Rough Week For the DA’s Office Regarding Two Homicide Cases

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In one case the deceased individual is not dead and in the other a key witness asks where the shooter is –

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This has probably not been the best of weeks for the DA’s Office, in terms of two cases that involve different forms of homicides.  As we reported yesterday, there is the case of Timothy Hernandez,  facing DUI charges that involve vehicular manslaughter.  Turns out, as we reported Thursday and the Daily Democrat confirmed, the second “manslaughter” victim is alive and in critical but stable condition at UC Davis Medical Center.

Adding to the problems, Thursday marked the opening of what was supposed to be a 12-day trial involving the September 2009 shooting death of Jesus Cortez Heredia, at Ortega’s West in West Sacramento, by Jesus Solis.  However, a key witness for the prosecution suddenly asked, through her interpreter, where the shooter was and why he was not in the courtroom.

The Solis trial was already going to be a very difficult trial for the prosecution.  There was no one witness to the events that unfolded when a fight broke out between the victim and another man after the bar closed early on a Sunday morning.  Instead, investigators had to piece together evidence and eyewitness testimony.

The Public Defenders Office previously stated they believe that the wrong individual is being held for the case.  The one witness who can identify Mr. Solis could be viewed as a suspect himself.

As we reported in July, Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson told the court that DNA evidence showed DNA from a woman and two other unidentified men, neither of which are Mr. Solis. There is a palm print found on the steering wheel which is not a match with Mr. Solis. And finally there is a ballistics report that would also appear to exonerate the defendant.

Following opening statements by both sides who painted their best picture of the case, the people called Elvia Salcedo to the stand.  Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Ms. Salcedo testified that she had been going to her car to retrieve a sweater when she saw a fight taking place in the parking lot. 

After the fight was broken up, she told the court that she saw one of the men involved walk past her and to his vehicle that was parked adjacent to hers. The man was tall and skinny, and had a fresh wound on his forehead that was bleeding. She heard him speak and say to his woman companion that he was angry about losing the fight. She heard him ask for “the gun,” that he wanted it because he was going to shoot the other person. She saw the man get into the back right side of the vehicle, with the woman to his left.

During the course of the long and drawn-out questioning by Deputy DA Robin Johnson, Ms. Salcedo grew increasingly frustrated.  She suddenly asked, through her interpreter, if she could ask a question.  DA Johnson was apparently caught off guard and mistakenly allowed her to ask.  This would be a huge mistake.

“The man who fired the gun, where is he?” she asked.

Ms Johnson, completely caught off guard, looked toward the judge, stated, “I…” and then trailed off.  Ms Salcedo repeated, “I do not see him here. Where is he?” Ms Johnson, unable to respond adequately, seemed to try to pass over what had just happened, and handed the police statement to Ms Salcedo. Judge Mock then decided to take the mid-morning recess to allow the translator to read the statement to Ms Salcedo.

After more laborious and unproductive questions by Ms Johnson, Ms Salcedo again asked if she may ask a question. This time Judge Mock swiftly responded, “Ah, we’ll let them ask questions,” gesturing to the attorneys.

When Ms Johnson ended her line of questions, Dean Johansson, stood to cross-examine and promptly asked Ms Salcedo, “What is it that you wanted to say?”

Ms Salcedo responded that the man seated at the defense table, the defendant, looked not at all like the man who she’d seen in the parking lot.  She stated that she’d not seen the defendant that night, or ever, before that day in court. Referring to the angry, wounded man she’d seen in the parking lot, she said, “It’s not that I know him, but I remember him and I cannot see him around. Where is he?” She stated that the man she’d seen was younger than the defendant, and skinnier.

During re-direct, Ms. Johnson attempted first to soften the blow and when that failed, she tried to discredit her witness. She asked Ms Salcedo that, though Ms Salcedo had said that the defendant is not the angry man whom she saw in the parking lot,  she must not have seen the actual shooting or the shooter, that she had only heard it. Ms Salcedo responded with surprise that who else would shoot, other than the man who’d been in the fight and was angry and injured.  She said, “I don’t think anyone else would shoot a gun just like that.”

