The tragic murder-suicide last week becomes the latest in a string of murders in Davis. It was a few weeks ago that District Attorney Jeff Reisig noted an increase in the number of crimes, particularly violent crimes, in Yolo County including Davis since the passage of AB 109.
He noted that, while the statewide crime rate has not increased, Yolo County’s has. Studies performed a year ago showed no clear trend statewide, noting that the trend was so ambivalent that no hard conclusion could be drawn from it.
While the murders in Davis are too few for drawing any conclusion, there does not appear to be a clear link to any policies. Instead, they seem to be random.
It is difficult, perhaps, to remember but when James Mings was arrested in early October 2011 for murder, it was the first murder in Davis since 2004.
The case involving Mr. Mings was, of course, complicated. The victim, Kevin Seery, 42, was reportedly suffering from a number of ailments which included diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, chronic hepatitis and pneumonia at the time of his death. He stood at 6-1 but weighed just 133 pounds.
The jury would ultimately find Mr. Mings guilty of attempted murder, instead of either first- or second-degree murder in the case, as it became unclear whether Mr. Mings had actually killed the man. He claimed it was Tom McDermott who shoved a sock down Mr. Seery’s throat that ultimately caused the death. There were also claims that Mr. Seery asked them to kill him.
Then there was the infamous Daniel Marsh double murder in the spring of 2013, where a Davis teenager stabbed to death an elderly couple in their Davis homes. After a lengthy trial, Mr. Marsh, just 15 at the time of the crime, was found guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances and would ultimately be sentenced to 52 years to life, but will be eligible for parole far sooner.
The trial revealed a troubled teen – suffering from depression, going to a series of psychiatrists and receiving a number of treatments. The crime was particularly vicious, with the teen confessing to torturing the elderly couple and getting a thrill from it.
Last May, a Yolo County jury acquitted Davis resident Quentin Stone, accused of shaking his three-month-old baby, ultimately causing his death. The prosecution brought a series of medical experts forward arguing that the injuries could only have been caused by severe trauma. The family’s explanation of a fall off the bed, the medical experts would testify, would produce insufficient trauma.
The key prosecution expert, Dr. Bennett Omalu, testified that there was no doubt that the baby died of a severe traumatic brain injury.
He would testify, “Sam’s injuries were not sustained from a fall. It was non-accidental. An infant’s motor abilities are very small and the injuries incurred would require a lot of mass and energy.”
However, the medical community has called into question SBS (shaken baby syndrome) diagnoses. There have numerous cases where faulty diagnoses have led to false convictions. And the jury ultimately found reasonable doubt and acquitted Mr. Stone.
In September of 2013, Aquelin Talamantes was arrested and accused of drowning her five-year-old daughter. The defense had argued not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury convicted her and she received a 25 years to life sentence.
Darnell Dorsey is accused of assaulting his girlfriend’s child, causing the child’s death in Davis. That case is still pending and the defense has argued that there is no direct evidence tying Mr. Dorsey to the murder.
However, the Vanguard reported earlier this year that Mr. Dorsey was involved in an assault a few years ago that produced serious injuries on another Davis man. In a complicated case, Mr. Dorsey ended up receiving a misdemeanor plea agreement that allowed him to avoid a serious battery with serious bodily injury charge that could have put him in prison for a number of years.
In the current case, the police are still looking for a motive as to why Joseph Hein, 23, shot 27-year-old Whitney Engler and took his own life. The coroner confirmed the murder-suicide scenario. Mr. Hein’s mother told the media that he showed no signs of depression or being suicidal.
He did have an affinity for guns. His mother would confirm that, but insisted that he used them responsibly, target shooting with friends.
With the exception of Mr. Dorsey, it appears that none of the individuals had a history of run-ins with the law. As we found out after the fact in the Marsh case, however, there were certainly warning signs that Daniel Marsh was unstable and had expressed a desire to inflict harm on others.
However, none of these cases appear impacted in any way by recent laws. We will learn more about the history of Darnell Dorsey as his case progresses to trial, but Mr. Dorsey was released primarily due to either the lack of cooperation of the key witness or the unexplained decisions by the prosecutor.
The bottom line is that the murder uptick in Davis seems unrelated to any changes in public policy. If there is a common thread, it may have more to do with mental illness and our difficulties in diagnosing and treating it than anything else.
However, without a closer examination of other forms of violence that seem to be on the uptick, we hesitate to claim a broader understanding than the one we have now – that the murder increase in Davis seems to be tied to the extension of societal problems into the Davis community more than anything else.
In a real way, the occurrences and alleged and actual perpetrators are varied and distinct, and there seems to be little rhyme or reason for the uptick, other than a confluence of chance events.
—David M. Greenwald reporting