Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gerhard Becker Preliminary Hearing, Part VII

 Gerhard Becker, left, at a previous court hearing
 with his first counsel, Chad Lewin

This is the last part of a seven part series of the Gerhard Becker Preliminary Hearing. Sprocket

Continued from Prelim Part VI.....

November 28th, 2012
10:00 AM
After attending a hearing in the Michael Gargiulo case, I head down to the 3rd floor to Dept. 42, Judge Tynan's courtroom. When I enter, the courtroom is full. There are over 25 people, mostly men, sitting in the gallery.  Judge Tynan handles alternative sentencing programs, also known as "drug court" and the people in the gallery are just some of the cases he handles on a daily basis.

10:14 AM
Judge Tynan comes out from his chambers. He's wearing a dark blue shirt, burgundy tie with a stud pin. He puts on his robe, takes the bench then calls the first case.  It's a woman. Judge Tynan asks her how she's doing. She replies, "I'm okay, I think."  Judge Tynan tells her, "I don't think so. You're not taking your meds." Judge Tynan asks her counsel if he has any problem with speaking to his client in the vestibule. Both reply, "No, your honor." Judge Tynan takes the defendant back to his chambers to speak to her. After the private conversation is over, Judge Tynan retakes the bench and states for the record, "I had a talk with Ms. (the defendant) in full view of my bailiff and nothing untoward happened. ... She's not taking her meds. ... Have her back in one week."

I start to have a coughing fit and quickly exit the courtroom. I don't want to get a look from the judge that I'm disturbing the court proceedings. While I try to gain control of my lungs, I make a note of the people in the hallway. It's a sea of uniformed officers, under cover-looking officers and detectives mixed in with the general public. This is quite different that what I usually see on the 9th floor.  At the other end of the hallway, I notice Becker's defense attorney, Donald Re.  Feeling better, I head back inside Dept. 42.

10: 40 AM
A new defendant is before Judge Tynan and he is addressing him. "Do you play the violin? ... Your buddy plays the violin.  ... You're doing pretty good Mr. G____, But I think you're one of the guys playin' around. ... [I'm going to] ... keep you on second track and see you back in January."  The next defendant is up and Judge Tynan is told that he's doing great.  When the defendant is ordered back, about half the gallery gives him applause.

Another defendant who needs a Spanish interpreter.  His defense attorney tells Judge Tynan that his client is also doing well.  He will continue onto a third phase of recovery.  He's ordered back January 9th, and again there is applause in the gallery.

The next defendant is a woman.  I saw her crying earlier in the gallery.  Judge Tynan is told she suffered the loss of her husband four months ago. It's been 14 years since she last used cocaine. The death of her husband drove her back. She lives with her son and doesn't have a job. Judge Tynan rules she's allowed back into the program.  The defendant is very emotional and upset about her arrest.  I believe Judge Tynan addresses her, speaking encouragingly. "You see all these people in court. They were in the same situation you are. ... Just work the program and you'll do fine."

There are many defendants whose cases are to be heard.  Each and every time, Judge Tynan gives compassionate advice for these individuals who are struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. "If you're willing to work with us, we're willing to work with you," Judge Tynan tells one defendant. He adds a bit of advice, "They're going to test you when you get there, so don't use."

A reporter from the Associated Press enters the courtroom.

The next defendant was on the US Cole, and saw his buddies get killed. It messed him up. The defendant is originally from Chicago. When he first came out to California, he worked in a medical marijuana dispensary. I believe Judge Tynan tells him he shouldn't be "proud" of that. Judge Tynan asks the defendant's rank when he went in the Navy. "E4," he replies. Judge Tynan responds, "Well, I was only an E3."

11:00 AM
DDA Frances Young enters. She's wearing a deep purple jacket with her long black skirt.  The last defendant is being released from the Impact program.  I believe he's ordered back on December 4th for a preliminary hearing. Judge Tynan's court reporter lets out a loud sneeze.  Public Defender Mark DeWitt jokingly comments, "That's a sneeze for the records." Judge Tynan joins in on the humor, "For the Guinness Records" he adds. DDA Carney arrives. Becker, who was in the courtroom for a short time earlier, returns.

I have a quote in my notes here, that I remember Judge Tynan addressing a defendant, but I'm not sure if it's regarding a new defendant who just entered or an earlier case. "I want you to write one thousand words about what you did, why you did it and how you're not going to do it again.  My bailiff will give you some stamped papers ... with some questions on it."  This is one of the ways Judge Tynan tries to get the defendants before him to look be introspective about their own behavior.

