By David Greenwald and Kristen Tuntland
Judge Dave Rosenberg, in a hearing that went most of the day on Monday, determined that Jeremiah Bessolo-Marsh was not responsible for a bullet found on his window sill and denied a violation of probation that could have sent the defendant to prison for nearly nine years.
Mr. Bessolo-Marsh in a high profile case was accused of human trafficking last year, but after a preliminary hearing seemed to greatly reduce his culpability, he took a plea for probation deal that include a nearly nine-year suspended sentence.
In the hearing on whether Mr. Bessolo-Marsh violated probation, Deputy Probation Officer Sean Schaer described a February 20, 2019, probation search of a Sacramento residence.
On the window sill of the room he was staying in, investigators found a live 9 mm bullet and shell casing.
Deputy Schaer described that as they searched the room, they found an Amazon box that contained an empty box for a holster, and shooting targets. He clarified that he found the packaging for the holster but not the holster itself.
Under cross-examination, Mr. Schaer testified that the Amazon box was not addressed to Mr. Bessolo-Marsh, but rather to the homeowner himself.
Deputy Schaer testified that because the homeowner’s room was open and accessible, he obtained permission from the owner’s wife to search his room.
He testified that he found live ammunition – at least 100 rounds – that was open and accessible. The majority of these, he testified were 9 mm rounds.
He testified that he did not find any guns, but also did not look inside of the locked boxes.
Under cross-examination, Deputy Schaer testified that he did not find any indicia indicating that any of the weapons or ammunition belonged to Mr. Bessolo-Marsh.
He further testified that the items found on the window sill were behind a black sheet, had dust on them and appeared to have been there for some time.
Other than the bullet found on the window sill, Mr. Schaer testified that nothing found was a probation violation.
Probation Officer Rene Carter, who was in charge of supervising the probation of Mr. Bessolo Marsh indicated that Bessolo-Marsh filed a report as required but only reported one other resident in the home – whereas the man lived there with his wife and granddaughter, an 18-year-old woman.
She also testified that they found an iPad on the desk in the room Bessolo-Marsh was staying in. It was the property of the owner, but he appeared to be using it. Currently she said that investigators are searching the device to see if Bessolo-Marsh broke his terms of probation by accessing social media sites.
The next witness was the homeowner, who met Mr. Bessolo-Marsh through a VA combat support group and let him stay in his house. He has “total trust” that Bessolo-Marsh would never enter his bedroom, based on the military code of conduct of privacy. Because of this, he trusted the ammunition in his personal bedroom would be safe from Mr. Bessolo-Marsh.
The homeowner has hosted several other veterans to stay in his guest room throughout the years. A little over 1.5 years ago, he thumb-tacked a blanket over the window because he had a visitor staying in that room who was a veteran with traumatic brain injury. He had asked the homeowner for a blacked out room, so the homeowner thumb-tacked a blanket over the window. After he put up the blanket, he never touched it again since most veterans prefer a darkened room.
A long time ago, the homeowner accidentally dropped a box of ammunition and immediately cleaned it up but found the single bullet a few days later and mindlessly put it on the window sill. Once he put up the blanket, no one realized the bullet was even there.
He moved all handguns out of the house prior to Mr. Bessolo-Marsh moving in but did not move the ammo until the probation office searched the house. The probation search also found firearm-related items in Bessolo-Marsh’s bedroom, including packaging for a gun holster, targets, gun locks, and a shell casing art display, but it all belonged to the homeowners.
The witness only recalled one specific time that Mr. Bessolo-Marsh told him he put all people living in the house on the housing form after leaving the probation office. He was unaware of any other times.
The last witness was Mr. Bessolo-Marsh. The homeowner initially asked Bessolo-Marsh if he wanted the blanket taken down, but Bessolo-Marsh declined and he did not thoroughly search the room when he moved in.
Mr. Bessolo-Marsh never touched the blanket and never knew the bullet existed. He spent the majority of his time sleeping in the room, as he worked two to three jobs, so he never had the intention of removing the blanket.
Mr. Bessolo-Marsh testified that he put all of the people living in the house in the housing form during January. He has visited the probation office 8-10 times. He did not always list all the names because he “didn’t follow directions.” Additionally, he thought if he listed the all people living in the house once, it would be saved in the program database.
He only entered the homeowner’s room to do personal progress work with him, which was a total of about 10 times in two months for one hour at a time. He never entered the room without the homeowner present.
Deputy DA Carolyn Palumbo pressed the homeowner during cross-examination, attempting to show him to be dishonest. The confrontation rose to the point where the man had to ask to go outside to collect himself.
In closing arguments, Ms. Palumbo stated that Mr. Bessolo-Marsh is a felon who is not allowed to possess or have access to ammunition, yet ammunition was found in different places in the house. The ammunition may have been in boxes but it was unlocked and accessible.
She also stated the homeowner’s testimony was unreliable because he changed his answers too many times and it is unbelievable that Mr. Bessolo-Marsh never looked out the window.
Michelle Spaulding, representing Mr. Bessolo-Marsh, countered that the house is full of the homeowner’s family belongings and Bessolo-Marsh does not touch or move their items out of respect.
Using a sheet to block the light is common for suffers of post-traumatic stress disorder. Plus, the window sill was filthy and covered in dust. There is no evidence that Mr. Bessolo-Marsh knew the bullet was there or of his doing anything with firearms.
With regard to the homeowner’s testimony, the defense stated that he is a decorated war veteran and suffers from PTSD which was triggered by the way he was being spoken too.
The prosecution’s last argument was the contradiction between the testimony of the probation officer and the homeowner. She argued that probation has nothing to gain by testifying, but the homeowner has motivation to protect Mr. Bessolo-Marsh.
The court ruled that Mr. Bessolo-Marsh was not in violation of his probation. There was no evidence that Bessolo-Marsh knew about the bullet, and willful intent is necessary.
The court found the homeowner’s testimony credible and believable; he was just confused upon cross-examination. However, Judge Rosenberg stated that it is “incredibly risky” to keep ammunition in the house – but that issue is for another day.