Analysis: No Clear Pattern in Davis’ Uptick in Murders


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

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. Joachim

    I understand the limited nature of this piece, but comparing six murders over four years to an overall spike in violence in Davis is probably not that helpful even if it does demonstrate with a small number of cases the random nature of changes in crime and therefore a caution to politicians on overplaying their political hands.

  2. Napoleon Pig IV

    “However, none of these cases appear impacted in any way by recent laws”

    And thus, we can conclude that recent laws are worthless and that politicians and their support pigs are overpaid, for they have failed in their promises to render our barnyard paradise on Earth. Oink!

    1. Barack Palin

      “However, none of these cases appear impacted in any way by recent laws”

      And there you have the reason for the article.  Liberals are quick to jump and try and refute that any uptick in crime is a result  of their newer, softer more lenient laws on crime that have been passed.

      1. Miwok

        Thereby resulting in constant calls for new laws to restrict guns, access to mental health, and the attitude one solution is right for everyone.

        While to me murder, except by accident, seems like mental illness, the politician who constantly tries to pass the same law over and over seems just as crazy.

  3. courtneyst

    The Pattern seems fairly clear. All the cases had a mental health element. I don’t know much about how our “up tick” compares to the rest of the state or what the expected outcome of the  recent laws was but if the state turned responsibility of offenders over to counties and the counties have weak mental health support I would expect we are going to see more cases like these.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    In addition to mental illness, how many of these people were on powerful mood meds? How many were habitual marijuana users? Daniel Marsh was one, and Talamantes was number two, are there more?

    An item in this case that struck me as very odd was that she was living with him for free “in exchange for cooking”. All my years as a student I never heard of that one, so my gut reaction was that he had a crush on her. Was he sociable, or could he be socially awkward? I’d also like to know if he was on any prescribed drugs, or used pot.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Many of these individuals had mental health issues, but there also appears to be another possible pattern.

      1. Daniel Marsh was a habitual marijuana user.

      2. Talamantes used marijuana, possibly habitually.

      3. Kevin Seery used marijuana.

      4. James Mings was “very high” on marijuana.

      5. When Darnell Dorsey was watching the baby: “…Helton concluded with describing the obvious marijuana growing in the utility room.” Not sure if he was a user. 

      Were any other individuals using marijuana in these crimes?

      One more item.

      Quetin Stone, who was found innocent, was not smoking marijuana.

      1. Don Shor

        Your ongoing assertions about marijuana use and any link to violence are not borne out by research data. It is frankly a very bizarre belief of yours that marijuana is linked to violence in any way. I don’t know where you attained these beliefs, but I know of no reputable researchers who share them.
        Marijuana may not be the greatest thing for young people to be smoking, but it does not cause violence.

      2. David Greenwald

        So you think that marijuana smoking played a causal role? Or do you think the marijuana smoking was indicative of an underlying condition common to several of the individuals and therefore a symptom of the problem rather than the problem? In other words, a lot of people with mental illness will use drugs as a means of self-treatment. Under that scenario the drugs – particularly marijuana are not typically going to cause violence, but it’s use may be a sign of an untreated mental illness.

        1. Don Shor

          Anecdotes are meaningless. Correlation does not equal causation. One can conclude that some violent and mentally ill people smoke marijuana. One cannot conclude that smoking marijuana caused their violence or mental illness.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          It may not be the cause, but I think it’s abundantly clear to me that it makes things worse (see below).

          On top of the basic facts that if your brain is in an altered state (which no one argues), and you have horrible short-term memory (ditto), wouldn’t those play a vital role in making (not making) important decisions?

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    I am not a medical doctor or psychiatrist, so I’m not qualified to make a determination if this use was a minor or major contributing factor, or a correlation. Coincidence seems improbable.

    We know that marijuana is a psychotropic (mind-altering) drug, this is why it’s used.

    While we had decades of Cheech and Chong and now pot advocates pursing the theoretical health benefits of cannabis, recent studies are shedding more light on the extremely negative consequences of cannabis use, especially regarding the development of the teenage brain.

