Saturday, 13 July 2024


Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 951 President Dean Gotham (left) works to arrange decorative plants for The Moving Wall display on Wednesday, June 10, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


LAKEPORT – Final preparations are under way for the opening this week of “The Moving Wall” Vietnam memorial.

The Moving Wall is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

The monument was set to arrive in Lakeport on Wednesday, according to Dean Gotham, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 951 (VVA).

VVA is bringing the wall to the county for its only Northern California stop for the rest of this year.

On Wednesday Gotham and about 15 volunteers continued their preparations at the Lake County Fairgrounds. Earlier this week, a supporting platform and the Avenue of Flags were put in place.

On Thursday at 8 a.m., the truck and trailer transporting the wall will be escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group through downtown Lakeport to the fairgrounds on Martin Street.

There, it will be assembled – beginning at around 9 a.m. – in preparation for the opening ceremony, scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Gotham said.

The assembly is estimated to take close to four hours. Afterward, the public will be able to view the wall.

After Friday's opening ceremony, The Moving Wall will be accessible 24 hours day until the closing ceremony on June 15.

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




Divisional flags, representing some of the divisions that Lake County veterans were attached to during the Vietnam War. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




Local sculptor Rolf Kriken's statue honoring injured warriors. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




The Avenue of Flags includes 50 American flags, each representing one of the nation's 50 states. Each flag covered the casket of a veteran before being folded and presented to the veteran's. Each flag has the name and number identifying fallen soldier; families donate the flags for use in the avenue. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

LAKE COUNTY – Local social services programs could be hard hit if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's current budget proposals become reality.

On Tuesday, Lake Family Resource Center (LFRC) reported that Schwarzenegger's proposals include elimination of programs that would result in almost a $1 million loss to LFRC services.

Proposed cuts include eight of LFRC’s safety net programs, according to Executive Director Gloria Flaherty.

Those cuts include one of the agency’s revenue streams for Freedom House, its domestic violence shelter, funding for two teen parenting programs, the pregnancy prevention program, Healthy Families, and CalWORKS domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health programs, Flaherty said.

In past years, these “safety net” programs were mostly exempted from severe budget cuts or complete program elimination, said Flaherty.

But this year, that is most definitely not the case, with the state considering complete elimination of several of the agency's programs. In past years, when the state budget was late, Flaherty said LFRC had confidence that the programs would continue, even with some reduction. Last year the reduction was between 10 and 15 percent.

If the state follows through with eliminating the agency’s funding this year, more than 3,400 individuals – equal to 5 percent of the county's overall population – will go without services from LFRC annually, Flaherty reported.

“The programs being contemplated for elimination weave a safety net for some of the most vulnerable members of our Lake County community, and children, especially, will be at high risk,” said Christina Roth, chair of LFRC's Board of Directors.

Roth said if the state cuts Healthy Families – the children’s health insurance program that assists low-income, working families – more than 1,700 children in Lake County would lose their coverage, jeopardizing preventive care and other medical services.

That will result in a loss of more than $2 million per year to the local economy, LFCR reported.

The agency's highly effective teen parenting program provides services to more than 140 teens and their children every year, providing access to medical care, parenting development, prevention of second pregnancies and assistance in staying in school.

Limited domestic violence services, including the shelter, would survive due to other funding streams, but program staff would be cut by two-thirds, which would result in far more restricted services to survivors of domestic violence and their children.

Lake County’s teen pregnancy rate is falling due in part to the excellent work being done through the adolescent pregnancy prevention Community Challenge Program, according to LFRC. Several hundred young teens receive information about abstinence, results of early sexual activity, healthy relationships, and positive life choices through that program every year.

Flaherty said LFRC has taken the unprecedented action of advising its staff members of potential layoffs due to state budget impacts.

She said the agency has notified 12 people that if the state does not adopt a budget by July 1, they will be furloughed until adoption of the budget.

Depending on the state’s final actions, up to 25 of LFRC’s 57 staff may be permanently laid off.

In previous years, the agency had confidence that its programs would survive the budget process, even when the budget was late; that is not the case in the current year.

“I don’t think anyone can have confidence in the state’s processes this year – it just seems highly volatile and unpredictable,” said Flaherty. “We cannot accept the potential financial liability for the agency should we to continue to incur costs that would not be reimbursed.”

If the state budget is adopted after July 1 and programmatic cuts are made by the state retroactively, it is very unlikely that LFRC will receive any reimbursement for costs it incurs after June 30.

