Tuesday, 23 July 2024


LAKEPORT – After listening to weeks of detailed testimony from 21 people – including police, criminalists and the defendants themselves – the jury in a Clearlake murder case sat down to begin deliberations on Thursday afternoon.

The six-woman, six-man jury must now decide justice for Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, and Melvin Dale Norton, 38, two friends who are accused of killing 25-year-old Shelby Uehling.

The three men were involved in a confrontation along Old Highway 53 early on the morning of Sept. 22, 2009.

Norton and Edmonds testified to walking up to confront Uehling – parked in his car, the motor running and lights off at around 1 a.m. near Norton's trailer park – and tell him to leave Patricia Campbell alone.

Campbell is a longtime friend of Norton's and a woman who had been briefly involved with Uehling during a breakup from Edmonds, who she'd lived with on and off since last June. After abruptly breaking it off with Uehling, she returned to Edmonds. When Uehling tried to see her and call her, she told the men he was stalking her.

The early morning fight with Uehling began with a shoving match between him and Norton, during which Uehling reportedly reached into his waistband to pull out a weapon, according to testimony during the trial. At that point in the fight, Edmonds arrived at the scene and charged Uehling, both Edmonds and Norton testified.

Closing arguments in the case began Wednesday, running the length of the day and continuing Thursday.

Norton's attorney, Stephen Carter, finished his arguments Thursday morning.

Carter questioned the testimony of a witness who claimed that, despite the night's dark conditions, he could see two men leaning over a body on the ground.

Due to the lighting conditions, Carter suggested the testimony was embellished, and that the man by that point was aware of the case facts from media reports.

In order to conclude Norton and Edmonds are guilty of murder, Carter told the juror that they would need to break the allegations down and look at the elements of murder, which must all be met for a conviction.

While it's accepted in the case that Edmonds struck the fatal blows to Uehling, who died of a slit throat, Norton is charged with murder also under the theory that he aided and abetted the crime. Carter explained to the jury that theory by giving them an example of another crime, such as a sexual assault, where a person holds the victim down.

He maintained that there is no evidence showing Norton had any part in the confrontation once Edmonds arrived and began to brawl with Uehling.

Norton also faces an assault with a deadly weapon charge for allegedly swinging a golf club at Uehling as he sat in the front seat of his car. Carter said Norton swung the golf club at the car to distract Uehling, who Carter said was reaching down to the floor looking for a weapon. An examination of Uehling's body at the hospital found a small knife tucked in his shoe.

During opening arguments, prosecutor Art Grothe argued that the handle end of the golf club – which broke when it hit the car – was used to make a large puncture wound in one of Uehling's buttocks.

“That was a big argument for the prosecution,” he said.

However, Carter asked, “Has that been proven? No, in fact the exact contrary has been proven to you.”

Carter cited the trial testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Gill, who performed Uehling's autopsy and noted the wound and the end of the broken golf club shaft were inconsistent.

In additional, state Department of Justice criminalists who tested the club found no biological evidence – blood or DNA – to show that it had wounded Uehling, Carter said.

Norton and Edmonds left the club behind at the scene and therefore it can't be argued that the club handle was washed to remove such evidence, he added.

Carter said that his client was being accused of involvement because he hadn't initially been forthright during interviews with police.

“It's not fair to accuse someone of something they didn't do,” he said, suggesting that should make the jurors wonder why Norton was charged.

Carter then read a portion of a transcript from a jail phone call between Edmonds and Norton's aunt Gigi.

Edmonds said of Norton, “It was self-defense for me and he was just like, he was there, he didn't do anything.” He added, “Melvin did nothing,”

Those statements, said Carter, “show Shannon in an unguarded moment, simply saying what the deal is, what the situation is in this case.”

Carter asked the jury not to convict Norton of something he didn't do. Norton didn't murder anyone and neither did he act as an accessory, since when they changed their clothes and cleaned Edmonds' knife at Norton's house a short time later, Carter argued the Norton didn't know Uehling was dead, and that as a convicted felon he was acting out of fear for himself.

“You have the power to do justice, and that's after all what we ask from a jury,” he said.

Carter said the scene where the fight occurred was left open and unguarded for hours afterward by police.

“It's not good police work, that's true,” he said. “In a scene like that mistakes are made, but what a heck of a mistake, to leave the scene unguarded for that long.”

There was a search of one field near the area, but that was it, said Carter.

He asked the jury to think about how Norton felt, riding his bicycle home early on Sept. 22, and seeing Uehling parked not far from his home.

Norton already was concerned about Campbell, who had claimed Uehling was stalking her. “You ever see somebody get played like that before?” Carter asked, noting that Norton had not reason not to believe Campbell.

“Now we've got a different mindset for Melvin, one of wanting to protect,” both himself and Campbell, Carter explained.

“I ask you to convict Melvin Norton of nothing,” Carter concluded.

In a rebuttal argument that took about 45 minutes, Grothe said the witness who claimed he saw Edmonds cut Uehling's throat had no reason to lie, but Grothe said Norton's first statements to police were filled with lies. A second police interview never hinted at self-defense, Grothe added.

Regarding Carter's statements about the quality of the police work, which Edmonds' attorney Doug Rhoades also had challenged on Wednesday, Grothe said Uehling's car has been locked up in an evidence holding facility since day one.

“If any one of these folks wanted something out of that car, it was there and available,” he said, adding that instead they want to take “cheap shots” at investigators.

Grothe also dismissed Rhoades' suggestion Wednesday that marks on Uehling's chest – which Grothe had argued during his initial closing arguments were caused by an extendable baton, or asp, that he alleges Edmonds wielded – were caused by nylon backboard straps used to transport Uehling to the hospital.

