Thursday, 30 May 2024

Teen sentenced to seven years in prison for fatal May 2008 stabbing

CLEARLAKE – A judge on Thursday sentenced a teenager to seven years in state prison for the fatal May 2008 stabbing of a Clearlake man.


Judge Steve Hedstrom handed down the sentence to Erik Michael McPherson, 19, following a two hour and 40 minute sentencing hearing in Lake County Superior Court's Department 4.


McPherson was convicted in late April of voluntary manslaughter for the stabbing death of 40-year-old Nicolai Chukreeff on May 4 of last year at the Harbor Lite Resort in Clearlake. He originally had been charged with murder.


Hedstrom gave McPherson the middle, six-year term for the voluntary manslaughter charge and an additional year for his conviction for using a knife to commit the crime.


The trial – from jury selection to deliberations and verdict – lasted 38 days and included the testimony of approximately 30 witnesses, Hedstrom said.


According to details of the case recounted in court on Thursday, McPherson's girlfriend drove him to the resort, where Chukreeff and several friends, including Dave Meadows, were having drinks in the resort's gazebo.


Chukreeff reportedly flicked a lit cigarette at McPherson, who didn't react, and then according to testimony by witnesses Chukreeff lunged at McPherson, which started the fight.


McPherson – only 5 feet 4 inches tall and 124 pounds at the time of the stabbing – allegedly used a belt to ward off Chukreeff, who was 5 feet, 6 inches tall and 160 pounds.


Although the main witnesses didn't see him with it, McPherson used a knife to stab Chukreeff in the chest. The defense alleged that McPherson didn't bring the knife to the fight, but his girlfriend testified to seeing him wrap a knife into a red bandanna some time before the fight.


Chukreeff – who collapsed and died at the scene – suffered a chest wound that was five inches long, with a second stab wound that went through his sternum and pierced his heart. The two wounds could have been caused by one motion or two separate actions, based on the testimony of a pathologist.


McPherson then fled from the scene in his girlfriend's car, and was later arrested on a grand theft charge. The knife was never found.


Shortly after the hearing began, Chukreeff's family came forward to offer victim impact statements.


His sister, Michelle Giguiere – accompanied by family members and a Victim-Witness advocate – explained that he went to work at age 16, and was the only one of the five Chukreeff siblings to get his high school diploma.


Chukreeff was a devoted fisherman who enjoyed the lake, and who was dedicated to his friends and family. “Nick shared his life with a lot of people who loved him,” Giguiere said.


He had open heart surgery not long before he died. Giguiere said he'd gotten a clean bill of health just days before the fatal stabbing, and came to tell her the news.


Giguiere said she still struggles with the idea that her beloved brother is gone. She said she sat in the courtroom for many days, watching McPherson draw, make faces and try to make eye contact with her, and she couldn't scream out how much she hates him.


“You cheated him of his life,” she said of her brother and friend.


Now, McPherson is getting “a slap on the wrist” for the death. However, Giguiere also blamed her brother's friends for not intervening to stop the fight.


Giguiere brought with her a golden-framed picture of her brother. She walked up to Hedstrom and handed him the picture.


Hedstrom took the portrait, sat back and held it up, looking at it carefully for several moments before putting it back in Giguiere's hands.


Marieanne Lassen, Chukreeff's partner of 12 years, told the court, “It's been a long road.”


Two days after Chukreeff's death, Lassen said McPherson – who hadn't yet been identified as the suspect in the case – came up to her and said, “Sorry for your loss.”


She called Chukreeff “the greatest gift in my life.”


Early in the hearing, Hedstrom stated that he was against granting McPherson probation. “If you're arguing for probation you're going to have a very high fence to get across.”


Defense attorney Stephen Carter emphasized that none of the witnesses disagreed that Chukreeff had instigated the fight and attacked McPherson. He alleged that another person introduced the knife used to fatally stab Chukreeff into the fight.


“That's your client's version now,” said Hedstrom, who noted there were at least four versions of the story that McPherson had given in interviews with law enforcement.


Carter argued for probation, or at the very least the lower, four-year term, saying that the stabbing resulted from “great provocation.” He accused the Probation Department report of being “extraordinarily biased” for bringing up several petty prior records when McPherson was 6, 12 and 16 years old.


Hedstrom said he was was only giving a certain amount of weight to one case when McPherson was 12.


McPherson had many “fine people” who wrote letters in his support, including his grandparents from Colorado and other community members, said Carter.


The teen has challenges that emerged from his home life, said Carter. “A lot of the negatives about him have come from being raised in an environment where his mother was using drugs and doing everything that went along with it.”


He added, “Mr. McPherson didn't ask for this fight. It came to him and he happened to finish it.” Carter said McPherson is very sorry for Chukreeff's death.


McPherson's actions didn't show a high degree of viciousness or callousness, only a response to being attacked, said Carter.


Hedstrom said he didn't buy the allegation that another person had introduced the knife into the fight. “This is like another version,” he said, noting he'd received no credible evidence that anyone would have a motive to throw a knife into the fight.


The judge also noted that the jury rejected a finding of involuntary manslaughter as well as the allegation that Chukreeff fell on the knife during the fight.


Carter said there's a very clear reason why someone would try to introduce the knife. He said it may have been thrown in to help Chukreeff, but McPherson picked it up instead.


In countering the defense statements, prosecutor John DeChaine stated, “The defense conveniently continues to try to push culpability onto the victim.”


DeChaine said McPherson changed weapons – from the belt to the knife – during the fight. He said there was no evidence that it was necessary for McPherson to pull a knife to defend himself.


“This wasn't his first time with knife play, this wasn't his first time using a knife in a violent manner,” said DeChaine, referring to a 2002 incident in which McPherson allegedly held the point of a knife up against a juvenile's ribs.


Hedstrom noted that letters to the court on McPherson's behalf portrayed “someone with redeeming qualities.”


He gave McPherson the seven-year sentence, with credit for 458 days, of which 399 were for time served.


Hedstrom told McPherson there was no doubt that he had difficulties in his upbringing, but ultimately he was accountable for his life and actions.


“You need to think long and hard about how you're going to live the rest of your life,” Hedstrom told him.


Following court, Chukreeff's friends and family remembered him as a caring, friendly man who helped keep the neighborhood tidy and cared for others.


They also were united in believing McPherson's sentence wasn't long enough.


“His loss will be felt in our community,” said neighbor Art Frazee, who knew Chukreeff for about 10 years. Frazee sat through the sentencing with his wife, Arlette Buckholz.


Buckholz called the situation “really sad.”


Frazee said he hopes McPherson straightens out his life.


Lassen, who agreed that the prison term wasn't enough time, nonetheless said that they should pray for McPherson.


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

Upcoming Calendar

1Jun
06.01.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
4Jun
06.04.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
5Jun
06.05.2024 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Vision of Hope Village market
8Jun
06.08.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
11Jun
06.11.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
14Jun
06.14.2024
Flag Day
15Jun
06.15.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
16Jun
06.16.2024
Father's Day
18Jun
06.18.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park

Mini Calendar

loader

LCNews

Award winning journalism on the shores of Clear Lake. 

 

Newsletter

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.