“The individuals who are at risk of being furloughed July 1, and others who may later be at risk, depending on legislative actions, are dedicated, well-trained, professional staff members; we are hopeful of continuing their employment, but if we cannot, other employers should seek them out,” Flaherty said. “These individuals would be an asset to any business or organization.”

LFRC will continue to provide a continuum of countywide family services including domestic violence response and counseling, the Freedom House shelter, mental health services, child abuse treatment, child abuse prevention, rape crisis center, Early Head Start, parenting, anger management and other kinds of classes and workshops, and teen lifeline.


“We urge Lake County residents to let Gov. Schwarzenegger and our local representatives, Assemblyman Wes Chesbro and Senator Pat Wiggins, know the impact of the loss of these services to our community,” said Flaherty. “Lake County does not have a ‘deep bench’ of community services – there is little to no duplication of the services being contemplated for elimination.”

The governor’s office can be reached by calling 916-445-2841, or faxing 916-558-3160; Wiggins’ contact numbers are 916-651-4002 (phone) and 916-323-6958 (fax); and Chesbro can be reached at 916-319-2001 (phone) and 916-319-2101 (fax).

Community members who would like to provide financial assistance to LFRC may make tax-deductible donations to the agency at 896 Lakeport Blvd., Lakeport, CA 95453.

Some of the agency’s programs that will continue can always use volunteers with experience and skills related to that program. LFRC also provides specialized training for volunteers in its domestic violence and sexual assault programs. Those who are interested in volunteering should call Michele Meek at 707-262-1611.

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. .

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. .

HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – Local law enforcement officials are cracking down on trespassing on private lands near Hidden Valley Lake.

Past complaints of vehicular trespass in the Putah Creek area of Hidden Valley Lake have prompted assertive enforcement measures to stop the random misuse and frequent destruction of privately owned, unoccupied lands, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said deputies have been focusing patrols on private lands to the east of Highway 29 on both sides of Hartmann Road near Putah Creek for the past two months.

Thus far, only verbal warnings have been issued to off-highway vehicle (OHV) operators and pedestrian trespassers, Bauman said.

Those contacted during the two-month “grace period” have respectfully complied with requests to leave the properties, he added.

However, beginning this month, Bauman said those found trespassing will now be subject to arrest, citation or criminal complaint.

Bauman said the sheriff's office and the state Department of Fish and Game will work together with absentee land owners to abate the Hartmann Road and Putah Creek areas in the coming months.

He said the sheriff's office further advises all off-road motor sports enthusiasts to enjoy their recreation without violating the law by using designated OHV use areas such as the Cow Mountain Recreational area, designated areas of the Mendocino National Forest, and the newly opened Oasis Motocross track in Clearlake Oaks.

OHV enthusiasts must otherwise comply with the provisions set forth by state law and county ordinance when enjoying their sport on private property, Bauman said.

LAKE COUNTY – The unusually cool spring weather will continue through the weekend in Lake County, with a slight chance of rain on Saturday, but some forecast models predict a return to normal temperatures next week.

According to the National Weather Service in Sacramento (NWS), Lake County will see an increase in clouds and chances for thunderstorms after noon Friday, with a chance of rain at 20 percent with high temperatures in the mid-70s.

On Saturday, the possibility of showers increases to 30 percent, but decreases into the evenings the NWS states, with temperatures ranging from a high of 72 to a low of 50.

Daytime temperatures are predicted to return closer to normal on Tuesday reaching into the mid-80s with a slight chance of rain, but Monday will remain in the 70s according to the NWS.

Forecast models from the NWS and The Weather Channel (TWC) differ for the remainder of the week with TWC predicting a return to normal temperatures with highs in the mid- to upper-80s, while NWS forecasts partly cloudy skies with temperatures topping off in the low- to mid- 80s.

For more weather information, visit the link on the home page to US Weather Service.

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

THE GEYSERS – A 3.1-magnitude earthquake hit The Geysers area early Wednesday morning.

The quake was recorded at 2:59 a.m. at a depth of 1.7 miles, according to the US Geological Survey.

Its epicenter was located two miles north of The Geysers, four miles west of Cobb and seven miles northwest of Anderson Springs, the US Geological Survey reported.

The most recent earthquake measuring 3.0 or above was recorded early on the morning of May 18, when The Geysers area experienced a 3.4-magnitude temblor, as Lake County News has reported.

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

LAKEPORT – A teenager convicted of stabbing to death a classmate last summer received a seven-year state prison sentence on Monday.

