Jury Foreman Explains Why They Acquitted Woman of Residential Burglary, Grand Theft

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Three weeks ago, a Yolo County jury acquitted Sarah Shannon of residential burglary and grand theft in a case that might have appeared to be open and shut. The owners of a Clarksburg residence in September of last year called the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department and reported a break in, their place ransacked, and valuables missing.

Investigators were able to find a print near a bathroom window and quickly matched it to Ms. Shannon. Based on this evidence alone, they would make the arrest, but despite Ms. Shannon’s contention that she had only unwittingly assisted her friend, the sheriff’s department never attempted to contact the man, who, according to Ms. Shannon, has been in Sacramento County Jail awaiting trial on as many as 11 burglaries in that county.

Nor did the sheriff attempt to make any effort to connect Ms. Shannon to the stolen property by tracking it down at pawn shops Ms. Shannon knew the real perpetrator used.

As Jury Foreman Koen Van Rompay would post on Facebook, “Some days I’m glad I can be as stubborn as a donkey. Today is one of those days. At the jury trial I’m in, it looked like after extremely long deliberations, we had a deadlocked hung jury for more than a day. But as the jury foreperson, I felt extra responsible to continue discussing and dissecting everything over and over, even when many others wanted to give up this morning and just stick with a hung jury so they could go home.”

He writes, “Then this afternoon I found something on a photograph of the crime scene that poked a hole in one of the prosecutor’s main arguments (which the defense attorney or detective never brought up). That gave us a window of opportunity to start convincing the last few jurors.”

“Eventually, we reached a verdict. Not guilty. The defendant can be released from prison,” he said. “I’m mentally and physically exhausted, but relieved. Justice is done.”

Last week the Vanguard sat down to talk to Ms. Shannon, who is now out of custody but struggling to get back on her feet.

She told the Vanguard that she and her friend had access to a van for a day. This was unusual and she hadn’t hung out with her friend for some time. So in a big white van, they drown along the river to Clarksburg.

Suddenly her friend said that he had left stuff at a buddy’s house. She said that it didn’t seem unusual. It was 4 pm in the afternoon. They went down the driveway, he knocked on the door as she waited in the car. No one answered the door.

She thought nothing of this because he was then on his phone, talking. She said she thought he was trying to call his friend.

Finally, after some time – perhaps ten to fifteen minutes – he asked her if she thought she could get in through the window. She said that she took it almost like a dare and didn’t think to be suspicious. The elderly couple that turned out to live there had a dog, but, by this point, he had made friends with the dog and the dog was friendly and not barking.

She said she was not thinking things were weird. However, as soon as she got her leg through the window, she slipped and fell into the bathtub. This hurt her back badly, but she was able to get up and open the front door to let her friend in.

She said that he wasn’t in long and he came out with a pillowcase of stuff – a small amount is what she emphasized (to the point where she questioned whether the elderly owners hadn’t embellished the amount of property taken).

In fact, the circumstances were such that, to this day, she still wonders if he really robbed the place. It was broad daylight. People were around. The neighbors had a clear line of sight and they had a huge white van parked in the driveway.

The Vanguard asked her when she first got suspicious, and she said that, the next day, her friend seemed to have a lot more money than he had before. But she didn’t figure it out until she was booked in jail for the burglary.

In fact, she was already in custody on possession charges when she was transported to Yolo County. The sheriff’s investigator asked her if she had ever been to the address, and she honestly didn’t remember being there. It was only as he continued to probe that she figured out what they were asking her about.

She was told that they found fingerprints on the window. At that point she requested an attorney. However, the sheriff’s deputy told her she could talk with him off the record – he turned off the recorder – as it would be inadmissible. This turned out to be a falsehood, as he would testify to what she told him.

She said that he wasn’t really taking notes. He pulled her comments out of context to suggest guilt and there were clear discrepancies between his report and what he said on the stand.

The case was prosecuted by Deputy DA Barry Shapiro. Ms. Shannon told the Vanguard that he never really came up with an offer. At the last minute, when Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson pressed him, he offered two years state prison with a strike.