11:17 AM
I think we're about to go on the record with Becker. There's a discussion in the well between the court reporter and counsel.  I believe the court reporter asks, "What's your favorite movie and why."  There is another question that I believe she asks, "Where do you get your news and if the Internet, which sites."  The AP reporter is asking Carney some questions.  DDA Francis Young replies her movie is Top Gun, and Donald Re responds, The Godfather.  Young tells the group she was a "quasi navy brat."

11:27 AM
Detective Greg Stearns is called to the stand.  He brings a very large three ring binder with him.  Stearns gives his background. He was the lead investigating officer for this case.  He responded to the location on Viewsite Drive. He conducted a search of the residence and found a business card that included an email address belonging to the defendant. Detective Stearns found a set of architectural plans on top of a fire place (in one of the lower levels).

People's exhibit #35, the structure's architectural plans. Stearns also found the multicolored, code check book for California.

SC: Is that the same booklet identified as exhibit 51, that I showed to Mr. Bescos?
GS: Yes, it is.
SC: Did you also find a contract with Tressor Entertainment, US, LLC?
GS: Yes.
SC: Where was that found?

Detective Stearns checks his report to refresh his memory.

GS: I believe it was in the office area.
SC: Exhibit #36, ... a contract. ... Appears to be a photo of the first page of the contract?
GS: Yes.
SC: Did you also seize a computer at some point?
GS: Not from the house.

A computer was seized from Mr. Becker at some point after the interview with the arson investigator, and also a (cell) phone. Detective Stearns believes something else was seized from a residence where the defendant was staying with a friend. Both items were submitted to Detective Hunter for review.

SC: The location agreement, had that contract been initialed on each page and signed?
GS: Yes.

The contract was between Tressor Entertainment and Gerhard Becker.

SC: Did the contract state ... that there was a move-in date of February 24th, 2011?
GS: Yes.
SC:And the date of the fire was February 16th?

The contract was for filming Germany's Next Top Model.  Gerhard Becker was to be paid $100,000.00 for filming at the Viewsite residence.  Detective Stearns acquired several search warrants to obtain copies of Becker's emails.

People's exhibit #37, a copy of the authentication document for records received from Microsoft. The search was for the email address just presented.

SC: Did you receive...
DRe: Objection! There is no foundation that these were received by ... written to Mr. Becker.

I miss the ruling.  Detective Stearns testifies that he verified the exchange of emails from Becker's email account and a couple of different employees of Colorado Hearth & Home, regarding the ordering of several fire pits.  The text of the few emails are read in court.

From Colorado Hearth & Home to the defendant:
Okay, are you aware that the manufacturers specifications ... they are only for outdoors. ... want to be sure before you buy these.
This was in regards to burner troughs described in prior emails. Mr. Re object that there is no foundation. I believe the ruling is it's admitted for the purposes of the preliminary hearing only. There are questions about whether or not Becker informed Tressor Entertainment, that they were aware of the modifications to the house (the missing guard rail and the missing fire sprinklers).  Mr. Re objects but DDA Carney states the information is relevant to Becker's state of mind.  Carney reads from an email Becker sent Tressor Entertainment about the building code violations and wanted to ensure Tressor would hold Becker harmless if anyone gets hurt. Judge Tynan over rules the objection.

A new set of emails are reviewed between Becker and his realtor. Re objects because hey are well after the incident. DDA Carney states these also go to Becker's state of mind. The email is after the fire. It's after he was told to install outdoor sprinklers. Becker rips them out. After the fire, he puts them back in for code check then, complaining to the realtor that he doesn't like how they look, he wants to take them out again.  The objection is over ruled.

The listing agent for Becker's house is Marci Hartley.  DDA Carney goes over Becker's communication questions to Ms. Hartley about removing the sprinklers before the sale.  The three options Becker gives in the email are presented.  1. De-install again after the final. 2. Leave and paint. 3. Cover with drywall so that heads are the only thing seen.

People's exhibit #39, it's a text of the email just discussed without the header and raw data information.  People's exhibit #40, another email from the defendant to a Mr. Jeff McQueen. It's a chain of emails.  The emails discuss a Gel Fireplace.  A Gel fireplace is a ventless fireplace that uses ethanol as fuel. People's exhibit #53, an email exchange between Becker and a Walter Hanes (sp?).