Gabrielle Rachel Varney, 19, a former Carlé Continuation High School student, pleaded guilty on April 27 to voluntary manslaughter and the use of a knife in killing 17-year-old Heather Valdez following an argument on June 5, 2008.

Judge Arthur Mann, decided Varney – who has no previous record – is not likely to be a repeat offender or a danger to others, and sentenced her to the middle term of six years in state prison and one year for the use of the knife.

She will receive 369 days of credit for time served and 55 days for good conduct credit, Mann said. As a result, Varney likely will serve just over five years in state prison. She also was ordered to pay more than $20,000 in restitution.

Varney's 80-minute sentencing resembled a miniature trial. There were victim impact statements and, in an unusual touch, Varney herself was called to the stand to discuss the case.

Victim-Witness advocates escorted into the courtroom many members of Valdez's family, who sat on the left side of the courtroom. Many of them wore black t-shirts with pictures of the victim. One young man's shirt read, “RIP Heather Valdez.”

Tammy Davis, Valdez's aunt, read her own victim impact statement as well as those of several family members.

The stories the statements told were of a devastated family, stricken by fear, economic hardship, foreclosures, job loss and despair.

“On June 5, 2008, the lives of an entire family changed forever,” when Heather Valdez's life was “brutally” taken by Varney, said Davis.

Davis called Varney, sitting at the defense table with Stephen Carter, a “cold-blooded murderer.”

The main question of why Varney killed Valdez, remains unanswered, said Davis. “We only know your side. We will never know Heather's side.”

Valdez would have turned 18 on April 7, and this Friday would have graduated from high school, said Davis. “You have taken something very special from us.”

Davis told Varney, “I have never hated a person more than I hate you,” and said she wished Varney would die in the gas chamber, a comment which caused one of Varney's family members to break down in tears.

Cheryl Valdez, Heather Valdez's mother, said “You think this sort of thing isn't going to happen to you.”

She said the lives of the family members have been destroyed. “I can't even convey to you the pain and loss in my life,” she said, explaining that she can look out her window every day and see the spot in the street where her daughter died.

Valdez said her daughter was not a violent person or a bully, and asked the judge for the full 12-year sentence for Varney.

Tammy Davis also read statements from several other family members, including Judith Davis, Heather Valdez's grandmother; the girl's father, Tom Valdez; uncles Jim and Jeff Davis; aunt, Donna Davis; and sister, Jennifer Valdez.

Judith Davis, who helped raise Valdez, recalled spending time with the girl, whose death she has lived over and over each day.

Her statement noted that she saw Varney laughing in court one day. “I hate you with every inch of my being,” she wrote, recalling how Varney had visited her house and had dinner with her family when the girls were still friends.

Tom Valdez wrote in his statement that his days are filled with sadness and fear. He's been unable to work and afraid to leave his home.

He added, “I feel let down by the justice system.”

Jim Davis was business partners with Tom Valdez. But Valdez's inability to work resulted in the failure of their business, and the loss of two houses and three cars, leaving Davis homeless.

He criticized both the District Attorney's Office and the Clearlake Police Department for their handling of the case, and said he plans to leave Lake County and take his business with him.

Jennifer Valdez wrote to the court that she had attended college in Sacramento where she was studying fashion design. When Heather Valdez graduated from high school, she was supposed to move in with her sister.

Her sister's death caused Jennifer Valdez to suffer an emotional breakdown and return home to her parents. She wrote that she's watched her young brother lash out at friends, her mother get thinner with grief and her father – who she'd never seen cry before – weep for her dead sister.

“My sister was a good person,” she wrote. “She was not the person she was made out to be.”

Heather Valdez had a hard life, and also had been bullied, but she never decided to handle problems with a knife, Jennifer Valdez wrote.

Varney tells her story on the stand

Following the statements, Carter called Varney to the stand.

Wearing a black and white jail jumpsuit, with her wrists shacked at her waist, Varney answered questions in a soft voice.

“This case has hurt me emotionally, too, and I know a lot of people aren't going to believe that,” she said.

Varney said the fatal incident haunts her every day. “I am so sorry for what happened,” she said, adding that she would trade her life for Valdez's.

She stabbed Valdez because she was scared of getting hurt, and she couldn't fight but knew Valdez could.

Varney said Valdez pushed her as they were getting off the bus. While on the bus she had taken a knife out of her purse and put it in her back pocket. After being pushed, she took out the knife and said to herself, “You think you're funny?”

Valdez didn't hear the comment and came toward her. Varney said she had the knife out and hoped Valdez would see it. But after Varney had the folding knife open she said Valdez punched her in the face several times, causing her to bleed.