    1. Prolonged Cannabis Use Linked To Psychosis

    “An Australian study found that prolonged use of cannabis or marijuana by young adults was linked to a higher risk of developing psychosis, with the highest risk affecting those who started using the substance in their teens, and continued using it for 6 years or more into adulthood: the risk of developing psychosis among these users was more than double that of never users…

    “This is not the first study to link cannabis use with psychosis risk, say the authors, but previous evidence has been questioned because earlier studies have not dealt adequately with confounding variables (eg other factors the participants could have had in common and might partially explain the results)…”

    ” ‘Those individuals who were vulnerable to psychosis (ie those who had isolated psychotic symptoms) were more likely to commence cannabis use, which could then subsequently contribute to an increased risk of conversion to a non-affective psychotic disorder,’ they wrote.”

    Drug abuse appears to foster brain changes that resemble schizophrenia

    – See more at:–poor-memory.html#sthash.REkrdhrj.dpuf

    3. Previous studies have revealed that heavy marijuana use can reduce IQ by up to 8-10 points.

    Given the increased use of marijuana, stronger doses, and these recent studies, I’m sure we will continue to learn more as time goes on.

    When we also realize that Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were high when they engaged in violent activities, the impact of marijuana on the brain’s higher level functions should be considered.

    1. David Greenwald

      We actually don’t know that they were “high” when their respective incidents occurred. They found THC in Michael Brown’s system for example, but THC stays in the system for a month and there is no way to pinpoint when it entered his system. The same thing with Trayvon Martin.

      “I am not a medical doctor or psychiatrist, so I’m not qualified to make a determination if this use was a minor or major contributing factor, or a correlation. Coincidence seems improbable.”

      There are medical doctors and psychiatrists that post here, they have different takes than you do on this evidence. Coincidence isn’t that improbable especially in a very small sample. We could probably find other commonalities that would have a stronger causal factor such as untreated or poorly controlled mental illness. I agree with you that the use of marijuana is unlikely to help matters, but I’m skeptical that it is a causal factor and you’ve now acknowledged that you have no expertise in the matter.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        I’m not sure why an objective journalist would want to so quickly sweep an important item under the rug. Yes, we have had some comments here and in DV articles on marijuana use.

        Prosecution’s Expert Pins Blame on Marijuana Use in Marsh Trial

        “But, instead, Dr. Sison, in his lengthy testimony, would repeatedly blame the habitual use of marijuana as a possible cause of agitation and aggression in Marsh.”

        Elizabeth Bowler
        September 9, 2014 at 5:30 pm

        “Those of us who work with the mentally ill have regularly seen young adults who have had a first psychotic episode in association with marijuana use. Many physicians and other clinicians in this field share Dr. Sisson’s views about the ill effects of marijuana on growing brains.

        Elizabeth Bowler
        September 9, 2014 at 5:48 pm
        “There is a growing body of scientific literature linking marijuana use to the development of psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.”

        Elizabeth Bowler
        September 15, 2014 at 5:13 pm

        “If you accept that the behavior was in part the result of the underlying psychiatric disorder, then the marijuana use becomes an extremely significant aggravating factor. There is a significant and growing body of medical literature detailing the untoward effects of marijuana on children and those with mental disorders even to the point of precipitating psychosis.”

        David, if Michael Brown were legally intoxicated with alcohol at the time of his attack, would you agree that would be a major factor in his demise?

        1. Barack Palin

          Good finds TBD.  DR. Bowler is one of the “medical doctors and psychiatrists that post here” and she seems to be somewhat in agreement with you.  Also it looks like her specialty is Psychiatry so her opinion should be weighed more heavily than other doctors whose specialty might be elsewhere.


        2. Davis Progressive

          as someone who has worked in the field for over 30 years, i can’t remember a single case before me where marijuana was a significant factor in the act.  alcohol, meth, prescription drugs, antidepressants, are huge factors.

          most people i know who are on marijuana become more mellow.  marijuana does produce some paranoia and can actually amplify depression however.

          i don’t think there is any credible evidence that michael brown was intoxicated at the time of his attack, but i would be far more likely to believe alcohol played a role than marijuana.

