THE VANGUARD WEEK IN REVIEW: Court Watch (Oct. 5, 2020 – Oct. 8, 2020)

The Vanguard – aggregated by Lauren Smith

Yolo County Superior Court

Reporter Tiffany Devlin: On Wednesday in Dept. 7, Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt argued that the prior ruling for his client’s case was “hypocritical” and “fundamentally inconsistent” for law enforcement officers to attend in-person trainings or to go on vacations but not be available to offer live witness testimony in court. Van Zandt further argued that there is no harm in the officer coming to court, considering the courthouse has been taking necessary precautions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Van Zandt also pointed out that it was fundamentally inconsistent for officers to be able to attend in-person trainings, but simultaneously say that it is too dangerous for the officer to come to court in order to testify because of the Coronavirus.

Judge David W. Reed, however, said that the court’s ruling adequately protects the defendant’s right to confront witnesses, and that there was no need to change the previous ruling. While Judge Reed refused to change the prior ruling, he said, “I view this issue as different from whether a person is available or not available due to other commitments such as vacations or training, and I don’t consider that hypocritical or dispositive.”

Reporter Hannah Skepner: In Dept. 11, Defendant Nazim Shikhanstov was charged with vehicular manslaughter. On September 12, 2018, the victim was driving to work on his motorcycle when Shikhanstov hit him with a tractor trailer. The defendant proceeded to call his coworker asking him to lie about being in the one driving. Initially, his friend agreed, however once he realized the severity of the situation, he stopped lying. There were six victim statements from family, and close friends causing the defendant to breakdown and apologize. He was sentenced to 364 days in custody, two years of probation, and 80 hours in a driver’s safety course.

In another case, defendant Booby Joe Johnson asked to remain out of custody for a variety of reasons. His defense argued that one of the reasons why he should stay out of custody was because had a potential COVID-19 exposure and had a test scheduled for him and his girlfriend for later this week. Judge Timothy Fall immediately reprimanded Johnson for putting everyone in the courtroom at risk and ordered him to spend 79 days in the county jail beginning January 2021.

Reporter Cailin Garcia: In Dept. 12, defendant Taylor Gholar stood trial for allegedly arranging a meeting with a minor and contacting or communicating with a minor. Gholar allegedly messaged a minor over Instagram asking for nude photos and suggested a meeting for a sexual encounter. When the victim showed her parents the Instagram messages, the parents proceed to pretend to be their daughter and continued to message Gholar. When the defendant began sending sexually explicit message, they called the police who then arrested Gholar.

The defendant worked in an after-school program at the victim’s past elementary school and was well-acquainted with the family. The victim’s mother testified about her first encounter with Gholar stating, “I walked into the cafeteria one evening and Mr. Gholar had his hand around my daughter, maybe like her neck. He was just standing and casually talking to the other kids. I waited a minute to see how long it would take place,” said the victim’s mother. “I was very upset, and I asked him, ‘Why do you have your hand around a student?’ We kinda got into an altercation.”

Later in the week, Gholar’s trial continued. Public defender Jose Gonzalez, called three witnesses. The first witness was Aaron Bhore, Chief Investigator from the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office. Gonzalez called Bhore to show that there was a witness that should have been called to help Gholar, but the public defender’s office was unable to get ahold of her. District Attorney Sara Abrate cross-examined Bhore and got him to admit that he did not ask for any help from law enforcement or the DA’s office in finding the witness, but Gonzalez countered back that it is not standard for public defenders to do that.

The second witness was a childhood friend and roommate of Gholar. The witness and Gholar have known each other for around 17 years and lived together for six years. The witness was with Gholar on the night that he allegedly sent inappropriate messages to a minor. According to the witness, he and Gholar were throwing a football game party that night, then they went to a night club until around 1:30 a.m. Gholar was allegedly consuming alcohol the entire night and the witness claims he was clearly intoxicated. When DA Abrate cross-examined the witness, she asked him if he remembered telling an investigator that he dropped off Gholar at the location where Gholar allegedly set-up a meeting with the minor. The witness denied ever making a statement about a drop-off.

The third witness was Ruby Moreno, a secretary at the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office. Her testimony was very brief, only around five minutes, as she was only brought in to confirm that Gonzalez was not given any notice of the police report.

Reporter Linhchi Nguyen: On Wednesday, at Dept. 12 of the Yolo County Superior Court, defendant Gholar’s case continued. District Attorney Sara Abrate and Defense Attorney Jose Gonzalez began the morning with a tense conflict over a piece of evidence before the start of the trial. Unfortunately, the messages are now permanently deleted, and the high-tech crime unit at the District Attorney Office was unable to extract any data from it.

Therefore, Abrate requested to show the jury a body cam footage of an officer reading the text messages out loud, but Gonzalez objected to the reliability of the evidence. He said that because the Court would be unable to see the actual texts, the jury would not be able to assess the spelling or manner of the text messages. The argument continued on even during the morning recess. Eventually, the judge allowed the evidence to be admitted.