“They match up with nothing else in this case but an asp,” Grothe said.

He replayed brief portions of Norton's police interviews. During that interview, Norton mentioned Edmonds jumping into the fight after Norton and Uehling had been shoving each other.

Clearlake Police Det. Tom Clements asked Norton, “Why didn't you tell us that in the first place? I told you, you have to be completely honest with us.”

Although both Rhoades and Carter has questioned the investigators' thoroughness on scene – it was noted that a knife that Edmonds said Uehling used to stab him in the arm was never found – Grothe said investigators looked very closely at the scene. They accounted for everything from doughnuts scattered about the site to blood spatter that had been found about 8 feet up a nearby tree.

“If there had been some kind of knife out there they would have found it,” he said.

Grothe told the jury that a person who engages in mutual combat or first engages in force can only use self-defense as a legal defense if they try to stop the fight. He said Uehling tried backing out of the fight several times, but added, “Shannon Edmonds kept pressing that fight,” and he wanted “a piece of Shelby,” Grothe added.

The right to use self-defense exists as long as the danger exists, then it ends, Grothe maintained.

“At the end of this fight, Shelby's down on the ground and Shannon Edmonds is standing over him, Melvin's about 20 feet away, yells at Shannon to stop, 'Let's go.' Shannon is standing up at that point. Shelby is on the ground,” Grothe recounted.

Then, he alleged that Edmonds bent down and took one last punch, slitting Uehling's throat with the knife.

Norton, who first arrived on the scene, kept Uehling from leaving, got him out of his car, got between Uehling and the car so he couldn't get away, Grothe said.

“He kept him there until Shannon got there. And he kept him there so Shannon could take care of business.”

Uehling was beaten down to the point that “there was no danger of any kind of resistance,” Grothe said, and as Uehling lay there screaming as a neighbor had testified, Edmonds reached down and cut his throat.

“That is deliberate, premeditated murder,” Grothe concluded.

With about an hour left in the morning session, Judge Arthur Mann read through the jury instructions, which explained how to consider charges, what information jurors can and can't use in deliberations, how to weigh testimony, the differences between perpetrators and those accused of aiding and abetting, and the difference between homicide and manslaughter.

Words, he said, no matter how offensive, and nonthreatening actions don't justify assault.

Mann also cautioned jurors about stating their opinions too early in the deliberations process, which can interfere with working toward a solution.

The clerk of the court then swore in the bailiff, who took charge of the jury.

After breaking for lunch, the jury began deliberations at 1:30 p.m. and went beyond 4:30 p.m., according to Carter.

They'll be back to continue deliberations on Tuesday morning.

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CLEARLAKE – This week Caltrans completed the installation of stop signs meant to help cut down on crashes at the intersection of Highway 53 and Olympic Drive in Clearlake, but the change in traffic flows resulted in a crash on Tuesday.

Phil Frisbie, a Caltrans spokesman, said on Wednesday that the agency had changed the intersection – which previously had a stop sign from Olympic onto Highway 53 – to an all-way stop.

Frisbie said the agency also installed advance warning signs and rumble strips to alert motorists of the upcoming stop.

The intersection's alterations, Frisbie said, are interim measures to improve safety and will remain in

place until traffic signals are installed.

The signals have been merged into a larger highway rehabilitation project, which will also provide wider shoulders, longer turn pockets at intersections, and repave over four miles of Highway 53 from just north of 40th Avenue to just south of Highway 20, he said.

The total project, including the intersections new traffic lights, is expected to be completed by the

fall of 2012, Frisbie said.

Area motorists are still getting used to the new signs, which appear to be catching some of them off guard.

Shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday two vehicles collided at the intersection, according to Clearlake Police Lt. Craig Clausen.

He said that one car was stopped at the intersection and was rear-ended by another vehicle that failed to make the stop and was traveling at abut 55 miles per hour at the time of the crash.

Both drivers were taken to the hospital with complaints of neck, back and face pain, Clausen said.

Caltrans urged motorists to drive with caution and slow down as they approach the intersection, and to be alert for inattentive drivers who may not notice the new stop signs.

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LAKEPORT – One of two men being tried together for a September 2009 Clearlake murder was back on the stand Monday.

Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, spent about 45 minutes on the stand Tuesday, following several hours of testimony he gave when court was in session last Thursday.

Edmonds is facing charges for murder and a special allegation of using a knife to kill 25-year-old Shelby Uehling during a fight along Old Highway 53 in Clearlake in the early morning hours of last Sept. 22.

Edmonds' codefendent, Melvin Dale Norton, was on the stand last week. The 38-year-old Norton faces charges of murder, a special allegation that he used a billy club, assault with a deadly weapon, being an accessory, a special allegation of causing great bodily injury, and two strike enhancements.

The deadly confrontation had allegedly arisen because Edmonds and Norton walked up to warn Uehling, who was parked not far from Norton's home, to leave Patricia Campbell alone. She was a longtime family friend of Norton's and Edmonds' on-again, off-again girlfriend who had dated Uehling for about a week in September during a breakup with Edmonds.

Also on Tuesday, the defense asked for time to investigate new information suggesting that two other men may also have been in a physical confrontation with Uehling a day or so before his death.

The defense attorney and prosecution put Edmonds through several rounds of questions during his brief return to the stand.

Edmonds' defense attorney, Doug Rhoades, began redirect questioning of Edmonds Tuesday morning, asking him about his difficulty answering prosecutor Art Grothe's questions last week about the fact that Uehling was dead.