That was a non-starter. She said that if they had offered her something on accessory after the fact, which she felt she was probably guilty of, she would have taken the offer. But she was not going to cop to prison time for something she didn’t do.

She told the Vanguard that she had told the sheriff’s deputy about her friend, but he was uninterested in following up. She said at one point when she was in custody they had the news on, and her friend was arrested for the 11 burglaries, and she said she yelled out loud – that’s the guy, but no one was there to see it.

The Vanguard met with Jury Foreman Koen Van Rompay last week, as well. He told the Vanguard that an elderly couple left their home in September of 2014 to see some family. When they came back, it was dark.

They got suspicious when they saw a pole that was knocked over that was supposed to protect their sprinkler. The bathroom window was open and the screen was down. The husband went into the house and found it ransacked both upstairs and downstairs. The sheriff was called.

They looked for fingerprints and lifted some just inside the bathroom window. They sent them to the crime lab and got a match – a name and matches on both fingers.

The detective found the woman, and read her the Miranda Rights. She denied ever having been there. She stopped the interview and requested an attorney.

At this point, the sheriff told her about the fingerprint evidence that linked her to the crime scene. She started to open up. She said she was there with a friend and she admitted to moving the ladder to go in through the bathroom window to open the front door for him.

Mr. Van Rompay said, at this point, she realized that things looked different from what she had thought they were.

On the stand, the detective said that they looked for the other guy and found him in Sacramento. However, the detective admitted on the stand that he never bothered to interview him, because they had too many other cases pending.

The prosecutor, he said, never had evidence from the pawn shop that Ms. Shannon had ever set foot in the shop itself. Not enough investigation was done, in his opinion.

Initially, the jury was split with 10 believing she was not guilty and 2 more thinking she was guilty. However, they were deadlocked and came to Judge David Reed. When he polled the jurors, Mr. Van Rompay told the judge he believed that there was a good chance they could still reach a verdict – this was after about a day of deliberations.

The judge had the attorneys make a second round of arguments. The jury was sent back to deliberation.

Mr. Van Rompay told the Vanguard that the jury instructions are clear – if there is evidence that shows both guilt and innocence, the jury has to side with innocence under the burden of proof.   While there were some on the jury skeptical about the defendant’s account, Mr. Van Rompay pointed out to the Vanguard that there was no evidence that showed the defendant’s story was a lie.

The critical evidence was a picture they saw of the bathroom window and the ladder. The bathroom sticks out of the house. There was a ladder lying sideways against the wall of the house.

For the jury, that was evidence that backed up her claim that there was a second person there. Since they left the house through the front door, if she was by herself, she would not have been able to have placed the ladder back down into the position.

Instead, what happened was she climbed in through the window. Her friend then laid the ladder back down and went to the front door as she opened it for him.

This was strong evidence to the jury that there must have been a second person. That changed the 11th vote and eventually the 12th on the jury. Those two jurors had previously felt she was making up the story, but the ladder suggested evidence to substantiate her story.

Under a theory of aiding and abetting, that required that they prove that she knew what she was doing and the other’s intentions while she committed the act. She claimed otherwise and neither the sheriff nor the prosecutor presented evidence to the contrary.

—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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2 thoughts on “Jury Foreman Explains Why They Acquitted Woman of Residential Burglary, Grand Theft”

  1. Davis Progressive

    for all of the criticism of the yolo da’s office, this is a point that ought to stand out – substandard investigations by the da and law enforcement and then the doubling down on  that with heavy charges – an offer of two years prison with a strike is ridiculous.

  2. Napoleon Pig IV

    Yeah, this is the sort of government abuse that leads sheep to distrust pigs. And, that’s not a good thing for pigs if they want to keep on mongering power and tipping the animal equality balance to the porcine side. It’s far better to at least have the appearance of fairness and justice, even if the reality if far from it, than to make it blatantly obvious to to even inattentive sheep that the barnyard is being run by idiots. Oink!

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