Once the questioning ended, Judge Mock said to Ms. Salcedo that she could go and would not have to return to court. Ms. Salcedo said, “Thank you, sir. I hope that justice can be served.”

Meanwhile, DUI cases generally tend to be fairly simple, there is physical evidence,  you generally know “whodonit” and you know who the victims are and what their injuries were.

In the Hernandez case, we know that one victim has tragically died at the age of 19, but as the Daily Democrat reported on Wednesday, “During the arraignment, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven… noted that a second count of gross vehicular manslaughter had been added earlier that morning after the DA’s Office received word from CHP that a second victim, 19-year-old Eddie Salazar, had died in the hospital.”

However, reports the Democrat, “Members of Hernandez’s family immediately took issue with the claims, and began calling for the attention of Commissioner Janene Beronio, from the back of the courtroom.”

The report continues, “After being acknowledged by Beronio, various family members claimed that Salazar was currently in stable condition and had been in contact with them only a half hour prior to the arraignment.”

On Thursday, the Daily Democrat reported that the second fatality is still alive.  Reports the Democrat, “The DA’s Office received word of Salazar’s alleged death from CHP representatives.  Hill said the confusion over Salazar’s condition arose due to a common issue resulting from Latino surnames, which often list both the mother’s and father’s family name. While the CHP has listed the victim as “Eddie Salazar,” the victim’s family had him listed as “Eddie Gonzalez” at the UCDMC.”

The Democrat continues, “When the CHP contacted the hospital on Tuesday, representatives were told that an “Eddie Salazar” had died the previous evening. However, that individual was not involved in the accident last weekend.”

Why the DA could not wait until they confirmed the death before attempting to charge the defendant with an additional manslaughter count has not been explained.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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20 thoughts on “Rough Week For the DA’s Office Regarding Two Homicide Cases”

  1. kathryndruliner

    What is wrong with them? I suspect they could weed out problems if they would do live preliminary hearings rather than rely on hearsay preliminary hearings and wait until a jury is selected to let the defense see the witnesses and the real evidence. A hearsay preliminary hearing is a joke. The police officer reads the police report to the court. The standard is probable cause to hold the defendant for trial, the exact same standard the police officer used to arrest the defendant. Where is the protection between arrest and trial? There is none. The young prosecutors today, those practicing since 1990, do not understand the value of evaluating a case before burdening the taxpayers, the accused and the system with a jury trial. And the initiative that passed the law that allowed hearsay prelims created this mess.

  2. Roger Rabbit

    David, do you not get it, DA Jeff Reisig does not have to explain anything to anyone, he does what he wants, says what he wants in his press releases and answers to no one.

    Although he is good at blaming his Deputy Attorneys, or blaming the press or blaming CHP, but it is never any wrongdoing on his “Majesty’s” part.

    We just need to learn to bow and say thank you that he is so kind to give us any information at all.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    kd: “What is wrong with them? I suspect they could weed out problems if they would do live preliminary hearings rather than rely on hearsay preliminary hearings and wait until a jury is selected to let the defense see the witnesses and the real evidence.”

    That makes good sense to me.

    dmg: “During re-direct, Ms. Johnson attempted first to soften the blow and when that failed, she tried to discredit her witness. She asked Ms Salcedo that, though Ms Salcedo had said that the defendant is not the angry man whom she saw in the parking lot, she must not have seen the actual shooting or the shooter, that she had only heard it. Ms Salcedo responded with surprise that who else would shoot, other than the man who’d been in the fight and was angry and injured. She said, “I don’t think anyone else would shoot a gun just like that.””

    A prosecutor’s worst nightmare – but the DA broke a cardinal rule – don’t ask questions of a witness if you don’t know what the witness will answer. (Remember the glove evidence in the OJ Simpson case – where the DA made the mistake of telling the defendant to put on the glove to see if it fit – and it didn’t bc the leather had been wet and shrunk as it dried?) This situation should give the prosecutor pause to look more closely into the case, to make sure they have the right person. The prosecution has a higher duty to the public, to “get it right”.