In the email, Becker wants to order this fireplace. "I want this installed after the inspection so that we don't have any further delay by the inspector."

A text message is introduced for the purpose of the preliminary hearing only.  That Detective Hunter was called, sworn and testified that he obtained this text message that Detecitve Stearns submitted to him. Re will only stipulate that the detective (Hunter?) pulled this off Becker's cell phone.

Carney asks Stearns if he is familiar with text messaging. The text message was sent 1/31/2011, a couple of weeks before the fire.
Hi Jose, Did you (use/take) already all the tiles or can I have four back? I forgot to make one fireplace.
 Sent to a phone number belonging to Jose Briseno. Briseno was a general contractor who worked for the defendant on site. A photo of the bathroom fireplace is up on the screen.

SC: Did you talk to Mr. Briseno about what tiles?
GS: Yes. ... They were 12" x 12" tiles.
SC: They were ones affixed to the back of the fireplace?
GS: Yes.

The lunch break is called. Judge Tynan orders the parties back by 1:45 PM.

1:30 PM
I forgot to mention that a reporter named Andrew from the LA Times was here for part of the morning.  Andrew is back for the afternoon session. Andrew's colleague, Andrew Blankstein sent him over to cover the prelim. There's some laughter and conversation between the court and the parties in the well.

1:48 PM
The crime reporter from the AP arrives.  Detective Stearns retakes the stand.

People's exhibit #38, a text message recovered from Becker's phone.

SC: You interviewed Mr. Briseno?
GS: Yes.
SC: Was he one of the contractors?
GS: Yes.
SC: Did you ask Mr. Briseno if he received a text message?
GS: Yes, I did.
SC: Did you ask him when he received it? ... text message?
GS: Yes. ... Two weeks before. ... There was tile that was excess. He delivered it back to Mr. Becker.
SC: Did you have a conversation with Mr. Bescos regarding gel fireplaces?
GS:: Actually, that conversation was before that.
SC: When was that?
GS: Three to four months ago.
SC: Did you ask Mr. Bescos whether a gel fireplace could be installed in California?
GS: He said that it's not allowed because it's not a listed appliance.

People's exhibit 36A, the full contract between Tressor Ent. and Gerhard Becker. Stearns verifies that it's an accurate copy of the contract that was retrieved from Mr. Becker's house.

SC: Did you speak with Greg Steck of Hearth Products Construction Company?
GS: Yes.
SC: Did you meet with him?
GS: Yes.
SC: In Ohio?
GS: Yes.
SC: Was that at the company?
GS: Yes, at the company.

People's exhibit #54, a photo of a packaged product from Hearth Products.

SC: Did you discuss with Mr. Steck how a product is shipped?
GS: [Yes.] ... and he produced one and I took a photo.

Stearns discusses the photo of the packaged product. Stearns explains that the photo shows the standard way their product is shipped from their company. People's exhibit 55A and 55B. They're photos of the living room area of the house.  The defense will stipulate that the photos were found by Detective Hunter on (Becker's) iPhone for the purpose of the prelim only. A date of 1/21/2011 is mentioned but I'm not sure what it references.  The photos depict the fire trough enclosure and where the trough was cut out.  The meta data has a date of 9/23/2010.  The enclosure for the trough is built but the trough is not there.  Another photo is of a bathroom.   Counsel stipulate that Detective Hunter extracted the photo from the iMac Computer.  The photo is of a bathroom fireplace near a tub that's located on the 2nd floor.  The photo depicts that there is no tile.  The photo is dated 10 days before the text message to the contractor.

Another email is discussed that was retrieved via the search warrants for Becker's email account. There are photos attached to the email.   These are People's exhibits 53 and 52.  One photo is of a new fireplace.  The photos were sent to Mr. Becker.

SC: In your conversations with Greg Steck, did you ask if whether or not the company had ever been sued over product liability?
DRe: Objection!

I believe DDA Carney argues that counsel brought up this issue in cross. Judge Tynan will allow for limited (effect?) on credibility.

GS: He said they had not.
SC: Did he have any (diagrams?) with gas appliances similarly installed in this case?
GS: Yes, he did.

Carney presents a digital exhibit in three dimensions.  It's a computer aided diagram.  Mr. Re objects. He's not seen it.  Carney explains he only brought it in for the court, because the court had previously inquired about a diagram.

