Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Prosecution says Dinius case will move forward

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A small group of about 20 protesters gathered in front of the courthouse on Friday, June 12, 2009, to protest the prosecution of Bismarck Dinius. Photo by Gail Salituri.

 

 

THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED.


LAKEPORT – On Friday, as protesters gathered on the courthouse steps, Lake County's district attorney informed a judge that he intended to move forward with prosecuting a Carmichael man in connection with a fatal 2006 sailboat crash.


District Attorney Jon Hopkins, appearing in a 13-minute trial readiness hearing in the prosecution of Bismarck Dinius, said his office intends to continue with the case.


Visiting Judge J. Michael Byrne also set a June 30 hearing on motions to recuse the District Attorney's Office from the case and to enforce a stipulation for independent forensic analysis, which will delay the trial.


On May 19 Deputy District Attorney John Langan told the court that the case might be dropped because investigators didn't have enough time to evaluate new information before the June 30 trial date.


Langan did not appear in court on Friday; he had notified the defense last week that Hopkins was taking over the case, as Lake County News has reported. Hopkins will be the third prosecutor to handle the case since it was filed in May of 2007.


Dinius, 41, is being charged with vehicular manslaughter involving a boat and boating under the influence.


He was at the tiller of a sailboat owned by Willows resident Mark Weber on April 29, 2006, when the boat – which the District Attorney's Office alleges was under way without lights – was hit by a powerboat driven by Russell Perdock, an off-duty sheriff's deputy.


Dinius is alleged to have had a blood alcohol level of 0.12 at the time of the crash, with Weber alleged to have a blood alcohol level of 0.18. Weber has not been charged with any wrongdoing.


Weber's fiancee, Lynn Thornton, was mortally injured in the crash and died a few days later. Perdock was not charged, although the investigation concluded that he was traveling too fast for conditions. Estimates of the speed of Perdock's powerboat have ranged from 45 miles per hour to more than 60 miles per hour.


Weber attended the hearing along with about 20 other people – friends, family members and supporters of Dinius.


Some of those watching the courtroom proceedings had held signs in front of the courthouse protesting the case's handling, demanding Perdock be charged and calling for Hopkins' ouster.


Victor Haltom, Dinius' attorney, had filed two motions that he wanted the court to consider – one to have the District Attorney's Office recused from the case, the other to enforce a stipulation that Perdock's original blood sample be provided for independent testing, as the District Attorney's Office had agreed to do.


Byrne, who has been handling the case for several months, noted that he hadn't received answers to Haltom's motions from the District Attorney's Office. Hopkins said the motions had arrived this week, and he didn't have the statutory time to prepare.


Hopkins said he received a phone call from the state Attorney General's Office, who Haltom had contacted in regard to his motion to have Hopkins' office removed from the case.


He related that Gerald Engler, the supervising deputy attorney general, said he also would not be able to be prepared to address the motion in the statutory time.


Engler appeared in Lake County Superior Court in August of 2007 when Haltom previously had attempted to have the District Attorney's Office removed from the case, citing close relationships with the sheriff's office. At that time, the Attorney General's Office opposed the motion, which Judge Robert Crone ruled against.


Hopkins suggested a convenient date be set for hearing all the motions. “I think that makes sense,” said Byrne.


Haltom relayed to the court that Engler had said he was available for a hearing either on June 29 or 30.


Last month, Haltom pulled a time waiver that means Dinius' trial must start by July 7 at the latest. But that deadline now comes into conflict with the need to hear the motions, a point Byrne made during the brief hearing.


He said the defendant will “have to bend” on the speedy trial provisions because of the motions. “We deal with conflicting rights on a regular basis,” said Byrne.


DA: No change in position on the case


Byrne said one of the reasons for the Friday hearing was to discuss if the District Attorney's Office planned to move forward on the case.


“That's correct,” replied Hopkins.


Byrne said it was his understanding that if a reason arose not to proceed with trial that it was good to know that in advance in order to prevent the jury commissioner from summoning a large number of jury candidates.


“We have not come to that conclusion,” Hopkins said, referring to the idea of not moving forward.


Haltom said he expected that, if he called all of his witnesses in the recusal motion hearing that it could take more than a day.

 

Byrne said it's necessary to hear the motion before the trial, which can start as soon as possible afterward. Due to media and local interest, Byrne noted that it would take a “substantial number” of people to get a jury.


Haltom also wanted his motion to enforce the stipulations for the blood tests to be considered.


Byrne asked Hopkins for his position. Hopkins said he would need to look into it to see if a hearing was needed. If it was, it could be scheduled the same day as the hearing on the recusal, he suggested.


Noting that Friday was the last day to begin summoning a jury panel for the June 30 trial date, Byrne said they had to move forward with hearing the recusal motion.


“It does appear to have a sufficient seriousness that it should be heard,” he said, noting the District Attorney's Office has a right to respond.


“I'll find good cause to delay the trial,” he said.


Byrne set June 30 as the date for hearing the motions, saying the trial would begin as soon as possible afterward, noting it would start as soon afterward as possible. He added that if the Attorney General's Office did take over the case, they would need additional time to prepare.


The judge asked Hopkins when he planned to file his responses to Haltom's motions. Hopkins said he hoped to have them filed by June 23.


Haltom said a number of the witnesses he plans to call in the recusal hearing are employees of the Lake County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney's Office. He said that Langan had previously stated in court that the Haltom wouldn't have to subpoena their testimony, that they would be made available. Haltom said he wanted the same assurances from Hopkins.


Hopkins said he didn't have the witness list to which Haltom was referring – and which features Hopkins' own name – “so I can't give him any assurances at this point.”


Byrne said the court still didn't know if the District Attorney's Office was planning to move forward, having missed Hopkins' statement previously.


“We have not come across anything in the investigation so far that would be a reason not to proceed to trial,” Hopkins replied.


Last month Langan indicated that District Attorney's Office investigators likely couldn't complete their investigations into new information in the case in order to be prepared for the June 30 trial date.


That new information includes witness statements placing Perdock at Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa in the hours before the fatal crash, and testimony by sheriff's Deputy Mike Morshed supporting statements by former sheriff's Sgt. James Beland that he was ordered not to give Perdock a breathalyzer test at the scene.


However, on Friday Hopkins indicated no issues with time constraints.


Rather, he said the purpose of the investigation was to find if there was any information that required his office to change its position, which it hadn't.


After the hearing, Dinius said he was frustrated. “It's been three years of my life and it continues on,” he said. He'd hoped officials would “come to their senses” and drop the case.


Everything that's happening in the case is overshadowing the fact that Thornton lost her life, said Dinius. “That's the biggest thing I take away from this.”


Weber criticized the prosecution for more delays, saying of the hearing's outcome, “It sucks.”


He accused Hopkins – who he called “Mr. Perdock's attorney” – of a coverup in the case.


Weber hasn't been to previous hearings, but he promised to come back to support Dinius. “It's time to make noise.”


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

 

 

 

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Finley resident Phil Murphy was among protesters calling for changes in the District Attorney's Office on Friday, June 12, 2009. Photo by Gail Salituri.

 

 

 

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Bismarck Dinius, following the court appearance, noted he was frustrated that the case wasn't dropped. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

 

 

 

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Mark Weber, whose fiancee, Lynn Thornton, died in the April 2006 crash, attended the hearing in the Bismarck Dinius case on Friday, June 12, 2009. Photo by Gail Salituri.

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