Eye on the Courts: Marsh Trial Begins Today, What Will We Learn?

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Davis-Murder-3
Crime scene in spring of 2013 where the victims were discovered in Davis

It has been nearly a year and a half since young Daniel Marsh stunned the community by committing a brutal double-homicide. Jury selection will begin today in a case that features a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

After years of virtually no murders in Davis, we have had a series of murder trials. The question before us now is not what he did – we learned all too many gory details last year during the preliminary hearing. We heard how young Marsh committed his act, we learned about his inner demons, and the thrill and exhilaration he felt when he committed those acts.

Not only were these troubling revelations in their own right, but perhaps most troubling is that this was not an outsider who committed monstrous acts on his way through this community – this was one of us. He was the peer to many of our children, he was a hero who saved his father’s life, a volunteer who excelled in the youth police academy, and at one point a top-notch student in our local schools.

It is a light that shines into places that many do not want to see as we as a community grasp the horrors that occurred to two people whom we as a community held dearly.

At the same time, for the most part, that is not going to be what this trial seeks to clarify. We already know what happened – we certainly know enough to make that judgment. The defense is not going to challenge those facts. Instead, the question that we have before us is about responsibility and mental illness.

The question is not what occurred, but why it occurred. While we can remain troubled deeply to our very core by the acts that this young man caused to occur, we need to understand them more clearly. It is easy to state that no one in their right mind would commit these atrocities let alone appear, at least from his description to the police, to enjoy them – to get a thrill from them.

We have courts and trials to determine guilt and innocence and to determine what society considers the responsibility to be in each case. The purpose of the Vanguard Court Watch is to go beyond those individual questions and instead question the court process and our system.

There is a tendency for people to react to critiques of the court system as an absolution of the conduct of the perpetrator. The reasonable question is why we should be more morally outraged by the systemic process than by the criminal conduct.

The answer is at the same time complex and simple. The simple answer is that the threshold for the state to deprive us of our right to liberty has to be high – very high. That is why the standard is proof is beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, that is why the burden of proof is on the government, that is why the accused are entitled to professionally trained legal counsel, and that is why we have constitutional safeguards on governmental searches, the right to due process of law and the right against self-incrimination.

Aside from the instant offense in this case, a troubling aspect was the way in which a 16-year-old was cajoled into confessing to this horrible crime. Experts on confessions and due process rights that we talked to were troubled by several aspects of the confession – the length of time, the ultimate denial of access to parental figures or counsel, and ultimately the fact that this was a minor child.

Judge Reed carefully ruled against the defense motion to suppress the confession, noting the defendant’s apparent high level of intelligence, his familiarity with law enforcement, and his apparent lack of signs of duress or trauma.

At the same time, research has suggested that juveniles, while appearing sophisticated, lack the brain development and the ability to assert rights the way an adult would. Research shows that juveniles are more susceptible to falsely confessing to crimes. This is troubling because, while we have no reason to believe that Mr. Marsh falsely confessed, the possibility was there that he could have.

And while the police correctly followed guidelines for videotaping the confession, experts have viewed videos of false confessions and often have missed where the process has gone wrong.

Earlier this year a Yolo County jury found Aquelin Talamantes guilty of killing her young daughter in Davis last fall. The jury rejected defense contentions that she was not guilty by reason of insanity and the judge ultimately imposed a 25 to life sentence upon her.

The problem in that case, as well as the Daniel Marsh case, is that these are defendants with clear mental health issues.

Under the law, not guilty by reason of insanity has limited application under the 1843 McNaughton case, the first widespread legal standard for insanity. What has transpired is that the “McNaughton rule,” where the defense has to prove “at the time of committing the act, the accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”

So the question before the jury will be whether Mr. Marsh, at the time of the act, understood the nature and the quality of that act and that it was wrong.

In the case of Ms. Talamantes, she was a classic narcissist, but the defense contended Ms. Talamantes believed that the “police were going to take and kill her daughter” and that she was indeed “in a different state of mind,” but as Dr. Cap Thomson, the psychiatrist who testified in this case, believed, she still could have realized her actions at that given moment.

Have we drawn too narrow a definition of sanity? Have we been swayed by the belief that justice can only be found in a long prison sentence?

The Vanguard was told that the DA’s office opposed the insanity plea, believing that Ms. Talamantes would go to a state hospital for a short period of time and then be released. This is inconsistent with current policy.

NGI (Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity) is covered under Penal Code §1026 and the inmates are handled under CONREP, the Forensic Conditional Release Program which is a statewide system of mental health treatment services.