  4. Iyah

    DA’s need to be able to admit they made a mistake. The case of Mr. Solis is sad all the way around. The person who died is not getting justice, the person on trial is wrongly being prosecuted and the person who killed someone is out roaming the streets.

    The Innocence Project has done extensive research into why people are wrongly convicted. One of the reasons is that law enforcement and DA’s often don’t reassess a case when new information comes to light. The attitude and the culture is that if it doesn’t look good for their “case” information is ignored or they try to keep it out. This is not to the benefit of society. Everyone knows mistakes can happen. They need to be able to own up to it. It is far worse to ignore the signs and send an innocent person to jail.

    For the benefit of all society I would like to think that the DA will dismiss this case and go look for the right person. At the very minimum they need to give Mr. Solis an apology.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    lyah: “The Innocence Project has done extensive research into why people are wrongly convicted. One of the reasons is that law enforcement and DA’s often don’t reassess a case when new information comes to light. The attitude and the culture is that if it doesn’t look good for their “case” information is ignored or they try to keep it out. This is not to the benefit of society. Everyone knows mistakes can happen. They need to be able to own up to it. It is far worse to ignore the signs and send an innocent person to jail.”

    This is not true in all cases. I have read of DA’s who actually argue vigorously in favor of the wrongly accused. But ironically sometimes they cannot convince the judges or a governor to vacate the erroneous conviction!

  6. kathryndruliner

    I have signed my real name on this blog. I have read an attack on me by someone not signing his real name who appears to be from inside the DA’s office and feels I should be brought up on charges for making false accusations against the Deputy DA and Det Beasley. I think you all should know the truth about the Artz trial, especially in light of the DA’s behavior since then.

    1. Beasley contacted the sister of Michael Artz the day of trial to try to extort a plea (unethical to say the least) and he did this at Ms. Susz’ direction — they did not tell me although they had a legal duty to do so;
    2. Beasley was allowed to stay in the courtroom thru the trial and was not allowed to tell other witnesses about that which he had heard any witness testify; he violated that rule and was caught and then lied about it. This was despite the fact that I tried to prevent it pre trial. I had learned from the attorneys in the Noori case that Beasley was not to be trusted and should be a concern about contaminating witnesses. Judge Mock did not blink in denying my request that he either exlude Beasley or admonish him to not tell witnesses what other witnesses said. BUT when as a result of Beasley’s misbehavior in contacting the sister of Michael and upsetting her (although she knew about the charges, the things he said to her were nonetheless very upsetting) we needed someone to testify that there was no lock on the bedroom door where the alleged victim claimed Michael had locked her in. Michael’s mother was the one who could do it, or his father. They were in the courtroom every day, all day long. I asked that the judge exercise his discretion and allow his mother to stay in the courtroom since she was only going to testify about that one fact — hardly something to worry about contamination — Susz objected and the judge did what she wanted. HMM????;
    3. Beasley “read between the lines” as the alleged victim put it from the witness stand (before she got the high sign from Beasley) during her very first interviews at the DPD about her sexual relationship with the girl 6 months older than Michael but he stopped the tape recorder, took that information, and then resumed the tape recording without mentioning it. The defense discovered it the hard way. Then Susz had the audacity to tell the Judge pre-trial that there was no evidence that Maggie and the alleged victim had a sexual relationship. So, the prosecutor objected repeatedly during the defense opening statement to the truth (as she knew it, and as an officer of the court) when the defense counsel made a statement about a sexual relationship motivating Maggie to direct the alleged victim’s false claim. The defense swam upstream through the entire trial until finally no one could deny the sexual nature of the 2 girls relationship. How is this wrongful accusation of wrongdoing by me for which I should be brought up on charges? And this is just the tip of the iceburg!;
    4. Beasley did the same type of horrible misconduct in December in tne Noori case and has subjected the Davis Police Department and himself to a civil rights lawsuit in Federal Court in the Eastern District of California. He did the very same thing right down to contacting one of the defendant’s sisters during the trial. Of course any settlement will be confidential but the taxpayers of Davis and Yolo County will pay;
    5. Judge Mock, the judge who presided over the Noori trial and the Artz trial is married to the retired, but still on the payroll, Chief Deputy of the District Attorneys office ( a fact not known to me until well after the trial was over). Wonder if this had anything to do with why when Susz asked if he would impose time limits on closing arguments, he first said he never did. In fact he laughed and said he and his staff had to endure a 10 hour closing in one case. However after my 1.5 hour argument and the evening recess, the next morning he came in and dictated that I had only until 10:30 to finish my argument regardless of whether I had finished reviewing the evidence or not.

