September 24, 2017

Anatomy of an Assault

On the evening of June 17, 2015 Mr. Cameron and Deana Lentz sat in the dark, next to a trail, conversing while music played.  The trail ran from Mr. Sommerville’s tent to Fred Meyers between Pearson Air Field and Highway 14.  Mr. Sommerville (Gary), who’d that night learned Mr. Cameron was back, armed himself with a hoe handle and a knife, before walking by and saying “Let’s go Dee.”  Mr. Cameron protested with, can’t a guy talk to his girlfriend to which Gary responded don’t you mean your ex-girlfriend.  The conversation deteriorated from there and Gary (who’d previously been convicted of a crime of dishonesty) testified that:

  • Cameron threatened to kill him.
  • He walked away holding Deana’s hand after Cameron’s death threat (i.e. making no effort to run or hide) but told her to run as Mr. Cameron approached and she was 50-75’ down the trail when the fight ensued.
  • He swung his hoe handle first and multiple times at Mr. Cameron (though he denied d hitting him)
  • Cameron hit him with a 40-pound weight bar causing a compound fracture to his right hand (and causing him to drop the hoe handle) and three cuts on his head (the longest of which was photographed by police after being stapled shut at Peace Health and presented as an exhibit to the jury)

On June 18, Mr. Cameron wrote his version of events for the police, which the jury was able to read because it was marked as a State’s Exhibit:  “My girlfriend and I got into an argument she went out on the trail from tent I went out in 5 min.  We were listening to music.  Red [Gary] came up behind us with a shovel handle and threatening to hit me.  I asked him to leave 5 times, my girlfriend started walking down the trail Red then hit me with the shovel handle in the hand we wrestled then he hit me in the ear with his shovel handle.  I went out in a seizure.  I came to and went down the trail because my girl was yelling saying stay away.  I feared for my life.  I feared for my girl too so I went to protect her.  I hit him in self-defense with a stick.  I hit him two times that I know of.”

Deana Lentz, who initially dated Mr. Cameron prior to his going to jail for a couple weeks, and subsequently dated Mr. Sommerville testified to the following:

  • She did not include the death threat in her rendition of the event.
  • She walked away holding Gary’s hand and was standing right there, 1-5’ from the action as the fight unfolded.
  • She did not see Gary swing his small bamboo walking stick at Mr. Cameron.
  • Cameron hit him with a 60-pound weight bar.

Sommerville, Lentz and police agreed that no blood was found at the scene of the fight, nor was a blood trail found, though Mr. Sommerville was bleeding profusely from the head when flagging down motorists at the Columbia House gore point onto Highway 14.

 

The defense asserted 25 reasons for doubt and highlighted 7 inconsistencies between Gary and Deana’s testimony.  The defense emphasized Gary’s only photographed head injury showed neither the bruising nor swelling that one would expect a weight bar to cause; asserted Gary’s motive for making his claim was: get the girl and avoid jail.  The defense highlighted Gary’s admission that he’d cut himself before going back to jail.  The defense pointed out that Deana overheard Gary telling police about the weight bar, thus explaining why both would make this claim & concluded with what are the chances that a long heavy weight bar landed all injuries within the narrow confines of Gary’s Mohawk?

On January 8, 2016, following over five hours of deliberations the jury returned verdicts of:

“Not Guilty” of Assault in the First Degree (Class A felony, strike offense)

“Not Guilty” of Assault in the Second Degree (Class B felony, strike offense)

“Guilty” of Assault in the Fourth Degree, (Gross Misdemeanor), and

“Guilty” of Felony Harassment-Death Threat.

I suspect the jury reasoned:

  1. It was not 1st degree Assault because the State simply didn’t prove grievous bodily harm and further disbelieved the use of a “weight bar” (i.e. a metal bar swung as a club = deadly weapon which would be capable of producing death) to cause these injuries.
  2. Although defendant fractured Gary’s hand, which qualifies by jury instruction definition as a 2nd degree Assault, Mr. Cameron did so in self-defense as Gary’s hand was struck causing him to drop the hoe handle that fractured Cameron’s finger (a fracture testified to by physician’s assistant).
  3. Even though Mr. Cameron was justified in striking him, he wasn’t justified in striking him in the head after he knocked the hoe handle from his hand when fracturing Gary’s right hand; and
  4. Even though Deana Lentz didn’t testify about the death threat, neither side asked her about it, and in the context of what each side said, it made sense that Mr. Cameron made this statement.

By rejecting the State’s 8-year offer for an Assault in the 2nd Degree plea, and risking 28 years if a jury found him guilty of Assault in the 1st Degree, Mr. Cameron (with an offender score of 9) was sentenced to 5 years in prison less credit time already served based on the Felony Harassment.  Judge Stahnke ran his 364 days on the Assault in the 4th degree time run concurrent (meaning it will be served at the same time) and with good time Mr. Cameron should be free by Christmas 2018.

Media coverage by The Columbian here.

Supreme Court expands DNA collection

Anyone convicted of a felony crime in America must give a DNA sample to the State. In Washington individuals convicted of certain gross misdemeanors (e.g. Harassment, Stalking, etc..) must also give a DNA sample. On June 3, the U.S. Supreme Court in ruled that when officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold a suspect for a serious offense and bring him to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. As Justice Scalia pointed out in a scathing dissent, anyone convicted of a felony must already give DNA, so the ruling really only affects those arrested but not convicted (e.g. the innocent). DNA evidence involves expert witnesses which is why a Washington Rape case I had was impacted by Hurricane Katrina (Reliagene lab is in New Orleans). During a 2012 trial a significant point in my cross-examination of police officers was their failure to collect DNA in a case. The State will often tell jurors, “this isn’t CSI” but technology continues to advance and you should consider hiring a lawyer like W. Todd Pascoe who’s experienced handling DNA cases. A list of most serious offenses in Washington can be found at RCW 9.94A.030 and includes every Class A felony and violent class B felonies such as Assault in the Second Degree and Robbery in the Second Degree. For more information on the Supreme Court’s upholding of a Rape conviction where the defendant received life imprisonment without parole because the State collected his DNA see the following web articles (note: the last is the actual Supreme Court opinion)
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2013/06/dna_collection_in_maryland_v_king_the_supreme_court_fails_on_the_fourth.html
http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-207_d18e.pdf