According to their state page, “Most individuals in the CONREP program have experienced lengthy state hospitalizations. Once psychiatric symptoms have been stabilized and they are considered no longer to be a danger, the state hospital medical director recommends eligible inpatients to the courts for outpatient treatment under CONREP.”

The Vanguard was told that Ms. Talamantes, had she been confined under CONREP, would have been in state hospital for a very long period of time – probably a couple of decades or longer – and if they would have deemed her stabilized and no longer a danger to society, she would have been released to very strict supervision under CONREP.

They write, “The court-approved treatment plan includes provisions for involuntary outpatient services. In order to protect the public, individuals who do not comply with treatment may be returned, upon court approval, to inpatient status.”

It is also possible that she would have been confined for the rest of her life, depending on her responses to treatments.

In the Marsh case, there is still much to learn. We will learn what mental afflictions Mr. Marsh suffered from, whether they fit the McNaughton rule, and perhaps more interesting whether the defense and prosecution counsels agree.

We do not know what the court-appointed psychiatrist will testify to and what impact it will have on the jury.

However, in the end, it seems extremely unlikely that the jury will find Mr. Marsh not guilty by reason of insanity. He will likely spend most if not all of the rest of his life in prison.

I’m not sure I know what justice looks like in a case like this. Mr. Marsh committed a horrible offense. Two good people died a horrible death. This community has been harmed greatly by that act. There is not much that is going to rectify this situation but it is clear that our court system is well behind the times in figuring out the best way to deal with and treat mental illness.

—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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25 thoughts on “Eye on the Courts: Marsh Trial Begins Today, What Will We Learn?”

  1. Offering Balance

    “There is not much that is going to rectify this situation but it is clear that our court system is well behind the times in figuring out the best way to deal with and treat mental illness.”

    If the court system keeps this individual in a place where the rest of society is safe from the heinous things he is capable of then I say the court system is working properly.

  2. Biddlin

    When two well known and loved people are murdered, it creates a maelstrom of anger, grief, guilt, duty and doubt over the whole community. There is no “good” outcome. Mr. Marsh and his family are not immune from the agony of this event. As Tia Will expressed a desire for a different “system,” so as to avoid the adversarial process, I would be quite satisfied to have the trial held out of sight of the media, to protect everyone’s right to privacy, if the nominal number of seats in the courtroom were made available for citizen observers and transcripts were available to the public, in a timely manner. That, however, is not our system of justice. I hope that the two sides will agree that Mr. Marsh was insane, at the time of the murders and commit him to an indeterminately long hospitalisation. IMO, that is the “right” thing to do.
    ;>)/

  3. Tia Will

    A word about NGRI and CONREP as independently gained by a conversation with an expert in mental health in our state prison system confirmed that the few individuals who do quality for hospitalization on the basis of NGRI would indeed by hospitalized for decades in crimes such as these and closely monitored in an outpatient setting, not released to the community, even after being deemed safe for discharge on the basis of their observed mental health.

    The idea that a person found NGRI would be hospitalized for a short period of time and then released to the community is a mis-
    representation of the current status of this program and this should not be allowed to be portrayed as a risk to our community before jurors who are most certainly not made aware by the prosecution of the details of this program.

    I do not write this as an individual who believes that everyone should be eligible for release. I believe that there are individuals who should be always confined for the safety of society. A perfect example of one such individual would be the perpetrator of the 2011 bombing/shooting massacres in Norway. By his own statements, this man was sane, rational, and believed that his political beliefs outweighed the right to life of those with whom he disagreed politically. This is an individual who truly should not ever be released to the general population. However, the issue here in the Marsh and Talamontes cases is not imprisonment vs release, it is imprisonment vs hospitalization. I do not believe that decisions of this magnitude should be based on false assessments of risk but rather on the facts of the currently available processes, facts that I do not believe are likely to be fairly represented to the jurors.

    1. London

      Re: the Norway massacre:”By his own statements, this man was sane, rational, and believed that his political beliefs outweighed the right to life of those with whom he disagreed politically. This is an individual who truly should not ever be released…”
      Very interesting comment, Tia. Extremely thought provoking. Thank you.

      1. tj

        Re Norway, the man was oriented to time and place, but not rational. His actions did not advance his cause. At the very least, he was insanely obsessive compulsive, certainly not a happy well adjusted person. He did something not in his own best interest.

        1. Tia Will

          tj

          ” …. but not rational. His actions did not advance his cause.”

          I do not believe that a defining characteristic of rationality is that one’s actions must necessarily advance one’s cause. If this were true, then any politician who has ever made a gaff or mistaken calculation about how a statement or action would be interpreted would have to be deemed irrational.