    I have to retract my prior supportive statement of Jeff Reisig. I am very dissappointed in him.

  7. E Roberts Musser

    kd: “I have signed my real name on this blog. I have read an attack on me by someone not signing his real name who appears to be from inside the DA’s office and feels I should be brought up on charges for making false accusations against the Deputy DA and Det Beasley.”

    Read where that you should be brought up on charges?

  8. kathryndruliner

    Anyone who wonders how a reputable District Attorney’s office should run should read the Sacramento Bee, Saturday edition, Page B1 Cop’s act’s void cases. These people were guilty — scientific evidence proved it (blood, breath, urine). 79 cases dismissed and fines paid refunded. “It’s not about wins it’s about justice”. Problem: falsified police reports. Sacramento District Attorney found the case particularly distressing becaUse law enforcement officers are sworn to serve the public. Police Chief Leong said Mullock “broke the trust of the community and the Police Department”. Floyd Feeney a law professor from University of California, Davis said the dismissals are illustrative of the critical role law enforcement officers (and District attorneys are law enforcement officers– they have badges too— )play in the criminal justice process – and the impact they can have.” “It certainly shows the frailty of the system,” Feeney said. “Some offices would’ve just kissed this off and waited for somebody outside to make a noise about this” Feeney said.

    Wonder what offices he is talking about?

  9. Superfluous Man

    Kathryn,

    “Judge Mock, the judge who presided over the Noori trial and the Artz trial is married to the retired, but still on the payroll, Chief Deputy of the District Attorneys office ( a fact not known to me until well after the trial was over).”

    What would you have done if you had known this detail pre-trial or during the trial? Do you believe Judge Mock was playing favorites in the Artz case?

    So, on what site are people calling for charges to be brought against you?

  10. David M. Greenwald

    A few thoughts here.

    First, I’ve been concerned about Judge Mock’s relationship with Ann Hurd, who was the No.2 person in the DA’s office and is still working there at least periodically, for some time and I do think there is a conflict there.

    And I do think the even the suggestion or possibility of a conflict is a huge problem.

    Second, I think Judge Mock’s conduct was unprofessional in the Artz trial, I said so publicly.

    Third, despite that, I don’t think it impacted the outcome in the Artz trial. He was acquitted on by far the most serious charge. He clearly did break the letter of the law in the other two charges, though I think the DA should have used better discretion than to have charged either of them.

    Four, I’ve watched a lot of trials in Mock’s court the last few months, and generally he’s fair. There are other Judge’s who I think are more of a problem, particularly Fall and Wariner, although his role will be reduced with his retired.

  11. Superfluous Man

    David,

    “First, I’ve been concerned about Judge Mock’s relationship with Ann Hurd, who was the No.2 person in the DA’s office and is still working there at least periodically, for some time and I do think there is a conflict there.”

    So, should no YC judge who’s married or romantically linked to a YC public defender or prosecutor be allowed to preside over cases in the County? What do you propose be done in such circumstances?

    Is that linkage alone sufficient in determining a conflict of interest?

    “Four, I’ve watched a lot of trials in Mock’s court the last few months, and generally he’s fair.”

    Then why the concern about his professionalism and impartiality?

    “There are other Judge’s who I think are more of a problem, particularly Fall and Wariner, although his role will be reduced with his retired.”

    What is it about Judge Wariner that you take issue with?

