Judge, for Now, Won’t Release Defendant with Serious Cancer on No Bail

By Jose Medina and Cailin Garcia

WOODLAND – It was a tough call on the day before Thanksgiving for Yolo County Superior Court Judge Paul K. Richardson, who was asked to release a felon – who had recently been diagnosed with deadly metastatic cancer of the spine – on no bail so he could go home.

That defendant was Thomas James Nelson, who was present along with co-defendant Jimmy Adrian Talavera for a preliminary hearing.

Nelson and Talavera were charged on seven counts together including possession of firearm and ammunition by a person previously convicted of a felony, carrying a stolen concealed firearm in a vehicle, and possession of a controlled substance while armed with a firearm.

On Nov. 5, Rite Aid in Woodland reported two individuals suspected of allegedly stealing items. Woodland police officers Parveen Lal and Jeff Moe stopped Nelson and Talavera in their vehicle, where the officers found a red pouch with the handle of a handgun sticking out, baggies with methamphetamine, and a smoking glass pipe.

Moe also found an atm card belonging to Nelson and a hypodermic needle with methamphetamine in it.

Officer Lal confessed he may have misled Talavera to get him to admit who owned the gun after both the defendants said that it didn’t belong to them.

According Talavera’s defense attorney, Rob Gorman, Talavera stated that officer Lal approached him and said “Hey, homeboy, Mr. Nelson says the gun is yours!” When Gorman asked officer Lal why he said this to Talavera, Lal responded by saying “I wanted to see what his reaction was.”

The firearm’s serial number had been searched, but the officers were not able to contact the original owner of the firearm. The court could not find strong evidence that the handgun was stolen.

Despite the incriminating findings at the scene, Gorman and Daniel Hutchison, Nelson’s defense attorney, asked that the court release both of the defendants.

“I would ask the court to step back from the actual hearing we just did and consider the fact that Mr. Talavera could find himself in the position, based upon statements this morning about Mr. Nelson’s family about to bail him out so that he can receive treatment, where Mr. Talavera does not have the ability to post bail,” said Gorman.

Gorman requested that the court release Talavera on his own recognizance (OR). He argued that it was “quite clear” that the gun belonged to co-defendant Nelson, not his client.

“Mr. Talavera, who was offered a misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine on a package basis, could find himself in custody for many more months awaiting a jury trial. I know, I think Mr. Hutchinson knows, and I think the Deputy District attorney knows that all Mr. Talavera is guilty of is possession of methamphetamine,” Gorman stated.

Talavera had informed Gorman that if he was released, he would go back to his home state of Arizona. Gorman assured the court that Talavera would only leave California with permission from probation. He also promised that Talavera would keep close contact with him and would not miss any future court dates.

“The prosecutor and I both know he is not guilty of that firearm charge and I would ask that he be released on his own recognizance,” Gorman finished.

Hutchinson also requested that his client, Nelson, be released on supervised OR, but for a different, more pressing reason. Nelson had recently been diagnosed at Woodland Memorial hospital with metastatic cancer on the spine.

“Without this diagnosis, I probably would not be making a request for supervised OR. I’m not a doctor but Mr. Nelson knows, and the court knows, that metastasized cancer that is now present on the spine can be extremely, extremely serious. And this is a potentially life-changing development for Mr. Nelson,” said Hutchinson.

“I am not asking that he be released on straight OR, I’m asking that he be released on supervised OR, which will provide for security than if his family is able to post bail. I know they are attempting to do that, but they are not a family of means and there’s some concern about whether they can do it or not,” Hutchinson continued.

Hutchinson noted that he understands that the court may be hesitant to grant OR considering that Nelson has a criminal record, but pointed out that Nelson has not had a felony conviction in more than 17 years. He also reasoned that Nelson was no longer on parole when this incident occurred.

“I certainly don’t want to downplay the seriousness of Mr. Nelson’s recent diagnosis….” began Deputy District Attorney Jesse Richardson when he was interrupted by Nelson making a statement over the Zoom call.

“Just listen, I need to be heard. I have never been off parole a day in my life since I was 16 years old. This is some accomplishment that I’ve made for myself. I don’t plan on running, I don’t plan on doing nothing,” said Nelson before attorney Hutchinson urged him to allow the DA to finish speaking.

DDA Richardson asked that if the court considered releasing Nelson on OR, that they first receive information from probation about whether or not Nelson would be able to receive cancer treatment while in custody. In Talavera’s case, DDA Richardson acknowledged that evidence points to Nelson being more culpable in the incident and recommended that a supervised OR report be filed for Talavera.

Judge Richardson was torn on whether or not Nelson should be released.

“What I don’t know is what type of care he would get if he remained in custody and this is the dilemma the court is faced with. From a public safety standpoint, you have a person with two strikes driving around in a car with a .44 Magnum, loaded pistol,” said the judge.

“A person with this type of diagnosis, you want to obtain the best possible care he can get at a time of great difficulty not only for him, but for his family,” the judge continued. “But the public safety concern of the court is substantial. There’s no reason to be driving around with a loaded gun of that size.”

Judge Richardson also noted that probation had rejected a previous filing for Nelson to be released on supervised OR. “Everything about this case would suggest that he should be kept in custody, except for the fact he has a life-threatening illness,” he said.

Hutchinson pointed out that a nurse practitioner for probation had informed him that they were “somewhat limited” in their resources to help Nelson manage his pain. Nelson’s pain was so severe that he almost missed this court date and had also considered leaving in the middle of the proceedings.

Judge Richardson requested that the defense bring more information regarding Nelson’s treatment in custody and the status of his pain at the next court proceeding. The judge decided that he would not release Nelson until he heard more information, but he was very open to hearing it and would give it ample consideration at the next date.

The judge also decided that Talavera would not be released on supervised OR due to officer Lal’s statement that he has a tendency to “run from the cops” as well as his status as a previously convicted felon.

Nelson and Talavera will return to Judge Richardson’s court on Dec. 7, for their next preliminary hearing.

Cailin Garcia is a senior at UCLA, majoring in sociology with a minor in professional writing. She is from Santa Clarita, California.

Jose graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Political Science and has interned for the California State Legislature. He is from Rocklin, CA.

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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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