          Also, if one of his chief goals was to draw as much attention to his cause as possible, he was certainly successful in achieving his goal. There are many, many rationale people who choose paths that seem inconsistent with rationality to us because their values are beyond our ability to comprehend. It is my belief that it is part of the responsibility of the judicial system to accurately determine not only how best society can be protected, but also where any given individual will have the best opportunity to develop in their own life regardless of whether or not they will ever be judged safe for release.

  4. Offering Balance

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/officials-man-deemed-criminally-insane-arrested-with-van-load-of-guns/2159216

    TAMPA — A man who shot a trucker to death in 1992 but was judged to be criminally insane seemed nervous Saturday when stopped for speeding east of Gainesville, a deputy reported.

    David Harris Dunaway, 58, was wanted by federal authorities, the deputy learned. A grand jury in Tampa had indicted him on a gun charge Dec. 18, alleging that he had a pistol and 50 rounds of ammunition, illegal for someone with Dunaway’s medical history.

    But in a search of his green Honda van, the deputy found more — 36 guns, 4,629 rounds.

      1. Offering Balance

        I’m not sure, all of the Florida searches fill up with the above listed case. The problem with mental health is the change can come on rapidly. Someone can be safe one day and within a few days be very dangerous.

        http://www.nbcnews.com/id/33358068/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/deemed-criminally-insane-out-street/

        This is a better article the displays a law that allows the criminally insane to be released back into the general population.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Right but none of that is specific to way that California handles such cases which everyone who has told me is one of the very best and actually far more rigorous and has far more control than parole.

          1. Offering Balance

            The point is Phillip Paul was let in and out of an institution after numerous recommitments and it turned out to be a problem. California also releases the criminally insane out in the public.

            Releasing sadistic murderers out into the public does not sound like a good idea.

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            California may do that, but if you read the law, which I partially cite in the article, it has a lot of stipulations and monitoring. And there’s no guarantee anyone would be released, certainly not without strict evaluation.

    1. South of Davis

      Offering Balance wrote:

      > a search of his green Honda van, the deputy found more — 36 guns, 4,629 rounds

      As Tia says, probably not a “risk to our community” what could go wrong when an insane killer is out driving around with 36 guns and over 4,500 rounds of ammo…

      I feel for Mr. Marsh (as well as the victims) and hope he get’s better, but sadly I think he should remain locked up since mental health problems are rarely “cured”.

      I know people that have spent years working with overeating, undereating, drinking, using drugs, depression, and procrastination, and ALL have “fallen off the wagon” at least a few times.

      It is sad when someone starts overeating, goes in to a deep funk (despite the anti-depressants) or starts using drugs again, but that is a lot different from someone who “starts killing again”…

  5. Biddlin

    ” I do not believe that decisions of this magnitude should be based on false assessments of risk but rather on the facts of the currently available processes, facts that I do not believe are likely to be fairly represented to the jurors.”

    Then by what “process” do you arrive at these “facts” and by who should determine the fate of the defendant?
    In our system, in a jury trial, the jurors are the finders of fact. The judge is charged with determining the fair representation of those facts. What, exactly would you change?
    ;>)/

    1. tj

      I’d change jury selection, and also pay jurors. Bright well informed middle aged potential jurors have lives and don’t want to be on juries. It’s a good bet that jurors in this case will be selected because they know nothing worthwhile about mental illness. They will probably be as ignorant as the DA’s staff.

      1. Biddlin

        I have been called for jury duty nearly a dozen times and seat on four juries, in felony trials.
        In all cases, the jury was very demographically representative of the community. Being bright and well informed have nothing whatsoever to do with age. Good citizenship requires service, that is why it is called jury “duty.” Ignorance can be desirable in jurors. One needs to be free of prejudice and able to evaluate the testimony and evidence with an open mind, something that your presumptuous and contemptuous description of the DA’s staff indicates you are lacking.
        ;>)/

    2. Tia Will

      “In our system, in a jury trial, the jurors are the finders of fact. The judge is charged with determining the fair representation of those facts. What, exactly would you change?”

      Perhaps I did not make myself clear. When I mentioned facts, I was not speaking of the facts of what actually occurred.
      I think that the facts of the crime will be very straightforward. What I was addressing is the factual handling of the likelihood that Mr. Marsh will spend much if not all of the rest of his life locked up somewhere. So now the question is where would that most appropriately be. For me, with a young man so clearly in need of mental health care, and since I have a partner whose expertise is in the area of mental health in our prisons, allowing me to see the inadequacies of this system which are myriad, I would strongly favor that the institution in which Mr. Marsh should be confined is the state mental hospital. What I would change is the adversarial nature of this trial ( ok, ok anyone who knows anything at all about me knows I really mean all trials.) What I would change is the portrayal to the jury that what will happen if the verdict is NGRI is that he will be hospitalized for a short while and then just released. The prosecutors know better than this, but in our adversarial system, it is another win for them, and doubtless this is what they will push for.

