By Allison Hodge
SACRAMENTO, CA– An arson case defendant here in Sacramento County Superior Court – previously declared incompetent to stand trial – was ordered late last week to be placed at a State Hospital for a maximum of two years, with his criminal trial is stayed until he is “restored to competency.”
In a dual probable cause and preliminary hearing, presiding Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie found sufficient evidence to send the defendant, Herman Landrum, to trial, but ruled to stay the matter for mental health concerns.
Landrum faces charges of arson and possession of methamphetamines across his two cases and has three prior strikes from 2020, 2015, and 2012.
Judge Eurie began proceedings by requesting that the District Attorney Office, represented by a legal intern working for Deputy District Attorney Kelly Clark, call their first of two witnesses.
Officer Matthew Keyser was one of several officers to respond to a field fire spotted on April 29, in Sacramento County.
Keyser testified that he spotted the fire and, given that there was a nearby homeless population, began to patrol the scene in case of need for evacuation. The officer also made contact with a named witness, who claimed that she saw someone using a lighter to ignite small grass fires.
After the Sacramento Fire Department was able to maintain control of the grass fire, Keyser received a call that the suspect had potentially returned to the scene. It was at this point that the witness “pointed” out the defendant as the person she saw.
Officer Keyser then conducted a search of Landrum’s person and located three different lighters all contained in his pockets.
Assistant Public Defender Brooks Parfitt cross-examined the witness, and questioned the validity of the witness’s identification of the defendant.
Parfitt ascertained from the testimony that the witness did not tell Officer Keyser, “This is the man I saw lighting the fires,” but rather only pointed to Landrum. The defense maintained that simply pointing to the defendant could not be considered solid evidence of identification.
Upon her redirect, the prosecution asked Keyser to give testimony of the witness’s physical description of the defendant.
The witness initially described the person she saw lighting fires as wearing a black and silver sweatshirt. Officer Keyser later observed Landrum wearing a black sweatshirt with grey in it, but confirmed that the witness’s description held up.
The second and final witness to testify was Officer Kevin Spencer, who took a statement from the witness described by officer Keyser, who said she was inside a tent when she heard people yelling about a fire. She allegedly went outside the tent to see (the defendant) walking through the field setting fires.
The witness also claimed she was familiar with the suspect, stating that it was “Herman,” that she saw.
The defense cross-examined Spencer and again speculated on the witness’s “questionable” identification of the defendant.
PD Parfitt asserted that the witness did not identify the defendant specifically, and only referred to a first name. He also claimed that while talking to Spencer, the witness never pointed to anyone specific and only identified Landrum by clothing.
PD Parfitt argued that there was insufficient identification of his client at the scene, stating, “We’ve got two things really, I guess I could call it three things.”
The defense listed similarity in clothing, a first name basis, and the fact that the witness ambiguously pointed to the defendant as poorly constructed evidence to send Landrum to trial.
In her response, the prosecuting intern stated, “I don’t think that it is ambiguous that she [the witness] pointed at him.” The prosecution also mentioned that she doubted there was another “Herman” in the area that the witness could have been referring to.
Judge Eurie ruled that there was sufficient evidence presented to move the case to trial.
Judge Eurie, however, also asserted that the underlying criminal matter was stayed, based on a medical assessment in June that declared the defendant incompetent to stand trial.
Landrum was, therefore, ordered to report to a Department of State hospital for a maximum of two years pending restoration of competency.
Landrum’s trial will resume following a medical assessment of “restored competency.”