Reporter Phoebe Glick: Defendant Eduardo Castro is charged with 26 counts of 288 violations including lewd acts on a minor. There was a discussion about what exactly was appropriate to ask victims. Castro’s defense lawyer wanted to question the first victim about a previous and unrelated sexual assault experience she’d had at 12 years old shortly before allegedly being raped by Castro; however the judge did not allow that.

Reporter Kalani Gaines: Charged with aggravated assault, defendant Joshua Skelley started yelling at someone walking their dog. The victim tried to calm him down, but Skelley allegedly lunged at him and threatened him with a pipe. The victim claimed that the defendant verbally threatened his son while pounding on his chest. The victim’s daughter called the police who arrested Skelley.

Reporter Victoria Lembesis: On Thursday, in Dept. 11, co-defendants in a burglary case received their sentences. It is alleged that on April 16 defendant Sabrina Ornelas “drove to a residence…and stole $6,000 worth of electronics.” She asked Juan Hernandez to return to the same property to steal more items. Ornelas was sentences to 6 years in prison, and Hernandez was placed on probation because as his attorney stated, “my client never entered the residence; he was the driver.”

Sacramento County Superior Court

Reporter Alana Bleimann: On Wednesday October 7, in Dept. 11, defendant Andrew Doyle allegedly confessed to murdering his father to a police officer at the scene of the crime. At his hearing, three officers gave “unsettling details” about the victim’s body and spoke about the coroner’s report. Judge Trina Burger Plavan found the defendant guilty of murder.

Reporter Kianna Anvari: On Tuesday October 6, one homeless defendant did not appear in court resulting in a bench warrant for $50,500.

Reporter Tiffany Devlin: At a preliminary hearing in Dept. 21, Public Defender Stephen Nelson argued that Defendant Michael Wilson’s actions did not equate to a robbery when the victim gave him one of the “Obama Phones” (government phones) that she was selling in a Dollar Tree parking lot. Despite Nelson’s argument, Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang ruled that the victim gave Wilson the phone against her will and believed that there was sufficient evidence to charge Wilson with second-degree robbery.

His bail was originally set to $1 million, but then reduced to $500,000 after Nelson deemed the amount as excessive. Wilson is known to be homeless with mental health issues, and Nelson pointed out how those with mental health issues are often criminalized. In response, Judge Chang said that while she agreed with the policy issues Nelson brought up regarding criminalizing individuals with mental health issues, she still believed there was sufficient evidence to show second degree robbery.

At one point during cross-examination between Nelson and Sacramento Police Officer Anthony Nunez, he asked, “did you ask her (the victim) whether it was because he was threatening to take her property, or was he just threatening to her because he was a ‘scary Black man’?”

Reporter Eric Trochez: In Dept. 26 defendant Emily Rose Isamade, was charged with burglary and stealing $19,000. Isamade allegedly threated the victim and told her she would go to her house the night before the burglary occurred. The defendant previously pleaded guilty to 1st degree residential burglary but stated she did not steal all the property resulting in such a loss. Judge Curtis M. Fiorini ruled that Isamade must pay restitution to the victim.

In Dept. 62, defendant Timothy Boone requested to be released because his mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four months prior. At the time, she had six months to live, leaving her with two months left. Boone wanted to spend time with her during her final moments; however, due to his extensive criminal history, the judge denied this request.

In another case, defendant Julio Santamaria was charged with breaking into a house and stealing the belongings of a man’s deceased wife. The victim wrote a letter to the court expressing his pain and requesting the defendant to be jailed for life. Santamaria was sentenced to four years in a state prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victim.

Reporter Kalani Gaines: In a preliminary hearing, defendant Jack Holsey was charged with deadly threat and assault with a deadly weapon. In January, Holsey threatened his roommate with a high-power pellet rifle and fired it in the victim’s direction. Officer Nathaniel Hudson, who arrested Holsey, stated that this pellet rifle “can kill you.”

Reporter Julian Navarro: In Dept. 42, defendant Darnee Dinkins was charged with sexual assault. In January 2017, Dinkins broke into a woman’s home and stole some items. In 2018, the defendant committed a “disturbing act” on this same woman. The victim stated that after the sexual assault in January of 2018, the defendant asked her if he could “sleepover” at her apartment.

In another case on October 8, Defense Attorney Phil Cousins protested Judge Peter Marqette’s decision to set a trial readiness conference for one of his clients on the 23rd of October because he had already scheduled several earlier that same day. Judge Marqette joked that Cousins’ case would go “right to the top” – Cousins replied that he did not believe him. Judge Marqette then called Cousins “high maintenance.”

Reporter Carlin Ross: At a probable cause hearing on October 8, in Dept. 27, defendant Anthony Vannata was charged with felony domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon, and threats to commit a crime. On Thursday July 2, the defendant allegedly threw a glass bottle at the victim’s head and brandished a knife at her. Judge Steven Gervercer upheld the first and third counts, but not the second.