Edmonds explained that it was very hard for him to accept that something he did caused Uehling to die, but he acknowledged that the former Montana resident was dead.

Stephen Carter, Norton's defense attorney, asked if Edmonds saw Norton and Uehling physically fighting when he arrived at Uehling's car, parked off of Highway 53 near Norton's home. Edmonds said no, and he did not see Norton using a golf club he was carrying against Uehling.

Grothe asked Edmonds if he saw Norton hitting Uehling. Edmonds said it was too dark to tell if they were shoving or hitting each other.

The prosecutor then drew Edmonds' attention to a transcript of his interview with Clearlake Police detectives hours after Uehling's death on Sept. 22.

In that interview, Edmonds told police that Uehling and Norton were “basically going on at it,” and described them as “boxing.” But when Grothe asked him on Tuesday of the men were fighting, Edmonds said he didn't know, although he acknowledged he had told police they were.

When it was again Rhoades' turn, he asked Edmonds if he had seen Norton and Uehling with their fists up, facing each other, he said no.

Rhoades then asked when Clearlake Police interviewed him on Sept. 22. Edmonds said it was shortly before 10:30 a.m. During questioning, Rhoades concluded that Edmonds had been awake 25 hours at that point.

“Safe to say you were getting pretty tired?” Rhoades asked.

“Very,” Edmonds replied.

Carter asked if Edmonds had answered the detectives' questions fairly and honestly at the time. Edmonds said yes. Carter asked if any of the questions in court changed Edmonds' testimony that when he ran up to the scene he found Norton and Uehling in some kind of physical confrontation. Edmonds said it did not.

Grothe, noting that Edmonds said testified to answering police fairly and honestly, pointed to several pages in the transcript where he alleged discrepancies.

In particular, Grothe said Edmonds had told police that he hadn't known Uehling and Campbell had a sexual relationship, which contradicted testimony he gave in court last week.

Edmonds also had given police a chronology of his activities, which Grothe pointed out omitted killing Uehling.

“So that was a lie?” Grothe asked.

“Correct,” said Edmonds.

Edmonds admitting to lying to police about Norton's phone call to him before the fight, warning him about Uehling's presence. He had told police Norton had called to say “he was home and he'd see me tomorrow.”

Grothe also pointed out that Edmonds had not been truthful about his blood-stained clothing, and that he had said he had injured his arm when falling over a fence rather than being stabbed by Uehling, as he testified in court.

At one point in the police interview Edmonds said the situation was “bullshit,” and Grothe asked him what he meant. He said he felt Det. Tom Clements was harassing him with repetitive questions, “just as you're doing now,” Edmonds told Grothe.

Grothe followed by suggesting Edmonds didn't do his best to answer the officers truthfully, and Edmonds replied no, not at the beginning.

Rhoades pointed to the transcript about a third of the way into the interview when Edmonds asked for a cigarette and was promised he would receive one when the interview was done. He asked Edmonds if, from that point forward, he was attempting to tell the truth. He said he was.

Rhoades read from the transcript, in which Edmonds told police he and Uehling got into a brawl, Uehling pulled a knife and stabbed him and Edmonds stabbed him back.

“This was happening pretty fast, was it not?” Rhoades asked.

“Extremely,” Edmonds said.

During testimony it was noted that Edmonds told police that he was scared and terrified, which was a reason for lying.

Grothe questioned Edmonds about his statements to police about not wanting to go to prison over Uehling, who Edmonds had called a drug dealer.

Was he still afraid of going to prison? Grothe asked.

“Of course,” Edmonds said.

“You still willing to lie to avoid that, sir?” asked Grothe.

“No,” Edmonds replied.

Rhoades asked his client if, during the fight, he remembered Uehling saying, “Stop, that's enough, I quit, anything like that?”

“No, not at all,” Edmonds said.

As Grothe returned to questioning, Edmonds testified to remembering “a lot of screaming through the entire fight.”

Grothe asked if he remembered Uehling screaming near the oak tree where his body later was found after his throat was cut. Edmonds said no.

He played a snippet of Norton's interview with police in which he imitated Uehling making a guttural “agggghhhh” sound.

Rhoades asked if Norton had heard other people making sounds like that described by Norton. He said yes. Were those people using methamphetamine? Yes, Edmonds said.

Carter asked Edmonds if he associated those sounds with Uehling being angry during the fight as opposed to being hurt. Yes, Edmonds replied.

Grothe asked if Edmond had ever heard someone attempting to speak who has had the horns of their thyroids broken off and their throat crushed. Rhoades objected to the question, which he said was “convoluted,” but Judge Arthur Mann overruled.

“I've heard people scream who have been punched in the throat,” Edmonds stated.

The attorneys asked to approach the bench, after which the jury was briefly excused and the attorneys went into the judge's chambers for a short time. When they returned the jury brought back in and testimony continued.

At that point the defense stated that they rested.

Prosecution calls rebuttal witnesses

In presenting rebuttal witnesses, Grothe recalled Clearlake Police Officer Michael Carpenter, who testified earlier in the trial. Carpenter, who came to the stand in uniform, was the first to arrive at the scene and discover Uehling's body.

The attorneys questioned him about dealing with people who use methamphetamine. He described them as having rapid speech and a dry mouth, and being unable to stay on topic in conversation. Their tongues move around rapidly, they can't control their bodily functions, their eyes are dilated and have rapid movement, and their internal clocks are off.

“There's a reason it's called speed?” Rhoades asked.

“Correct,” Carpenter said.

Rhoades asked Carpenter about bruxism, which he said is teeth grinding, another symptom of methamphetamine use, as well as scratching.