  12. bachha

    I am very glad that Kathryn Druliner is telling it like it is. I sat in on Ajay Dev’s trial. The Detective in that case, Det. Hermann was just as crooked as Detective Beasley. Detective Hermann sat through the entire trial just like Beasely did and was able to testify after hearing everyone’s testimony. He also did not do a proper investigation. But he was one worse than Beasley, Hermann talked to two of the jurors during a break in the trial. A 25 year veteran going and talking to the jurors during trial, that is insane. He should know better. Talk about a judicial system that is completely broken down.

  13. kathryndruliner

    As a member of the Bar I am unable to criticize a judge. What I have to say will be said on the record on October 15th, the date set for sentencing.

    Having said that, a judge has a duty to disclose any fact that might create an appearance of impropropriety. I have practiced in front of judges in Sacramento, Federal Court, Placer, El Dorado, San Jose, and have never seen anything like this concealed. I have had judges go so far as to disclose such minor things as for example: “My wife plays Bunko with a deputy da’s wife. Would you ask your client if that would be a problem? Would he prefer a different judge?” The Judicial Canons call for a judge who has a conflict (actual) or potential (perceived) to reveal the conflict and obtain a waiver or if not obtained, to only perform minor judicial functions, i.e. preliminary hearing, motions, arraignments, NOT A COMPLETE TRIAL, until another judge without the conflict is available.

    That is all that a judge with a possible- note the Judgicial Canons of Ethics (the rules for Judges) say mere possible or perceived conflict needs to do. Inform.

    Particulary disturbing here is that this issue also came up in a death penalty trial 3 years ago with Judge Mock. The attorneys also were from Sacramento and were not advised of the relationship between
    Ann Hurd and Judge Mock (note: married with different last names). They filed a motion to remove him for cause, he opposed it so the case stalled and went to a Nevada City Judge (all the briefing and delay at taxpayer expense, oh, and the DA opposed it, using your taxpayer dollars and so did Judge Mock’s lawyer), then the Nevada judge calling it a close call denied the recusal. In that case there had been no factual rulings that could be argued discriminatory against the defendant and that appears to be what the decision turned on.

    Then the defense attorneys appealed to the court of appeal (more state money on all three sides). Hmmmm. Why would not any of these people, public servants paid their salary by the taxpayers of Yolo County use a little common sense and disclose? Play the end of the tape here. Either the defendant would waive the potential conflict, feeling that Judge Mock would be a better judge for him that the alternatives (as David may think), or not waive it, feeling (as in the Artz case) that the evidence against him on the forcible charge might be so strong (it wasn’t) that a judge could influence the result. Then he would not waive the conflict and would be in front of some other judge and there WOULD BE NO ISSUE. Seems simple to me.

  14. Iyah

    Elaine: Thanks for adding to what I stated. If you look closely you will see I said “one of.” Of course I agree that there are several reasons for wrongful convictions. I think my main point is that DA’s, Judges, Police, whomever, need to be able to admit they make mistakes. They need to constantly reassess evidence and cases for what is the truth. It seems that in Yolo County they are not able to admit mistakes on cases and they move forward on some cases when they should let them go.

    I know there are some very good DA’s, police and judges who do this. A prime example of both good and bad is the AG in North Carolina who dismissed the Duke case after the Nyfong fiasco.

    The DA in the Solis case should have asked for clarity from the witness. She should have felt a sincere obligation as a representative of the public to determine if she had the right defendant, not try to cover it up. It is not about “winning” a case. It is about the truth and punishing the right person. If she has the wrong person, ethically she should have dismissed the case. Unfortunately, it seems the legal system has become more about winning, or about a career than doing the right thing.

  15. kathryndruliner

    Further, I have had judges in other counties ask the witness at that point — “what do you mean….” rather than tell the witness she could not ask questions and then call for a recess. If that is what really happened.

  16. kathryndruliner

    I have a lot of other things to do but I think this is an important issue for the public. Many have asked what I was referring to when I said that I was called to answer to a higher court for my slanderous comments about the da and cop in the Artz case. So I looked. It is on the Vanguard “Defense Attorney Tells about Davis Rape Case, DA’s Misleading Press Release”. The reason I suspect this is from Jon Ravens is because of the nature and time (during office hours) of the postings. I could be wrong. Judge for yourselves.

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