SC: Did you interview the person who worked at the Viewsite house for (electrical?)?
GS: Yes.
SC: Who was that?
GS: Amir Schinter (sp?)
DRe: Objection! It's irrelevant what Mr. Schinter thinks.
JT: (Objection over ruled?)

My next set of notes appear to be argument by DDA Carney. I don't believe they are testimony.

Mr. Schinter was the electrical contractor. 1. He told detectives he had a (difficult?) relationship with Becker.  Becker wanted to do things in violation of the Building Code so Mr. Schinter quit.  2. At one point, he observed what would be a fireplace enclosure and Becker told him "No."  3. This supports Besco's statement he asked about Becker about a fireplace and Becker said no.

Mr. Re responds, "I hate to say (it's) ... really getting far afield. .... I think it's too far afield."

My notes are not clear who is speaking, if it's DDA Carney or Detective Stearns explaining.

Mr. Schinter first met Becker in 2010. (He was referred?) based on a neighbor and engaged in May 2010 to work on the project.  Becker was asking Schinter about the speed of the project. The first floor wiring. The defendant wanted some things taken out and his own wiring put in.   Bescos testified the original wiring was code.  The monster wire that Becker wanted installed, although bigger, didn't meet code.  Becker took out the original wiring Mr. Schinter did. When Schinter returned to the work site and saw the electrical work had been changed, it was troubling. He stopped working for Becker.  Schinter told Detective Stearns about a conversation he had with Becker about the fireplace and the structure used as a fireplace and Becker denied it.  The article in the paper about the fire is what led the electrical contractor (to contact LE?).

Direct is finished and cross examination begins.

DRe: Mr. Schinter, did he tell you he quit?
GS: Yes.
DRe: When did he (start?)?
GS: He started in May 2010. ... would have to look at (his) statement to verify. I don't have independent memory of when he quit.

Detective Stearns looks through his paperwork.

GS: He indicated he left the job in November 2010.
DRe: Did you go into depth in ...
GS: He was a licensed electrical contractor. ... He found people that were doing work, electrical work [on the property?], as I understand it and he wasn't going to be responsible for it.
DRe: He stopped doing work at the house and called that quitting?
GS: Yes.

People's exhibit 55A, a photo of inside the house.  It's a long range photo of a cut-out on the upper floor.  People's exhibit 55B shows a cut out in the middle. The date of the photos is pinned to 9/23/10.  The photo shows the flat portion of the fireplace area.  A small portion, a middle of the space where the metal trough would go.

DRe: In September, that cut out area was already there?
GS: Yes.

There is some more back and forth about this photo and what the detective could testify to regarding what the photo shows.

DRe: The photo was taken five to six weeks before the final?
GS: A couple of months.

Detective Stearns states that is appears something that, when they executed the search warrant there was a space left that is similar to the space in the photo.

DRe: Who was Mr. Brisneo ?
GS: Contractor on the project.

He worked on some closets.

DRe: And he told you at some time, he saw what he thought was a fireplace on the upper floor? ... When was that?

Detective Stearns looks to that individuals' statement.

2:25 PM
Judge Tynan calls the afternoon break.  It passes quickly and we're back on the record.  The parties stipulate that Mr. Brisneo said he had worked on some closets from sometime between early to late September 2010.  Another photo is shown to Detective Stearns. He believes it is the bottom floor. There are tiles in the alcove of the fireplace near the tub. Mr. Brisneo said they were similar to tiles he had delivered to Mr. Becker.  There are questions about the construction of the fireplace and how it had to be constructed.

DRe: You're not saying that because the tile was installed on that date, that the trough assembly was installed on that date?
GS: No.
DRe: Did you ever see a gel fireplace installed in this place, ever?
GS: No.
SC: Objection! Foundation!
JT: Well, Mr. Re did object earlier.

I think Mr. Re has a bit of surprise in his voice when he denies making an objection. There's a bit of laughter among counsel.

DRe: Are you aware of a gel fireplace ever being installed in this residence?
GS: No.

Mr. Re asks Detective Stearns what he knew Mr. Bescos said about "Wait until the final and then you can remove it? Stearns replies, "No."  There are questions about the emails to the real estate agent and that they might have been questions Becker had about what to do was best.

DRe: Do you know if the sprinkler system was removed?
GS: No, I do not.
DRe: [The contract with Tressor, people's #36A] Do you know the date that contract was written?
GS: The date of execution was 2/11/2011, six days before the fire.
DRe: Did you come across emails from Germany's Next Top Model?
GS: Yes.

