Thursday, 30 May 2024

New round of motions, developments in Dinius case

LAKEPORT – As a Friday hearing approaches to determine whether or not a Carmichael man's trial for vehicular manslaughter will move forward later this month, the defense has filed motions that, among other things, seek to have the District Attorney's Office recused from the case.

Sailboat enthusiasts are reportedly preparing to show up on the courthouse steps on N. Forbes in Lakeport at 8 a.m. Friday, an hour and a half before a hearing in Bismarck Dinius' case is set to start in Lake County Superior Court. They're also planning to circulate petitions calling for the ouster of District Attorney Jon Hopkins.

Dinius, 41, is accused of vehicular manslaughter and boating under the influence for an April 29, 2006, sailboat crash on Clear Lake.

The sailboat he was steering was hit by a powerboat driven by Russell Perdock, an off-duty sheriff's deputy. The crash mortally injured Willows resident Lynn Thornton, who died a few days later.

According to the case against him, Dinius is charged with vehicular manslaughter for allegedly being under way without running lights. Perdock's power boat has been estimated to have been traveling 45 miles per hour or more at the time of impact, and going up and over the sailboat. No charges were filed against him in the case.

Defense attorney Victor Haltom has submitted two new motions in the case, one seeking an evidentiary hearing regarding having the District Attorney's Office recused from prosecuting Dinius' case and a second to enforce stipulations the defense and prosecution entered into regarding independent forensic testing of Perdock's blood.

Haltom previously was unsuccessful in having the District Attorney's Office removed from the case.

At the same time, it's unclear who will be representing the prosecution on Friday.

Haltom told Lake County News that Deputy District Attorney John Langan, who was assigned Dinius' case early last year, e-mailed him last week to say that Hopkins would be taking over the prosecution himself.

On Wednesday, Hopkins was guarded in responding to a Lake County News inquiry on the matter.

“I'm not going to comment on what's going in,” he said, adding that it was best to wait until Friday to see what happened.

During a May 19 hearing, Langan told visiting Judge J. Michael Byrne that his investigators might not be able to complete the review of new information in the case.

That new information includes witness statements that placed Perdock at Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa before the crash and which supported former sheriff's Sgt. James Beland's statements that he had been ordered not to give Perdock a breathalyzer test at the scene.

Langan told the court at the time that if he couldn't complete the investigation in time for a June 30 trial date, he was considering dropping the charges. He also asked for the June 12 hearing in order to be able to make an announcement regarding whether or not he would be moving forward.

If the District Attorney's Office did drop the case with the intention of refiling following an investigation, it would have two years to refile under the statute of limitations, Hopkins said in an interview late last week.

The case against Dinius was filed in May of 2007, more than a year after the crash. While the statute of limitations on the manslaughter charge runs out after three years, Hopkins said the clock stops running once the case is filed and begins working its way through the courts.

Hopkins wouldn't state a planned course of action on the case – whether or not it would be dropped, investigated and refiled, or whether the trial would begin on June 30 as scheduled.

“Everything is always possible,” he said.

It appears that the case isn't being dropped at this point; a motion to dismiss would have had to be filed last week, and the court clerk's office had no record of such a motion on file.

Defense cites relationships in seeking recusal

Haltom is asking that at the Friday hearing a date to consider the recusal motion be set. His witness list for the recusal motion hearing includes Sheriff Rod Mitchell, Hopkins, Langan, Perdock, District Attorney's Office Investigator John Flynn, Beland, several other sheriff's officials and independent witnesses.

In his 33-page motion, Haltom's cites as justification for the recusal several factors – a relationship between Flynn and Perdock, both members of the Clear Lake Callayomi Masonic Lodge; Hopkins' “prejudgment of the prosecution's newly-directed investigation”; and “repeated and ongoing suppression of exculpatory and third-party culpability evidence” by the district attorney and sheriff's offices, who he also accuses of suppressing information about relationships amongst members of the “prosecution team.”

In the second, 18-page motion, Haltom said the District Attorney's Office has failed to comply with the terms of an agreement in which a sample of Perdock's blood taken at St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake the night of the crash is to be sent for independent testing.

In April, Perdock had submitted two DNA swabs as part of an agreement reached between the prosecution and defense, according to court documents.

In an e-mail sent to Langan May 5, Haltom explained that the independent lab, Forensic Analytical, didn't receive enough of a blood sample to test for the presence of alcohol or opiates.

The results of Perdock's original blood test showed no alcohol but did show a presumptive positive for the presence of opiates, according to investigation records. A second test came back clear, as did a third test.

That first test may have been explained by something as simple as eating food with poppy seeds in it, Haltom said in a previous interview, although he said he questioned Perdock on that point in court and Perdock denied eating any such foods.

In a May 6 e-mail response to Haltom, Langan explained that the Department of Justice Lab only has 2 milliliters – or about .06 of a fluid ounce – of Perdock's blood left, and that's the amount needed by the forensic lab.

“It had been my understanding that the blood would be split for testing at DOJ, but apparently now that cannot happen,” Langan wrote. “I will now try to see what I can do, in order that you may carry out the retesting.”

On June 3, Haltom sent Langan another e-mail, saying no vial of blood for Perdock had been submitted, and that the District Attorney's Office also had failed to provide him with discoverable materials – including Perdock's relationship with Flynn.

He then asked if there were any discoverable relationships, past or present, between Perdock and members of the District Attorney's Office. Court documents don't contain a response from Langan on that question.

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

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