Rhoades questioned the officer about when Uehling's shirt was removed. Carpenter said it was sliced open at the scene and removed at the hospital.

Carpenter, under questioning both by Rhoades and Carter, didn't remember if Uehling had been strapped to a backboard for the ride to the hospital. Nor had he ever seen a dead body strapped down.

“Doesn't it matter how a body that's needed for evidence is transported?” Carter asked,.

Carpenter said he didn't see the body fall off the gurney. From the scene to the hospital medics had conducted cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Uehling.

Carter asked if Carpenter had received any training in the psychological aspects associated with methamphetamine. He said he was not.

Grothe entered a stipulation that a zip tie that had been attached to the end of an asp – or extendable baton – that the men are alleged to have used against Uehling was actually placed there by Clements prior to his testimony.

The defense also entered a stipulation that Officer Timothy Alvarado would testify that he interviewed Linda Dale and Joseph Taylor, who told him that at 9 p.m. Sept. 21, 2009, Uehling called Taylor to tell him that he was standing in field near Cass Avenue, which is near Old Highway 53.

Following the stipulation, Grothe requested the asp be moved into evidence. The defense did not object and Mann accepted it.

Following the lunch break, the jury heard from Alisha Stottsberry, a registered nurse who is medical director at the Lake County Jail – which she and Grothe were careful not to mention by name because of concerns about Edmonds' incarceration being prejudicial.

Edmonds had stated in testimony last week that he has epilepsy and that five grand mal seizures he had suffered since his arrest last Sept. 22 have caused him to lose memory.

When asked directly about Edmonds' medical conditions and records, Stottsberry said she couldn't answer because of new laws preventing disclosure without Edmonds' consent. Grothe asked Mann to order her to answer, which Mann did, saying that Edmonds had already disclosed the information and therefore it was not a violation of health record disclosure laws.

Based on a review of Edmonds' medical records, Stottsberry said Edmonds did report suffering from “seizures” on his medical intake form. On Dec. 29, nonmedical staff at the jail witnessed him having a seizure, although Stottsberry said it wasn't a grand mal-type seizure, which can result in violent shaking and tremors, a subject being unable to breath and losing bowel control.

Edmonds also reported having another seizure that was not witnessed by staff on Dec. 31. At that time Stottsberry said it was documented that Edmonds reported having other seizures not witnessed by staff.

Rhoades asked Stottsberry about longterm memory loss as the result of seizures. He pointed to Epilepsy Foundation documents that stated long-term and short-term memory loss are symptoms of the disease. She said her experience is that people who suffer from seizures usually don't remember what happened during the seizure.

He also asked her about Edmonds' epilepsy medications, the dosages for which are at 1,800 milligrams. Stottsberry called that level “medium high.”

After Stottsberry left the stand, Carter and Rhoades asked the court for more time to try to locate a woman named Katherine Lawson who visited Norton in jail on Saturday and told him that Campbell's ex-husband and a relative of his had a physical alteration with Uehling within 48 hours of his death.

Carter's and Rhoades' investigators were trying to locate the woman, and they asked for a brief stay in the trial while they investigated. “None of this information was ever know by my client or me or Mr. Rhoades or his client prior to this morning,” said Carter.

Rhoades called it “somewhat tenuous information” but felt it needed to be investigated.

Grothe was against the delay. “I'm always somewhat leery of these last minute, 'somebody else did it' assertions by folks who come into the jail,” said Grothe, adding he didn't think it would be admissible.

Mann gave the defense until 9 a.m. Wednesday, noting that the information seemed “pretty speculative.”

Closing arguments are expected to begin Wednesday morning.

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CLEARLAKE OAKS – Members of a local family are recovering after a serious crash involving an alleged drunk driver in Sonoma County on Tuesday.

Carron M. Boyd, 21, her 8-month-old daughter, Allesandrya Hinojosa, and the child's father, Randal C. Hinojosa, all of Clearlake Oaks, were injured in the three-car collision, which occurred Tuesday evening, according to Officer Jonathan Sloat of the Santa Rosa office of the California Highway Patrol.

Sloat said that at approximately 6:24 p.m. Tuesday Faustino Vega-Xicohtencatl, 24, of Santa Rosa, was driving his 2004 Ford F-150 pickup westbound on Mark West Springs Road approximately one-quarter mile west of Quietwater Road at an estimated speed of more than 45 miles per hour.

Boyd was driving a 2002 Mercury Mountaineer eastbound on Mark West Springs Road with Hinojosa and their young daughter, with 45 miles per hour their reported speed, according to Sloat.

Following behind Boyd was another Lake County resident, Marty Lee Nelson, 52, of Hidden Valley Lake, driving a 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt, Sloat said.

Vega-Xicohtencatl was seen by a witness attempting to pass slower-moving traffic across solid double-yellow lines and tailgating. After rounding a curve onto a short straightaway, Vega-Xicohtencatl crossed the double-yellow lines into the eastbound traffic lane directly in front of the Mercury Mountaineer, Sloat said.

Witnesses stated that the Ford F-150 and Mercury Mountaineer hit head-on instantly. Sloat said the Mercury then rotated in a counter-clockwise manner and the rear struck the adjacent hillside. The Ford rotated in a counter clockwise manner and came to rest across the eastbound traffic lane.

Nelson took evasive action by steering to the right and braking and struck miscellaneous debris in the roadway, according to Sloat.

Boyd suffered major head and body trauma and was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial, where spokesperson Katy Hillenmeyer said Thursday that Boyd remained in critical condition. Randal Hinojosa suffered minor injuries.