Varney said Valdez pinned her left arm behind her and was pulling her hair. At that point Varney – who had no experience fighting with a knife – said she began to throw the knife wildly in the air but didn't think she had made contact.

But, according to statements in court, she did make contact – striking Valdez in the neck, chest and abdomen.

Carter asked Varney what she wanted to say to Valdez's family. “Where do I begin? There is so much I wanted to tell you,” she said.

Varney added, “I wish that I could take this back more than anything in this world.”

Prosecutor John DeChaine questioned Varney about how long the disagreement between she and Valdez had been taking place. Varney estimated about six months, with the issue initially arising over a cigarette. Under questioning, she admitted that Valdez hadn't previously assaulted her but she had tried.

About three months previous to the stabbing Varney started carrying the knife, she stated.

DeChaine asked Varney is she had ever asked adults for help in dealing with the tension with Valdez. She said she told then-Carlé High Principal William MacDougall and teachers. She conceded she wasn't assaulted afterward but Valdez would say “very, very mean things to me.”

The prosecutor questioned Varney about a written statement by a fellow student who witnessed a conflict between Varney and Valdez. Afterward Varney had allegedly said, “I swear I'm going to kill that bitch.” Varney said she didn't recall saying it.

The final deadly conflict between the two teenagers had reportedly been over a mutual friend, who Valdez had asked to choose between them. Varney told a probation officer that she was upset about the issue, but on Monday she said she hadn't been upset enough to hurt Valdez.

As DeChaine's questioning continued, Varney said she hadn't mean to stab Valdez, only to scare her. DeChaine asked her if it was happenstance that she just happened to hit Valdez in vital areas with the knife. Yes, Varney replied.

Carter said the Valdez family's story was compelling, and he was sorry for their loss.

“I must come here to give the other side of this story, and there is another side to this story,” he said.

Varney, whose school nickname was “Mouse,” is a bright but troubled teenager who was described by witnesses as someone who had been making “leaps and bounds forward” before the stabbing, he said.

No one can blame Valdez's family for their anger and pain, said Carter. “But Gabrielle Varney is not a monster. She, too, is a human being, and she acted that day out of fear.”

She's not a murderer, he said; she's been convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and from the beginning had admitted her guilt and didn't try to hide it or run away. “She just didn't know what to do in the aftermath of what had happened.”

He said she has an excellent chance of moving forward with her life once she's out of prison, and wants to move to New York to live with her father. “She does care. She is insightful. She is intelligent, and she wants to succeed,” he said, adding she's “extremely remorseful.

A report Carter had submitted to the court said a doctor who has been treating Varney in jail found that she “does not pose a significant risk of future offenses.”

Recalling the victim, Carter said, “Heather didn't deserve what Heather got. You'll never hear me argue that she did.”

Mann turned down the option of giving Varney probation rather than a prison sentence, saying she wasn't overly provoked. But neither did the crime demonstrate planning, he said. He said it was a “tough call” about whether or not she would be a danger to herself or others; he found that danger to be moderate.

DeChaine argued for the 12-year prison term because of the great violence and bodily harm of the crime. He accused Varney of goading the conflict, and said if she truly had been scared of Valdez she wouldn't have made some of the comments that fueled the argument.

Replied Carter, “The only thing my client planned was to not get beat up.”

Carter – who argued for the lower, four-year term – called the stabbing “a violent act” that arose out of “genuine teenager fear.”

DeChaine responded by attacking the presumption that the final fight resulted from bullying, once again drawing attention to Varney's statements about being upset with Valdez over the disagreement regarding a mutual friend.

Mann found that there was “great violence” in the death of Valdez, who was stabbed three times. However, he didn't find it was planned, and considered it a one-time occurrence.

He also gave her credit for pleading to the voluntary manslaughter charge. “From day one she was admitting her guilt.”

Mann then passed sentence on Varney. As the filled gallery emptied out of the courtroom, Varney was placed in the jury box, where she sat alone, sobbing.

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

COBB – A day after The Geysers experienced a 3.1-magnitude earthquake, a 3.0-magnitude quake was recorded in the Cobb area.

The quake was recorded at 2.48 a.m. Thursday at nine-tenths of a mile, the US Geological Survey reported.

US Geological Survey records placed the quake's epicenter two miles west of Cobb, four miles northeast of The Geysers and six miles northwest of Anderson Springs.

No local residents reported feeling the quake, although the US Geological Survey received reports from Oakland, Shingle Springs and Vacaville.

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

The incomparable Joan Holman. Photo by Bert Hutt.