Detective Stearns doesn't have an independent memory of the dates of the emails.  I believe Re asks Stearns if he recalls Mr. Bescos' testimony.  I believe Detective Stearns reviews the documents.

DRe: Does that refresh your memory about what you put in your affidavit?  ... The fireplace had been covered over?
GS: That was my [understanding].

Cross is finished and there's no redirect.  DDA Carney tells the court they do have some stipulations that they all agree to.  DDA Young tells the court about testimony they would have heard from the medical examiner. Dr. Ortiz performed the autopsy on 2/19 at 11:30, LA Co Coroner case number 2011-01252, (I don't think I have that number correct. Sprocket.)  Dr. Ortiz's conclusion, he would opine that the cause of death was in layman's terms, the result of trapped debris of a roof, that prevented normal ambulatory ... constriction of lungs ... presented by the presence of petechiae.

Re states this is for the purpose of the prelim only. The court takes the stipulation. Re also has stipulations regarding what Mr. Bescos did or told Mr. Becker. I believe the first stipulation is that Mr. Bescos did not inform Mr. Becker that the insulation was an approved fire block. [Mr. Bescos] never checked the second and third levels. He never checked where the wall meets the attic. Mr. Bescos stated I don't care about insulation. I care about electrical and (framing?). Most (interestingly?) Mr. Bescos said, that fireplace could have been there in September.  Mr. Bescos used the example of pool alarms as to how to get around the codes.  Re adds Mr. Bescos' comment that residences are not (as important?). It's not a Macey's.

DDA Carney states they will stipulate for the purpose of the preliminary hearing only. DDA Carney offers to admit the exhibits by reference only. Re moves to object to all exhibits he's objected to previously. Re then mentions the defense exhibits.
 Defense Arguments
The defense goes first. Re states that Mr. Becker and (Fiana?) were sleeping in the home at the time the fire broke out. It shows a level of non-knowledge.  People v. Penny.

Re goes through a list of items. The warnings, the combustible fire stops, the wonder board. Re states that Fire Investigator Thost didn't seem to know that insulation couldn't be used as a fire stop. Re states that the people have talked about the reason for the fire was lack of venting, but he still doesn't see how that caused the fire to be drawn down.  Re goes over the various issues with Mr. Besco's testimony. The claim that Mr. Bescos said Mr. Becker told him there would be no fireplace.

The fire stops. No mention in his report about his discussion with Mr. Becker about fire insulation and fire stops.  Mr. Bescos mentions it 19 months after the fire. He first told the DA (when?) he was interviewed (about the?) fire stops.  Go to his computer notes, they don't mention fire blocks. His hand notes in September mention fire stops.  He admits that relates to the water heater and added later. I suggest to the court that he added that note after the fire.  The question is, did he inspect fire stops? "He came here and said he did inspect, yet, told the DA he didn't. ... He didn't check to see what type of insulation was okay. ... So he either lied to the DA or he lied her on the stand." It gives a glimpse into his motive. I suggest he removed from the records any notes about fire blocks.

We know that he is willing to blame Mr. Becker for this because he said he inspected fire blocks. I said before, in (the?) initial report he says shocked he didn't know there were any fireplaces.  The "covered over" issue in regards to fireplaces.  Re argues that Bescos had a self-interest for dereliction of duty for how he testified on the stand. We know this is a man who is wiling to alter his records because he added (the note about?) the water heater. I suggest he knew there would be a fireplace. I suspect that he didn't know that Mr. Becker took so many photos.  Re goes over the photos. Mr. Bescos says that he never saw it. He tells the DA that could have been there in September .... possibly talked about a fireplace in September. In here (on the stand), he tells us that he "means it was covered up at that time."  He tells the DA that it was covered up. Then he comes in here again and says that he saw pebbles and tile, two years later is the first time (we hear about it). Why didn't he tell the fire inspector?

Re continues. "He said oh, they're not for a fireplace. Those are for display." Re argues, "That's ridiculous ... that,  ... no one would display anything 18" off the ground.  Re continues to argue to show what he believe the photos show. That the gas line was there, and Bescos identified it as a gas line.  Re proposes that Mr. Bescos was lying.  Re then presents another case that was ruled entrapment by estoppel, to support his argument that this case is the same issue. Re continues to argue for his client but I stop to rest my note taking. Re brings up the Building Code, and the fact that the city can't be sued ... it's because of civil suits. It has nothing to do with Mr. Becker and his house that they signed off on.