The infant was transported to Sutter Hospital, then transferred to Oakland Children’s Hospital by air with severe head injuries. Sloat said he thought the child was going to survive but had no specific update on her condition.

Nelson had no injuries, but Sloat said Vega-Xicohtencatl appeared extremely intoxicated and claimed that he had not been driving. He was transported to Santa Rosa Memorial for complaint of pain.

Through further investigation, Vega-Xicohtencatl was determined to be the driver. He was arrested and booked into the Sonoma County Jail on two charges of felony driving under the influence and driving unlicensed, Sloat said.

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LAKE COUNTY – Late last week, a total of more than $6.2 million in California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) was awarded for mental health services in Lake, Mendocino, Mono and San Bernardino counties.

Lake County will receive $410,000, while $187,409 was approved for Mendocino County in prevention and early intervention funds. Another $24,000 was approved for Mono County and $5.6 million was approved for San Bernardino County in innovation funds.

The California MHSOAC is a 16-member commission charged with the oversight of the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). The MHSA was approved by California voters in 2004 as Proposition 63 to provide for expanded mental health services in California.

“Prevention and early intervention programs will transform the mental health system. We will stop requiring consumers to “fail first” before receiving services and we will move to a “help first” system,” said MHSOAC Chair Andrew Poat. “Prevention and early intervention programs are a new approach to mental health in California. This program is a win for both mental health consumers and taxpayers.”

Prevention and early intervention (PEI) funds are approved for programs that apply strategies focused on preventing mental illness from becoming severe and disabling.

“Our prevention programs will decrease expensive emergency room visits as we provide prevention services to consumers of mental health services,” Poat said. “Prevention and early intervention funds will keep kids in school, keep families together, and will avoid long term unemployment.”

Lake County plans on using their PEI funds for eight prevention and early intervention projects. Project 2 will provide one-on-one attention to children who may be facing personal and social adjustment issues.

Mendocino County will use their PEI funds for four projects. Mendocino’s Project 3 expands existing services to include isolated American Indians and Latinos. This project uses culturally appropriate senior peers who have established relationships in these communities.

The funds approved by the MHSOAC for innovation (INN) purposes will help fund county mental health programs that are novel, creative, and ingenious in their mental health approaches. These programs are also developed within communities in ways that are inclusive and representative.

“Innovation funds will help to jump start our thinking about how to improve our mental health programs,” said Poat.

Mono County will be using their innovation funds for their Peapod Innovation Program, which will test a different approach to increase the effectiveness of support groups in English and Spanish for diverse new parents countywide.

San Bernardino County plans on using their Innovation funds, for four different programs. One of these programs, the Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation Program (CASE), will develop a model of comprehensive and collaborative care that facilitates a safe haven and clinical rehabilitation for exploited children who are drawn into prostitution.

The MHSOAC met on Thursday, Feb. 25, at the California Institute for Mental Health in downtown Sacramento.

This MHSOAC meeting is one of many commission meetings that take place around the state. The intent of these meetings is to conduct business where the public can have access to the commission and where the commission can bring information regarding mental health oversight and accountability to the public.

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SONOMA COUNTY – A man who allegedly kept a woman captive at his home while he sexually assaulted her has been charged with eight felony counts.

Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said that on Monday John Manuel Negrete-Gomez, 40, of Santa Rosa, pleaded not guilty to eight felony counts involving the sexual assault of a woman whom he had kept captive in his trailer by tethering her ankle with a cable mounted to the floor of his trailer bedroom.

Negrete-Gomez is charged with three counts of oral copulation by force, one count of penetration with a foreign object by force, one count of false imprisonment, one count of criminal threats, one count of possession of a controlled substance for sale, and one count of possession of a controlled substance.

The acts allegedly occurred between Feb. 9 and Feb. 12.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies rescued a woman who said she was tied up, beaten and sexually assaulted for three days in a south Santa Rosa mobile home park until she managed to call for help.

When deputies entered the bedroom of the trailer, where Negrete-Gomez lived, they found a 40-year-old woman, tethered at her ankle to a bolt in the floor, pleading for help, Passalacqua's office reported.

Detectives obtained a search warrant to collect potential evidence at the residence and also located evidence of sales of methamphetamine as well as various pills.

Negrete-Gomez is being held at the Sonoma County Jail. Bail has been set at $2.1 million. The case is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on March 29.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Cohan is the prosecutor assigned to the case. Sonoma County Sheriff’s Detective Jake Vivian is the lead detective.

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MENDOCINO COUNTY – Mendocino County Sheriff's officials found themselves dealing with several domestic violence-related cases around that county this week, including one in which a woman stabbed her boyfriend in self-defense and a man who rammed a car in which his girlfriend was riding.

Capt. Kurt Smallcomb reported that 47-year-old Gary O'Flanagan of Ukiah was arrested Tuesday after deputies were dispatched to the 3800 block of North State Street in Ukiah for a report of a male adult who had been stabbed in a domestic dispute.

Upon arrival, Smallcomb said deputies spoke to the victim who stated that she lived with and dated O'Flanagan.

That night they got into an argument because the victim wanted some money that O'Flanagan owed her. During the argument, O'Flanagan allegedly punched the victim in her chest, according to Smallcomb's report.

Smallcomb said the woman feared for her safety and grabbed a pair of scissors due to prior domestic issues. O'Flanagan allegedly came at her and attempted to take the scissors out of her hands but instead got cut on his hand when grabbing the scissors.

O'Flanagan was arrested for domestic violence and taken to county jail after he was medically cleared. Smallcomb said O'Flanagan's bail was set at $10,000.

Also on Tuesday, deputies arrested another Ukiah man, 28-year-old Victor Vargas, after a woman arrived at the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office to make a report of domestic violence, Smallcomb said.