        3. TrueBlueDevil

          But DP (and David), I am asking a theoretical question: if Michael Brown were legally intoxicated with alcohol at the time of his attack, would you agree that would be a major factor in his demise?

          Also, are you licensed in Psychiatry?

          BP, I’m glad I could recall her name … I must not have hit the pipe that night. (Joke)

        4. Davis Progressive

          tbd: i agree it could be a factor in his demise – in the hypothetical.  that’s why you have experts who can evaluate these cases from a professional standpoint.  i’m not a psychiatrist, but over the years i have had to read, evaluate, and understand countless psychiatric evaluations and represent my clients.  there is no black and white – it’s usually shades of gray that you’re looking at.

        5. TrueBlueDevil

          Evidence: Michael Brown Was High on Pot and Carrying a Bag of It

          “Michael Brown had THC, a behavior-altering substance found in marijuana, in his system when he was killed on August 9th by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, according to atoxicology report performed at a St. Louis University lab.”

          “The toxicology screen, which was done on Aug. 10th, found “12 nanograms/ML of Delta-9-THC”, the primary psychoactive ingredient in pot, in Brown’s bloodstream at the time of his death.

          “This amount of Delta-9-THC in Brown’s blood was more than twice the amount that in Washington State–where marijuana is legal–would allow someone to be arrested for driving under the influence.”

          “Delta-9-THC detection in the blood defines impairment,” according to the report.

          “THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) “seriously impairs judgment and motor coordination,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).”

          Are we after insight, knowledge, understanding, or just pushing a pro-drug ideology?

        6. Davis Progressive

          the article you posted basically restates what we already decided.  he had thc in his system – he could have taken it any time in the previous month.

        7. Davis Progressive

          you’re misusing the word “impaired”

          this is from the washington post from october:

          But some experts caution that the mere presence of THC in a person’s blood tells us little about whether he was actually experiencing effects of marijuana use at the time of the test. “You can test positive for THC days after you’ve smoked cannabis,” according to Mark Kleiman, an expert on drug use and drug policy at UCLA. But most chemical tests don’t distinguish active forms of the THC molecule – which indicate that a person is likely experiencing the effects of the drug – from inactive forms, which are a non-psychoactive byproduct of marijuana use, and which can linger in a person’s body for days or weeks.
          Brown’s toxicology report doesn’t indicate such a distinction, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, but it nonetheless states that the THC detected in Brown’s blood defines impairment. “As a matter of law this may be correct,” Kleiman says – in other words, there may be a legally-defined threshold for determining marijuana impairment. But given the uncertainties inherent to THC testing, “this does not tell you for sure the guy was impaired,” Kleiman says.

  6. Tia Will

    I want to weigh in on the issue of marijuana. Regardless of one’s ideologic position with regard to legality or illegality of the drug, this is a huge “we don’t know” because there simply is not enough research to inform us one way or another with regard to individual anecdotal cases. Like most drugs capable of affecting brain function including alcohol, tobacco, nicotine, pain killers both narcotic and non narcotic, it has both positive and undesirable effects. There are also individual studies that focus on both the desirable and undesirable effects. For every study that can be cited making associations with psychoses, or schizophrenia, or decreased IQ, I can call up equally valid studies demonstrating help with chronic pain, nausea, wasting syndromes and other problems that have proven refractory to other treatments.

    Marijuana, like every other drug affecting the central nervous system has its beneficent as well as its detrimental effects. It is equally wrong to demonize the drug and drug users as it would be to claim that it is harmless and everyone should use it. It is pointless speculation to say that one believes that it likely played a role in any given individuals behavior at any given point in time. Are we for example to discount the studies that show that use of marijuana is found to correlate with less violent behavior because of the well documented calming effect that it has on many individuals  because we do not like the conclusion that these findings might lead to ?