LAKE COUNTY – One of the stalwarts of the Lake County Arts community has passed away.

Joan Holman – a native of England, a survivor of the London Blitz during World War II, a world traveler and grand dame of local theater – died June 5. She was 93.

Holman is remembered for her many contributions to the arts, including service as an officer or board member to Clear Lake Performing Arts and the Lake County Arts Council.

She also was active in little theater here, starring most recently with fellow actor Bert Hutt in “The Gin Game,” which she performed convincingly at the Big Valley Grange Hall in celebration of her 90th birthday.

Among her other accomplishments was fine photography, which she pursued during the travels that took her to many parts of the world. Her photos won awards in numerous art competitions, including those of the Lake County Fair where they earned recognition year after year.

Her colorful history helped her to achieve most of the goals she had set for herself during her long and eventful life.

Born in the town of Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, England, in the middle of World War 1, she was raised by a single working "mum" when her father died shortly after her birth, and was passed around among various relatives until the age of 8, when she was entered into boarding school. There she excelled in music and writing, winning a scholarship to a prestigious girl's school in Salisbury where she attended concerts and recitals in that city's famed Salisbury Cathedral.

In 1937 she began her career in journalism, soon rising to women's editor of the Home Counties Newspapers in nearby Luten. In 1939 she learned to fly as a licensed member of the Civil Air Guard.

Then in 1940 she moved to London as a magazine writer, just in time to endure the Blitz bombings which she called “terrifying, but in some ways stimulating.”

By the following year she was in South Africa simultaneously training pilots while also serving as editor of the Pretoria News. She later worked as a reporter for the Johannesburg Star, the country's biggest newspaper.

After a stint with England's British Broadcasting Co. she moved to Washington D.C. Where she found work as a "lonely hearts" columnist as well as doing on-air work at a local good music radio station. At the same time, she was aggressively pursuing her interests in theater.

In 1951 she was hired as a reporter by the San Francisco Chronicle and was also married, but was widowed seven years later.

Then in 1961 she met and married Lee Holman and also moved across the bay to the Oakland Tribune where she worked for 14 years before retiring and moving to Lake County. Her second husband died in 1991.

Holman said that involvement in community activities and maintenance of close relationships with her neighbors and the many members of the Lake County arts community, served to keep her going.

And keep going she did, remaining active as, among other things, the announcer at CLPA concerts, almost until her final days.

John Ross, a board member of the Lake County Arts Council, acknowledged the many contributions Holman had made to his organization, including her championship of the Soper-Reese Community Theater.

Clear Lake Performing Arts President Paul Brewer also noted the support she had given their organization over the years including a stint as president.

“She was definitely one of a kind, and she will be greatly missed,” he said.

Family members said there would be a remembrance service to be held in July. Details will be provided soon.

LAKEPORT – “The Moving Wall,” a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., will arrive this week in Lakeport, its only Northern California stop on this year’s tour.

The Moving Wall has visited more than 1,000 communities in the past 20 years and will be on display in Lakeport from Thursday, June 11 through Monday, June 15.

The Lake County chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is bringing The Moving Wall to Lake County as a community event that will provide an opportunity for residents and visitors alike to experience the memorial. It will be on display at the Lake County Fairgrounds, 401 Martin St., Lakeport.

On Monday, in preparation for the wall's Wednesday arrival, VVA and its volunteers began building the wall's platform and installed the Avenue of Flags, said VVA President Dean Gotham.

Gotham reported that they also completed set up for the opening ceremony, which is set for 9 a.m. Friday, June 12.

Following the opening, The Moving Wall will be accessible 24 hours per day until the closing ceremony on June 15. An information booth with a directory of names and refreshments will be available.

“ ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers,’ President John F. Kennedy said. The opportunity for Lake County to reveal itself will occur when The Moving Wall opens on June 11,” said Gotham.

The goal of The Moving Wall, which was built in 1983-1984 by the Vietnam Combat Veterans Ltd., was to share the feelings and experiences of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. as many veterans and the general public do not have the opportunity to see the memorial in person.

Spanning over 250 feet in length, The Moving Wall, will provide visitors the opportunity to learn, demonstrate honor and respect, and provide some closure to Vietnam veterans.

For more information or to volunteer assistance, materials, or tax-deductible donations, call Gotham at 707-350-1159 or visit .

Upcoming Calendar

07.16.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.17.2024 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Free veterans dinner
07.20.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.23.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.27.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.30.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
08.03.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
08.06.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
08.10.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
08.13.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park

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