The victim, Vargas' wife, told them that earlier in the day she was at her home Vargas returned. Smallcomb said she reported that they got into an argument during which Vargas allegedly slapped her in the face and arm causing injury to her arm. She went to the home of a friend who helped her get to the sheriff's office.

Deputies contacted Vargas, who Smallcomb said admitted to them having an argument, but denied assaulting his wife. Vargas was arrested for domestic violence and booked into the county jail. Vargas' bail was set at $25,000.

In the third case, at around 1 a.m. Wednesday, deputies were dispatched to the 300 block of Lake Mendocino Drive for a report of an assault with a deadly weapon, Smallcomb said.

Upon arrival, deputies spoke to the victim who stated that 19-year-old Grant Burnham of Ukiah was following his ex-girlfriend who was a passenger in a vehicle with several other people. Smallcomb said Burnham was distraught over the breakup and became enraged over her being in another vehicle with a male.

Burnham subsequently followed the vehicle several miles to a location on Lake Mendocino Drive where he rammed the vehicle and pushed it about 20 feet and then fled the area. Smallcomb said no one was injured during the incident but there was about $5,000 worth of damage to the victim's vehicle.

Burnham was arrested the following day for assault with a deadly weapon and vandalism of $400 or more and taken to county jail where his bail was set at $30,000, Smallcomb said.

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKE COUNTY – Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) will host another in his series of regular live town hall meetings via telephone on the evening of Tuesday, March 9.

Thompson is inviting every resident of the 1st Congressional District to join him.

Participants can ask him questions about the issues that are important to them, and the congressman will respond live for everyone to hear.

“Our country is facing many challenges right now,” said Congressman Thompson. “I know that many people are struggling to pay their bills and make ends meet. I look forward to responding to your questions and listening to your concerns. Please take this opportunity to make your voice heard by calling in to participate.”

The town hall will take place from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific Time March 9.

When the call starts, dial 877-269-7289 and enter the passcode 13293.

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

Kelseyville Pharmacy was the scene of an alleged armed robbery on Saturday, February 27, 2010. Employees said a man came in carrying a kitchen knife and demanded OxyContin. Photo by Gail Salituri.

KELSEYVILLE – Authorities are searching for a man who they say allegedly took several bottles of prescription painkiller at knifepoint from a local pharmacy on Saturday.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said deputies responded to Kelseyville Pharmacy on Main Street at about 9:30 a.m. Saturday in response to the report of an armed robbery.

When contacted by Lake County News on Monday, a Kelseyville Pharmacy staffer said a supervisor was not available to speak about the alleged incident.

Pharmacy employees told deputies that a man walked into the store at about 9:25 a.m. Saturday with a kitchen knife in his hand, Bauman said.

When the three employees realized the man was armed, Bauman said they immediately ran for an exit door leading into the pharmacy's back parking lot, with two of them making it out.

However, the suspect cornered one of the women before she could get to the door and demanded she give him some OxyContin, Bauman said.

Bauman said the woman gave the suspect several bottles of OxyContin and as she was looking for more he fled out of the pharmacy and continued on foot towards the Main Street bridge, which spans Kelsey Creek.

None of the employees were injured during the alleged robbery, Bauman said.

Witnesses told Lake County News that in the hours following the incident deputies searched downtown Kelseyville – questioning visitors and business owners in the area and performing a search of the creek.

Bauman said deputies searched the area for several hours but didn't find the man.

He said witnesses described the suspect as a white male adult, unknown age, at least 6 feet tall, weighing 170 to 220 pounds, and wearing white or gray sweatpants, a gray hooded sweatshirt, a black “puffy” jacket over the sweatshirt and a red bandana over his face.

Bauman asked that anyone with information about the alleged robbery and the suspect's possible identify call the Lake County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit at 707-262-4200.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .




Lake County Sheriff's deputies searched around Kelsey Creek after a man allegedly robbed the nearby Kelseyville Pharmacy on Saturday, February 27, 2010. Photo by Gail Salituri.

LAKEPORT – Early on the morning of Sept. 22, 2009, three men were involved in a confrontation that turned deadly along Old Highway 53 in Clearlake.

Two of the men would walk away, while the third, they said, lay moaning in the roadway.

That third man, 25-year-old Shelby Uehling, would be found by police not long after the fight, his body facedown along the side of the road, several feet from a large pool of blood on the roadway and another pool of blood beneath his torso, coming from his slit throat. He would be declared dead at St. Helena Hospital Clearlake a short time later.

The two men who walked away from the fight – Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, and his best friend Melvin Dale Norton, 38 – are on trial for Uehling's murder.

As the closing arguments in their trial began on Wednesday, the prosecution and defense gave their versions of that early morning fight, suggested motives and, ultimately, reminded the six-woman, six-man jury that they would be the ones to conclude the true shape of that morning's events.

“We are not the ones who decide what happens. You are. That's really what jurors do. You tell us what happened,” attorney Doug Rhoades, representing Edmonds, said during his closing arguments in the afternoon.

Motives, as well as what Norton and Edmonds knew as they walked away from Uehling – did they know the extent of his injuries, and what had been their true intent when they walked up to his car from their homes in nearby trailer parks – were debated by Art Grothe, the case's prosecutor, Rhoades and Stephen Carter, Norton's attorney.

Grothe would begin closing arguments Wednesday morning after Carter reported to the court that information he received the previous day about a possible fight between Uehling and two other individuals a day or so before his death didn't appear to be an issue.