    I have no horse in this race. I have mixed feelings about legalization of marijuana although I strongly stand against punishing people for using their drug of choice if that is marijuana while ignoring the obvious abuses of others who prefer alcohol as their drug of choice. What I do want to point out is that this is a multifactorial issue and there is no causality demonstrated between the use of marijuana and any given act of violence. It simply is not demonstrated and to attempt to imply otherwise is nothing more than ideologically driven speculation.

    1. Davis Progressive

      it’s fascinating to me how one person’s agenda has diverted the discussion.  it’s also fascinating to me where people whose views i normally agree with sit on an issue like marijuana.  i don’t really know what happened with daniel marsh – i don’t think anyone really does.  it’s pretty clear that using marijuana was not a good idea for him.  i somehow doubt that’s the instigator of his murders.  however, in my experience, if someone wanted to use a drug, including alcohol, i’d recommend, marijuana.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        I have a friend who is 400 pounds who loads up on butter, chips, and mayo. Now, I can’t prove that they caused him to get to 400 pounds… but I guess as you say, there is a correlation.

        Just as a morbidly obese person likely deals with multiple issues, and its complex, this doesn’t mean wanton consumption of the above is a good or healthy idea.

        I think thou protest too much.

        1. Davis Progressive

          that’s not a good analogy.  the link between caloric intake and weight is well established.  the link between drugs and behavior is murky.  take the story the vanguard covered of the lady who was in the accident that killed her friend.  she tested positive for meth but the judge dropped the charges in part because the chp officer determined the accident was unavoidable.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          The effects aren’t “murky”. The drug has clearly documented mental effects, especially on the young, as well as clearly documented affects on short-term memory.

          ““The drug can cause cancer, lung disease and abnormalities associated with serious mental illness. Users are up to six times more likely to develop schizophrenia.”

          See below.

    2. TrueBlueDevil

      You are correct, if one is suffering from colon cancer, glacoma, or chronic (diagnosed) pain, marijuana might be helpful. I don’t believe Michael Brown, at 300#s, was suffering from wasting.

      I am surprised that one who has taken the Hypocratic Oath of  “first, do no harm” can so nonchallantly pass over the new and detailed studies from reputable medical institutions as to how marijuana effects the brain of adolescents. These studies followed similar studies in Germany, New Zealand, and elsewhere. On top of this, this is no longer 1225 or 1965, we can now take fancy MRI scans and see how this drug affects the brain in specific areas. Does it have a beneficial effect for a bratty 16-year-old who might have ADHD and has chosen a rebellious lifestyle? I don’t know, but I think it’s not generally a good idea. I thought logic would err on the side of caution. I’ve heard stronger condemnations of diet coke in the Davis Food Coop than I read here regarding marijuana, so I wonder how much of this is culture.

      We know that smoking is bad, so smoking unfiltered, unregulated marijuana, loaded with toxins, can’t be a good idea.

      We know that marijuana causes short term and long term memory problems, so that can’t be good for kids in their school age years, and maybe this explains  a little bit of what goes on in urban America, where marijuana has long been a staple.

      I’m not demonizing it, I’m stating the growing body of evidence, and the alarming pattern of events we’ve even seen here in Davis. Hopefully, we will track and further note it’s prevalence.

      My logic is two wrongs don’t make a right; and protect the young and naive. They can make foolish choices before their brains are fully developed, which we now know is at about 25 or 26? So beer or nicotine being legal is no justification for deciding not to make a moral judgement that could have a profound affect on a young person’s life.

      You are correct we have a witches brew, and I’ve seen it first hand. ADHD meds, kids swapping prescribed meds, booze, marijuana, and now on top of that, “wax” or “dabs”, the crack cocaine of marijuana, where they use a butane lighter to send themselves into silly land for 3 hours. I’m sure these all do little to advance their progress in school, career, and family. This isn’t a joint on Saturday night with friends, and this “we don’t know” sounds like moral relativism. But that’s just me.