Reporter Roxanna Jarvis: After throwing six rocks at his mother’s house causing $1,000 in damage, defendant Rodney Lara pled no contest to felony vandalism and was ordered to stay away from Walmart and Foodco in Sacramento. Lara was given five year of probation, 180 days in jail, and was ordered to pay restitution to his mother.

Reporter Mia Machado: On October 8, in Dept. 63, defendant Saan Saephanh, plead no contest to the charges of vandalism and obstructing a peace officer. “On July 23, the defendant threw a large concrete stone through the entrance of an AM/PM convenience store, causing over $400 in damages. He also willfully obstructed a peace officer. Judge Patrick Marlette found the defendant guilty and waived all fines other than a $300 restitution fee. The defendant will receive 240 days in the county jail for the felony charge of vandalism, and an additional 60 days for the misdemeanor.”

Reporter Susana Jurado: In Dept. 62, defendant Robert Derone “sent a package to the courtroom” expressing his request for a reduced sentence. In that package were four letters all speaking to his good character. Despite these letters, probation recommended that the judge deny his request. Ignoring this recommendation, the judge granted Derone’s request because 15 years had passed since he was convicted of a crime.

Fresno County Superior Court

Reporter Kianna Anvari: On Wednesday October 7, the bailiff in Dept. 30 kicked a defendant out of the courtroom because he refused to wear a mask. As a result, the defendant received a failure to appear.

Reporter Ruby Chavez: On Thursday October 9, in Dept. 10, defendant Jose Padilla missed his court date. Padilla informed Judge Zepeda that he missed his court date because he was in a car accident and was not capable of attending. The defendant asked to be released to keep the job he had just gotten; however, DA Nicole Idiart announced that he had a previous strike. Judge Zepeda denied his release and set bail his bail at $115,000 stating, “ I am denying release because you did not bother to call the court or put yourself on the calendar.”

In another case, defendant Robert Brown, who was in custody for missing his court day, attempted to provide a reason as to why he missed a court date; however, Judge Zepeda immediately stopped Brown from explaining stating, “I do not have any patience for excuses.” Public Defender Eric Hansen insisted she allow Brown to explain himself for missing his court date. The defendant explained that he could not find a babysitter for his children and attempted to get ahold of the court to let them know. He claimed he was never instructed to contact his PD if he was going to miss his court date, and he did not know how to put himself on the calendar for the next day. Judge Zepeda and DA Autumn Goodrich ultimately decided to release the defendant. When Judge Zepeda was giving the order, Brown ranted loudly to himself about how he lost his job, and Judge Zepeda shouted “Sir, do not make me regret this”

Reporter Roxanna Jarvis: What was originally thought to be a short (45 min or less) probable cause hearing turned into a two-hour ordeal in which Deputy District Attorney Nicole Idiart actually decided to go inside the courtroom after having issues with questioning the witness-who was evasive. The hearing was for defendant Austin Torres on two different cases. and it included 2 cases. This had DDA Idiart and Private Counsel Reyes. The first case Torres was charged with corporal injury on spouse/cohabitant and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury. In the case, it was said the victim woke Torres up by taking a shower at 5am. Torres accused the victim of cheating, threw her on the bed, and strangled the victim until she blacked out.

Throughout the hearing, the witness was very evasive and was very slow to answer. She kept saying “I don’t remember” and repeatedly asked for the DDA Idiart to repeat questions. The witness stated, “I want my money back for the flight, I don’t really understand why it’s taking so long you’re wasting my time going back and forth state to state and I’m stressing out.” According to the witness, her flights have cost so far around $400. She made it clear she really didn’t care for the case anymore as it’s been so long (five months) that she can’t even remember anything and wanted to get it over with.

For the second case, Torres was charged with domestic abuse and assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm. In that case, the victim believed Torres smashed a phone over her head, causing lacerations. The witness stated that it actually wasn’t Torres, but another guy. She stated both Torres and the other man looked similar. She admitted that she cheated on Torres and was drunk at the time so she couldn’t see well. She just assumed it was Torres since they fought a lot. This second case was dismissed.

El Dorado County Superior Court

Reporter Ozge Terzioglu: In Dept. 1, Judge Vicki Ashworth appeared to care deeply about the defendants stating, “Our goal is to see a changed behavior so we can see success going forward” and “we want to help you, but you have to show you’re just as committed to it as we are.”

Riverside County Superior Court

Reporter Danae Snell: “Defendant Refugio Rosales-Torres faced trial this week after a night out with friends resulted in the crash of his ATV and charges of a DUI. Although the defense, Mario Rodriguez, argued that he was not impaired during the time of the collision, — which resulted in no injured parties or damage to other individual’s property — Deputy District Attorney Adelaida Hernandez believed the evidence proves otherwise. This two-day trial consisted of four individuals being summoned to explain the series of events and presentation of evidence in front of a jury.”


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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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