Ineffective Counsel and Prosecutorial Misconduct Leads to Murder Conviction Says Dion Vaccaro of Tahoe 5

Corrina Tran-Vaccaro at the CA Capitol participating in a demonstration on Nov. 18, 2021, calling for investigation of El Dorado DA. (Photo by Robert J Hansen)

Vaccaro seeks to overturn conviction with new trial

By Robert J. Hansen

Dion Vaccaro, one of the Tahoe 5, was found guilty of the murder of Dennis “Spike” Wright, Jr., in 2020 and is seeking to overturn the conviction, claiming he was wrongfully convicted.

Vaccaro, Dominic Randolph, Tristan Batten, Harvest Davidson, and Tevarez Lopez all are being charged with Wright’s murder, and are known as the Tahoe 5. All have been in jail or prison since their arrests.

Wright was the victim when a marijuana sale to prospective buyers at a motel in South Lake Tahoe went wrong.

“Due to ineffective assistance from my appointed counsel and prosecutorial misconduct, my case resulted in a spurious conviction,” Vaccaro said.

Court transcripts and statements from key witnesses not included at trial state that Vacarro was not the shooter. None of the witnesses gave descriptions that identified Vacarro either, according to court records.

“I have transcripts at the preliminary where they (prosecutors) ask one witness, ‘Are any of these five men the suspect?’ and he said none of those men were there,” Vacarro said recently in a telephone interview. “The only person who wasn’t in the courtroom that day is the same man that already confessed to this crime four times, Tristen Batten.”

Jim Clark, Vaccaro’s original attorney, gave testimony that reveals that he was aware that Tristen Batten admitted to the robbery and murder yet never used that evidence at Vaccaro’s defense trial.

“Are you aware that Mr. Batten indicated in his jail calls that he committed the robbery that was alleged in this case?” Clifford Safranski, Vacarro’s attorney at the time asked.

“Yep,” Clark said.

“And you were aware of that during trial?” Safranski said.

“Way before trial,” Clark said.

“Were you aware that Mr. Batten indicated in the jail calls that he is the murderer?” Safranski queried.

“Yes,” Clark said.

Safranski then asked Clark if he ever felt obligated to speak with Vacarro about that.

“Not really, he said he wanted to walk. Okay? Let’s get ready. Let’s go to trial,” Clark said.

On January 21, 2022, Safranski, Vaccaro’s attorney of record, requested 631 pages of missing discovery, which has not been turned over by the El Dorado District Attorney as of March 2, 2022, according to an affidavit.

Records obtained have a witness stating Kyndra Ghiorso was the first person to fire a gun.

“I think my panic caused them to kill him,” Ghiorso’s statement said.

Vaccaro says that Ghiorso, Wright’s girlfriend, called someone an N-word and stated ‘we don’t do business with n****rs and then pulled her gun out.

“That’s not a rumor. Witnesses said she pulled her gun first, witnesses said she discharged her gun first,” Vaccaro said.

Clark never called these witnesses for Vaccaro’s defense, did not plan or discuss a defense strategy, and failed to use exculpatory evidence at Vaccaro’s trial.

“Mr. Clark failed to object to Mr. Batten not being available as a witness,” Sanfranski said. “He made faulty analysis, and that resulted in the most damaging aspect or piece of the prosecution’s evidence being presented to the jury.

The El Dorado District Attorney’s Office has withheld over 300 hours of audio exculpatory evidence, refused defendant’s full discovery by denying access while in jail awaiting trial, and denied Vacarro’s right to a speedy trial which he never waived.

“It appears El Dorado County is not being lawful and makes its own rules as they manipulated what evidence is put into the courts without disclosing full evidence so that they can control the narrative,” Corrina Tran Vaccaro, Vaccaro’s fiancée, said.

Vaccaro has yet to be sentenced and is still waiting to find out if a motion for a new trial will be granted.

The El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office was unable to be reached for comment.

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