  7. Tia Will


    can so nonchallantly pass over the new and detailed studies from reputable medical institutions as to how marijuana effects the brain of adolescents.”

    I am not not casually passing over anything. I made the observation that we cannot, in any particular case decide whether or not the presence of marijuana in a person’s blood is casually related to any given act of theirs. This is true and remains true regardless of MRI imaging or IQ testing or any other reports of deleterious outcomes. We are simply not there yet. I do not recommend that adolescents smoke anything, nor do I recommend that they drink or use any other kinds of medically unnecessary drugs. Heck, I recommend that they not drink Red Bull or coffee since I believe that for many it contributes to unhealthful sleep / wake cycles. What I believe that you do not like is that I am unwilling to leap to conclusions in the face of inconclusive evidence that you happen to want to believe because it aligns with your ideologic views. I am not willing to to do that.

     this “we don’t know” sounds like moral relativism. But that’s just me.”

    Well, at least we agree on your last sentence ; )  I do not know how you get from a factual statement that “we do not know” meaning that we cannot ascertain whether or not marijuana played any part at all in any of the actions that you have stated that you believe it played a role in to any kind of statement about “moral relativism” since I was writing about medical certainty, not morality. Perhaps you could clarify how you got from one to the other ?



  8. TrueBlueDevil

    We have no greater contradiction than our President Barack Obama, who was a leader of the “Shroom Gang” in high school, being soft or pro drugs, yet his preference that his daughters not smoke marijuana. Why the concern?

    David started this article which said there was no “clear pattern” in the recent uptick in murders, yet I revealed an apparently very clear pattern for all to chew on. This goes against the current “marijuana is harmless” credo of the left.

    I agree, Tia, that we can’t prove causation in these crimes, but I also think we can’t say having serious mind-altering and body-altering drugs in their systems had no effect. A doctor in the Trayvon Martin case said that the amount of THC in his system altered his mental and physical states. My layman’s guess is that it had various levels of effect for different people based on a variety of factors.

    So yes, I think it played a role in possibly all of these cases. How much of a role is far more difficult to ascertain. There are also the short-term connections (well-known documented short-term memory loss; were they thinking foggy, slow, depressed,…), and the long-term physical, psychological, and developmental effects. (Slowed or altered maturity, drugs often being used as an escape, etc.)

    British Medical Journal: Pot linked to potentially 30,000 deaths per year
    “…Medical experts blame the Home Secretary for creating confusion about the risks posed by the drug – leading young people wrongly to believe it is harmless.

    “They claim David Blunkett’s decision to reclassify cannabis as a class C drug – putting it on a level with anabolic steroids and prescription painkillers – sent out the wrong message and played down the devastating health effects of its regular use.

    Professor John Henry, a leading authority on the drug, said the change – due to take place this summer – had undermined doctors’ efforts to highlight the risks.

    “He said: ‘Cannabis is as dangerous as cigarette smoking – in fact, it may be even worse – and downgrading its legal status has simply confused people.

    ” ‘We have a clear public message about cigarette smoking. Every year, the number of smokers gets smaller and the message on packets about the dangers gets bigger.

    ” ‘At present, there is no battle against cannabis and no clear public health message.”

    “In today’s issue of the British Medical Journal, Prof Henry and other doctors from Imperial College, and St Mary’s Hospital, both in London, say cannabis could be a major contributor to UK deaths.

    “Researchers calculate that if 120,000 deaths are caused among 13million smokers, the corresponding figure among 3.2million cannabis smokers would be 30,000.

    “The drug can cause cancer, lung disease and abnormalities associated with serious mental illness.
    Users are up to six times more likely to develop schizophrenia.

    “The British Lung Foundation says smoking three joints a day can cause the same damage to the airways as a pack of 20 cigarettes.

    “Prof Henry added: ‘Even if the number of deaths turned out to be only a fraction of the 30,000 we believe possible, cannabis smoking would still be described as a major health hazard.

    “If we add in the likely mental health burden to that of medical illnesses and premature death, the potential effects of cannabis cannot be ignored.”…
    Read more:


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