Grothe went over the counts with the jury – including murder charges against both Edmonds and Norton, who also are both facing three charges of assault with a deadly weapon regarding the use of a knife, an asp – an extendable police-style baton – and a golf club, a special allegation against Edmonds that he personally inflicted great bodily injury and a charge against Norton that he acted as an accessory.

A week to 10 days before Uehling's murder, Patricia Campbell – Edmond's on-again, off-again girlfriend and a family friend of Norton's – met Uehling, with whom she would have a week-long relationship marked by methamphetamine use, Grothe said.

Campbell and Edmonds, who were introduced by Norton last June, were having problems and then Campbell left with Uehling for a week, he said.

Campbell had left for brief periods before during which she was involved with other men, which Grothe suggested played on Edmonds' mind.

He and Uehling would later exchange text messages, during which Edmonds called Campbell a “bag whore” who used men for drugs.

“Know what's gonna happen and what goes around comes around, Shelby. I know a lot of bad people in this town,” Edmonds wrote to Uehling.

Campbell would then dump Uehling and return to Edmonds, although she and Uehling later would exchange messages, Grothe said.

He said Uehling was no saint, and was doing meth regularly. But Grothe argued that Uehling didn't deserve to die, and he wasn't stalking Campbell as she had told Edmonds and Norton. Rather, the bigger issue, the prosecutor suggested, was the threat Uehling posed to Edmonds' relationship with Campbell.

Grothe showed the jury the asp along with the two knives Edmonds regularly carried with him, including the Fighter Plus brand double-bladed knife with which Edmonds is alleged to have dealt the final, fatal neck wound to Uehling.

Holding up the knife in its package, Grothe said, “It's for slitting people's throats, it's for opening up human bodies, it's not for working on cars,” the latter being the use Edmonds said he had for the knife on a regular basis.

Grothe replayed portions of Edmonds' recorded interview with police on Sept. 22 in which he recounted Uehling stabbing him in the arm during the fight. Another part of the interview had Clearlake Police Det. Tom Clements confronting him about lying to investigators regarding what happened during the fight.

When Clements asked him why he didn't call police, Edmonds replied, “Because I figured he was hurt pretty f---ing bad.”

Grothe alleged that Norton had approached Uehling's car, parked and running on a street off of Highway 53, and challenged him to get out and “talk like a man.”

“That's garbage,” said Grothe, suggesting to the jury that Norton instead was telling Uehling to get out and fight.

Grothe theorized that Norton hit Uehling in the back of the head with the golf club, then went around to the passenger side of the car and swung through the window, embedding the head of the golf club in the dashboard and snapping off the handle.

Showing pictures of Uehling's body and two specific marks on the torso, Grothe compared those marks with the head of the asp, which has a ball on the end. He suggested, “They match. There's nothing else that matches that.”

Grothe argued that Uehling took a heavy blow to his throat early on, rendering him unable to speak. A knife wound to his back punctured his lung, which would have started collapsing.

A neighbor reportedly heard a gasp outside of his home, and allegedly heard someone say, “I cut his throat.” That same witness testified to seeing two subjects near Uehling, kicking him.

Grothe alleged that Edmonds took three weapons with him to the fight – two knives and the asp.

At the fight's end, “He's down,” Grothe said of Uehling. “He is not moving. He's hurt bad. He is down on the ground and he is not capable of any kind of resistance at that point, and that's when Shannon Edmonds makes the decision.”

Grothe added, “Just being beat down is not good enough for Shannon Edmonds at that point. He makes the decision to slit his [Uehling's] throat and kill him.”

Defense attorneys offer alternate view

When court reconvened in the afternoon, Rhoades spent about an hour and a half offering his final arguments on the case.

Nothing that the case is a convoluted one, Rhoades said, “Shelby Uehling is dead, most apparently, from injuries inflicted by Shannon Edmonds.”

After Campbell and Uehling broke it off, it's Norton who intervened to tell Uehling that Campbell doesn't want to see him anymore. When Uehling shows up outside of her mother's home Norton tells him to leave, and when Uehling tries calling on her Campbell's phone when she's sleeping off the meth run, Norton is handed the phone by Edmonds and tells Uehling to stop calling. That call occurred hours before the final fight.

“His beef now could well have been with Mr. Norton,” said Rhoades said of Uehling.

He then asked, “Why does that that fit anything? Here's why. Where is he parked?”

When Norton headed home early on the morning of Sept. 22, he saw Uehling's car parked near the entrance to the trailer park where he lived.

Rhoades said that the marks on Uehling's chest that Grothe alleged were from the asp were not bruises but scrape marks, based on the pathologist's testimony. They were consistent with nylon straps used to secure patients on a backboard on their way to the hospital, Rhoades suggested.

He also questioned the thoroughness of the investigation, saying detectives didn't check parts of the scene for the location of any additional evidence, and noted that fingerprints lifted from the car weren't checked.

Rhoades questioned if Edmonds was the aggressor or if he was reacting to Uehling's aggression.

If Edmonds killed Uehling not with premeditation but just in reaction to the fight, “then you do not have a murder, you have a manslaughter,” said Rhoades.

He said the jury instructions will explain that they must have an “abiding conviction” of guilt. Rhoades said “abiding” is a somewhat archaic word with important meaning – it's not temporary or fleeting, but is for years to come.

“You can't go along to get along. It's not that easy here,” he said.

During his closing arguments, Carter explained that Campbell loved Edmonds before, during and after her brief tryst with Uehling.

Of Uehling, Carter aid, “Where he specifically lives in Clearlake, methamphetamine is a big problem for a lot of people there.”

After Campbell broke off her relationship with Uehling, “Shelby wouldn't accept that his meth wasn't enough to pull this girl in anymore,” said Carter.

