, said the fact that Chukreeff was the initiator of the fight appeared to be a key to the jury’s decision, and had been a point which he emphasized during the trial.


He said McPherson acted in response to being attacked by Chukreeff, whose blood contained high levels of alcohol and methamphetamine according to toxicology results.


As the two men fought, McPherson used two weapons – a chrome-studded leather belt, which left distinct bruising on Chukreeff’s back – as well as a knife, which DeChaine said McPherson used to slash a large wound in Chukreeff’s chest and then to stab him through his sternum, with the knife going into the heart.


“The pathologist testified that he could not conceive of a way that the slash and stab wound could have arose from one single action,” said DeChaine.


Complicating the case was the fact that no one actually saw McPherson with a knife, or saw the stabbing, said DeChaine. However, McPherson was seen running away from Chukreeff immediately before Chukreeff collapsed from the stab wound to his heart.


None of the witnesses knew McPherson by name, according to DeChaine, who added that solid police work by Sgt. Tom Clements and Detective Martin Snyder of the Clearlake Police Department led to McPherson’s identification and ultimate arrest.


DeChaine said that McPherson was wearing the belt he used to hit Chukreeff when Snyder contacted him. That belt, which Snyder seized as evidence, was matched to the bruising on Chukreeff’s back by Senior Criminalist Richard Mike Waller at the Department of Justice. In addition, McPherson’s thumbprint was found on a broken pair of glasses recovered from the crime scene.


The defense employed its own investigator, Rob Zehrung, who saw holes in the case and found witnesses who police hadn’t interviewed, said defense attorney Angela Carter of Carter & Carter.


The defense also presented testimony by a noted criminal forensic scientist, who testified on the investigation’s shortcomings, including compromised evidence and people being allowed to leave the scene without being thoroughly searched and before they had given statements, some of which were taken hours later, Angela Carter said.


Carter’s defense had included allegations that another man – who had been with Chukreeff that night – had actually committed the crime.


That individual’s DNA was found under Chukreeff’s fingernails, Carter said.


However, DeChaine said the jury rejected that theory, and said the exchange of DNA was easily explained because Chukreeff and the man in question were good friends. When law enforcement arrived at the scene, the man was found cradling Chukreeff’s head.


Carter said McPherson and his family were elated with the verdict. McPherson’s grandmother came from Colorado and attended every day of the trial, with her husband arriving to stay during the week of deliberations.


“I think the jury worked really, really hard,” said Carter.


Angela Carter said an appeal will be filed, which is standard operating procedure in California.


DeChaine said a grand theft charge, for which McPherson originally was arrested on May 7, 2008, is still pending against him.


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

Upcoming Calendar

06.25.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
06.29.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.02.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
Independence Day
07.06.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.09.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.13.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.16.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.20.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile

Mini Calendar



Award winning journalism on the shores of Clear Lake. 



Enter your email here to make sure you get the daily headlines.

You'll receive one daily headline email and breaking news alerts.
No spam.