Eye on the Courts: Honoree Selections Turn DA’s Victim of Crime Tribute into a Farce

Mark Cullen waits to be honored on Tuesday, April 8 at Yolo County District Attorney's Office 2014 Crime Victims' Tribute
Mark Cullen waits to be honored on Tuesday, April 8 at Yolo County District Attorney’s Office 2014 Crime Victims’ Tribute

There is nothing wrong with the idea of honoring crime victims and their family.  For legitimate victims of crime, a strong support network is critical to help during times.

As District Attorney Jeff Reisig stated at the ceremony attended by the Vanguard, “Ultimately our theme today, 30 years, is not an invitation to rest on our three decades of work, but it’s a reminder that there’s still so much work to do to restore balance to all those harmed by crime.”

However, at least two selections for honorees give us pause.  We have to question some of the news coverage here, as well.

The Woodland Daily Democrat writes, “Bob and Cathie Bullis, along with their granddaughter Sierra Watson, were honored as 2014’s Heroes of the Year. The family reported what turned out to be a rape at Davis’ Amtrak Station. While the perpetrator was eventually acquitted, they were honored for doing the right thing as witnesses and coming forward with what they saw.”

This was the trial that the Vanguard covered in January of 2013, the Thaddeus Sonne rape trial in which Mr. Sonne would be acquitted.

Those who recall the trial will remember that there were reports of two people having sex by the railroad tracks.  The evidence against Mr. Sonne was ambiguous, at best.  The victim claimed to have been so drunk that she did not remember what happened.  The police caught a glimpse of what happened but failed to see the context of it.  Were they watching a rape, as they assumed, or two drunk people struggling to have sex and suddenly realizing they had an audience?

Aside from the use of the word “perpetrator” to describe someone fully acquitted by a jury of 12, why honor Mr. and Mrs. Bullis along with their granddaughter as “Heroes of the Year?”

As the write-up stated, “They were honored for doing the right thing as witnesses and coming forward with what they saw. “

That sounds reasonable, except for one problem.  The thought was that Ms. Bullis perjured herself on the stand, and then pressured her granddaughter Sierra Watson to change her story, as well.  This was not just something that happened after the fact, it was actually a big to-do in the case.

The bottom line here is that, while it might be all right to honor someone as heroes for doing the right thing, even in a case which results in an acquittal, in this case, the evidence was overwhelming that the people honored were actually culpable in what turned out to be not just an acquittal but a wrongful prosecution of an innocent man.

The fact that Ms. Bullis likely perjured herself on the stand and then pressured her granddaughter to corroborate that perjury should have led the DA’s office to select someone else to honor.

We have the case of Mark Cullen.  As the Daily Democrat writes, he was indeed the victim of an attempted murder.  He was “honored for identifying one of his attackers and for his will to survive.”

The Daily Democrat writes, “In 2012, Cullen was ambushed on County Line Road while on his way to work. He was shot in the back of the head, stabbed, had his throat slashed and was run over by his own car because two men wanted him dead.”

“He spent two weeks in the hospital and six months recovering from the assault, and survived only because of his will to stay alive for his three minor children, said officials,” the Daily Democrat reports.  “Cullen identified one of his attackers as his ex-wife’s uncle, which led to both attackers’ arrests. They are now serving life terms in prison.”

While Mr. Cullen’s assailants were in fact convicted of attempted murder, it remains unclear why the DA’s office and Rob Gorman, the prosecutor in this case, would want to honor Mark Cullen.

The defense would put co-defendant Danny Stearman on the stand.  He would tell the tale of a long history of domestic violence against his disabled niece from her ex, Mark Cullen.  Mr. Cullen was, in fact, it came out during the trial, convicted of domestic abuse.  Mr. Cullen  admitted to being a meth user.

As the Vanguard reported from the trial, “At one point during trial, the jurors would even learn, from witness John Winterset, how the alleged victim was molesting Stearman’s niece and nephew. However, it was in brief and not proven.”

As the Vanguard observed, it was true that there was no evidence that Mr. Cullen committed child molestation, but then again, this was a trial for attempted murder and Mr. Cullen, at least in this case, was the victim.

But what becomes clear is that not only was Mr. Cullen no innocent here, there were a number of inconsistencies in the statements he gave to the police.

Ultimately, the co-defendants were convicted of attempted murder, but it’s clear that the actions of Mr. Cullen put him in harm’s way and that he was no innocent victim.  By no means do we argue that Mr. Cullen deserved the attempt on his life, only that he appears to be unworthy of being honored for his actions of identifying his attackers and his will to survive.

In our view, by honoring Mark Cullen and Mr. and Mrs. Bullis, the DA’s office has denigrated the other worthy victims and the cause that they choose to rightly honor.

Surely there are others in this county who are simply innocent bystanders who have been attacked and harmed that would be much more worthy of the honor than Mark Cullen.  Certainly there have been much more worthy heroes that the DA’s office could have chosen to honor.

The idea of honoring heroes and victims is commendable, but their choices here leave a lot to be desired.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Davis Progressive

    this is a gigantic crock. if people wonder why there those among us that HATE the da, this is why. what were they short on legitimate victims and heroes? that sonne trial was a farce. i guess no one in davis really cares about this stuff.

  2. D.D.

    d.a. needs their cash for convictions, esp. if “gang” related or “sex offender” related. Easier to prosecute & bleed innocent people of their hard earned $, defending themselves, than present an air tight case that stands on its own strong attorney work…

  3. D.D.

    P.S. New, young members of the CA bar want to make a political name for themselves by working at the d.a. and messing w/innocent people who are usually middle to lower income, and do not have the same legal services available. Or maybe the younger, newer lawyers cannot find other employment? That’s why d.a. lawyers should spend half their time being criminal defense lawyers. It would make our criminal justice system more fair.

  4. D.D.

    I understand the importance of good samaritans and community members coming forward to the police dept. when they think someone needs help. Even if the situation is not what it appears. I get that. What I don’t get is why the police rush to arrest, rather than thoroughly investigate. And why the d.a. is so quick to prosecute weak cases that have not been thoroughly investigated. Innocent until proven guilty. Not, innocent until you run out of money for legal defense.

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