Uehling had no good reason to be in Norton's neighborhood in the hours before his death, during which he was making “odd, weird, paranoid calls” to friends saying he had people after him, said Carter.

Norton rides his bike home, sees Uehling's car parked alongside of the road, running, with the lights out. “Creepy, isn't it?” Carter suggested.

Why didn't Norton call the police? Carter suggested that, with his previous criminal record, Norton was in danger of not being believed.

Norton confronts Uehling, who has weapons with him, including a knife in his shoe. When he reached down for a weapon, Norton hit the car with a golf club, which Carter said was done in panic.

“What if you're about to die? Would you swing the golf club? Melvin did. And what happened? It broke,” said Carter.

He said the prosecution hadn't explained the damage to the car's driver side weather stripping, but he suggested that is where the club would have hit before breaking, sending the head to embed into the brittle, older plastic dash.

Uehling got out of the car and would pull up his shirt to grab a weapon from his waist band. Carter said Edmonds “did something brave” by charging in at that point.

Carter said if Norton is to be proved an accessory to murder, the prosecution has to prove that he knew a murder had been committed.

“Melvin couldn't have known that,” said Carter, adding, “It's too dark and he couldn't see.”

Closing arguments will continue Thursday morning, to be followed by jury instructions.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKEPORT – “We aren't trimming fat, we're cutting meat,” Lakeport’s school chief said of the $561,800 in budget cuts she proposed at a Tuesday night special meeting of the school board.

Lakeport Unified School District superintendent Erin Hagberg told the audience of almost 20 that the cuts would have a “crippling effect” on funding and services to students during the 2010-11 school year.

If approved, students will get a longer Thanksgiving vacation, elementary level teachers will have more students and more children will be walking to school.

Using an overhead projector to show revenue losses totaling $528,850, Hagberg explained that the combination of $300,000 in state budget cuts and $198,000 attributed to declining enrollment was largely responsible for the reductions.

A negative cost of living adjustment for employees accounted for the remaining $30,000 shortfall from this year to next.

If the cuts are approved at the regularly scheduled board meeting Thursday evening, four teachers, one principal, and an assistant day care position will be gone this fall. “It will have an impact, obviously, on kids,” Hagberg said.

Also, a fiscal services assistant would see a nearly 40-percent reduction in hours, Hagberg said. “We are already understaffed compared to every other district in the county.”

Under the proposal a bus route also will be eliminated, Hagberg said. Which route will be cut is to be determined according to safety assessments, not distance to school.

Perhaps the only popular cut would be to the school calendar, cutting the two days of the year with perhaps the poorest attendance so students wouldn’t go to school at all the week of Thanksgiving.

Other cuts would include eliminating the K-8 grade summer school program, which “directly affects kids,” in Hagberg’s words, and loss of the high school readiness program.

Hagberg explained that school districts throughout California are having similar meetings to make cuts in anticipation of a March 15 state budget deadline. To make matters worse for Lakeport’s district, Hagberg added, “We are among half the school districts in the state facing declining enrollment.”

Noting she had proposed to cut slightly more than projections require, Hagberg said these cuts amount to $200 per student. “We are hearing rumors it could be $250,” she said of the governor’s proposed budget shortfall. “I’m thinking this is a best-case scenario, not a worst-case scenario.”

Hagberg commented that the cuts proposed Tuesday would bring Lakeport district’s total for the past three years to $1.6 million in budget reductions. The 2010-11 district-wide budget will be $14 million after Thursday’s expected cuts.

Three of the teaching positions proposed for the chopping block will occur at Terrace School, which serves fourth through eighth grades. The other would be at the elementary school, where class sizes would grow to 24 students per teacher. Teacher to student ratios are worse at the district’s other campuses.

The principal position being eliminated would be that of the alternative education principal who currently administers the district’s home school program, the community day school and the alternative high school. “It will certainly have an impact on children,” Hagberg said.

Explaining her budget choices, Hagberg thanked administrators at all campuses for their thoughtful input.

“The process I’ve chosen to follow and I feel has been effective,” she said, referring to the third time the district has had to downsize, is to consult the principals to decide what is the least damaging place to cut. “We work together as a team,” she said, “to make recommendations to the board.”

Noting, “This becomes more difficult every year,” Hagberg said that although last year she was confident some teaching positions recommended for cutting would be restored, this year is different. “I’m not seeing that we will be putting those positions back.”

Board members responded to Hagberg’s proposals with few questions.

Trustee Dennis Darling expressed appreciation for the work that went into the recommendations. “It’s been hard on staff,” he said.

Board member Bob Weiss echoed Darling’s sentiment. “It’s not supposed to be personal but obviously in this small community, it is.”

Weiss added, “As hard as these decision are, it is clear it will be harder ... if we don’t make these decisions.”

Board president Tom Powers, who said he “looks forward to when this trend reverses,” referred to the personal affect the cuts will have on his family. “I have two children in this district and I know these cuts will affect them,” he said.

Transportation Director David Norris said he feels the district is “at what I consider the bare minimum for safety,” commenting, “our board will have to change its walking policy.” He also commented that the expected increase in traffic from the loss of a bus route will be “more dangerous for kids.”

Norris also said, “it works against everything that is green … (with a bus) you have one engine transporting 90 kids.”

As the board went into closed session to discuss a personnel matter, Terrace Middle School Vice Principal Andy Goodwin commented, “This is an awful time for anybody.”

The cuts, he said, “are certainly not in the best interests of the kids ... outside of kids, you start looking at people’s lives.”

E-mail Maile Field at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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