      ” Ignorance can be desirable in jurors. One needs to be free of prejudice and able to evaluate the testimony and evidence with an open mind,”

      I do not see ignorance as desirable in jurors. Being ignorant does not make one free of prejudice nor does it ensure that you have an open mind. Ignorance is just that, lack of knowledge. What is clear to me from the jury selections of which I have been a part ( never selected) is that each side is hoping that the “ignorance” of the jurors will make them more amenable to their own version of events, not that they are a blank slate open to evidence and reason.
      This was especially clear in a selection for a couple of men accused of selling drugs. I made it through a couple of rounds of questioning, and then we were all asked if we ever counseled people about drug use in any capacity.
      Every single one of us was excused. Wwithout any further questions about in what capacity, or whether or not we felt we could assess the information objectively, we were all dismissed. Want to hazard a guess about who were not dismissed at that time. A current, and a former police officer. I don’t know if they were later seated or eliminated, but I am quite sure that neither of them was answering truthfully. Police officers never counsel anyone against the use of illegal drugs ? Never even mention it might not be a good idea, or that it is against the law ? Really ?

      1. Don Shor

        In the jury selection I’ve been through, anyone with any connection to law enforcement has been selected out by the defense team. I seriously doubt any of those you saw made it onto the jury.

  6. Davis Progressive

    conrep is one of the best programs in the country. found this bit: “Research has shown that 27% of a sample of persons released from state hospitals without going to CONREP re-offend within 2 years. CONREP individuals have a very low level of re-offense (6%).” what’s even more interesting is that the recidivism rate in california is much higher than either of those figures.

  7. Davis Progressive

    more…

    “Most individuals in the CONREP program have experienced lengthy state hospitalizations. Once psychiatric symptoms have been stabilized and they are considered no longer to be a danger, the state hospital medical director recommends eligible inpatients to the courts for outpatient treatment under CONREP. Individuals must agree to follow a treatment plan designed by the outpatient supervisor and approved by the committing court. As specified in California Penal Code Sections 1600-1615 and 2960-2972 the CONREP Community Program Director, with the approval of local courts (or, in the case of MDOs, the Board of Prison Hearings), controls the movements of cases within the above legal categories from state hospitals to community outpatient settings.

    The court-approved treatment plan includes provisions for involuntary outpatient services. In order to protect the public, individuals who do not comply with treatment may be returned, upon court approval, to inpatient status.

    CONREP individuals have direct access to an array of mental health services during their period of outpatient treatment. These services include individual and group therapies, collateral contacts (e.g., other individuals/ agencies), home visits, substance abuse screenings and psychological assessments. The DSH has developed performance standards for these services which set minimum treatment and supervision levels for individuals court-ordered to CONREP. Evaluations and assessments are done during the period of state hospitalization, upon entry into the community and throughout CONREP treatment.”

  8. TrueBlueDevil

    With our recent wholesale release of prisoners convicted of felonies due to prison overcrowding, I wonder how that would impact these individuals if they were found guilty by reason of insanity.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      A few things:

      1. None of the murders in Davis were committed by people affected by AB 109. Only one had a previous criminal record.
      2. My understanding of NGRI is that the threshold is actually higher for those to be released than through a normal process.
      3. It’s misleading to call it a wholesale release of prisoners – all would have been released relatively soon anyway.

  9. Biddlin

    Tia, if the prosecutors are unethical in their presentation, it is the job of the opposing attorney and judge to correct. With no ill intent, may I ask you, would you care for a lawyer or judge telling you how to perform a tubal ligation? I’m guessing that even with a great deal of research in the internet, you’d feel you were better qualified, no? Just sayin.
    ;>)/

  10. Tia Will

    Biddlin

    “With no ill intent , may I ask you, would you care for a lawyer or judge telling you how to perform a tubal ligation?”

    No ill intent taken. However, if a lawyer or judge were to notice that I was making an error, or if they were to propose a better way to achieve the desired effect of sterilization, I would gladly accept their suggestion.

    So the question that I have for you is, why would we allow unethical presentation of material at all just hoping that someone would catch it or the jurors not accept it even if “admonished” to disregard it ?

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