3:25 PM
There is a short break. I have in my notes some information about Judge Tynan's court. If I'm remembering correctly, those of us in the jury box ask the court or his staff a few questions.

Judge Tynan used to preside over Dept. 113 before moved to Dept. 42.  The chair that is between the bailiff's desk and the door to the jail holding area is the chair that Richard Ramirez sat in during his 14 month trial. The dolls and stuffed animals that are piled up in the witness box are gifts people dropped off. They help to relax people; make them feel better.

I believe I had mentioned previously that I had noticed high up on a wall ledge over the clerk's desk, an old toy that I couldn't identify. It's finally identified. It's an Inspector Gadget doll. He was originally in Judge Tynan's old courtroom. Someone mailed that to Judge Tynan as a Christmas gift.  Judge Tynan tells the room, "I have a rather fun bunch of staff I work with." Judge Tynan mentions the Ramirez case he presided over and that he sentenced Ramirez in 1989.  The DDA who prosecuted the case, Phil Halpin is also mentioned. DDA Carney mentions that his father was a deputy DA. "When I was a boy I remember him talking about Phil Halpin. ... Some of Dad's office mates talked about him."  There's more discussion about the case.  The name of the saloon, Little Joe's, that everyone went to after court ended for the day.

Prosecution Arguments
DDA Carney uses a PowerPoint program to help present his arguments. [Lets] "Bring this case back to what it's all about. Mr. Bescos is not on trial. .. What let to the fire is this defendant's construction and this ludicrous fireplace made of wood. ... That is sufficient because no reasonable person would build a fireplace out of wood." (A fire) would eventually have happened. "My three year old knows the difference between indoor and outdoor yet he put them in there anyway. ... And that's what caused the fire. .. What caused the fire was the defendant's arrogance, because he thought he knew better. ... Because he was in charge in Europe. ... It was made out of combustible materials.  ... The burner was put in wood.  ... Even if there was approved fire block it wouldn't eliminate the defendant for his liability."

Because of the ceiling collapse, because of the (defendant's?) conduct, the fire breaks is just an aside. When he built, put in these fireplaces, there were no fire breaks. The expert, he described what he saw as free flow of fire. "We know who built that wall; the defendant did. He said so in his interview with fire inspectors," Carney states. "We know that he was warned by the vendor who supplied the device."

He would break out his code book. He held himself out to be an expert. He would argue the code. Even after a firefighter dies in his house, he tells the contractor ... that's rebuilding his house ... sends an email that he want to put in a gel fireplace, (which is) not an approved appliance, after the final inspection.  "Not only was he the one building a fireplace that killed Glenn Allen, but he was ready to do it again," Carney argues.

Carney goes over the 911 call. He mentions the burned out wooden supports in the false ceiling that collapsed. Carney mentions the testimony of Captain Watters, and the hole venting. We can see in that photo, flames venting out of the attic space. "There was nothing that retarded the flow of that fire into the ceiling," says Carney.  "The aftermath. Glenn Allen was covered in very heavy construction materials. ... He was compressed into a clam shell (position). He couldn't breathe and he dies. ... any reasonable person would have known because of the warnings on the product."

Glenn Allen died because the defendant used an outdoor fireplace inside. The interior of the fireplace was made of combustible materials, two-by-four framing next to the burners. There was no venting 18" under the trough. The fire spread rapidly due to the failure to install any fire stops.

Carney then moves onto Becker's interview. He admits to installing the fire appliance and building the enclosure. Carney quotes the defendant in the interview. "I designed it. I built it. ... I did the drywall work around the fireplace because I wanted it done right. ... I ordered the fireplace myself."

The fire burned the available combustibles. The left control box, the fire burned around the box itself. DDA Carney presents a photo. When the defendant ordered the fireplace, the email from the distributor said, "You are aware that the manufacturer's specifications...."  The defendant replied, "I'm aware, I just don't see the difference. It is a pit with a pipe. I am aware that I have to cover the area with fire resistant (materials)."  Warning instructions about the fire pit were included with the appliance.  Carney tells the court, "Becker followed none of them. ... Mr. Becker engaged with a pattern of deception in this case. ... Mr. Becker had contempt for Building and Safety. ... In August 2010, Mr. Becker told Building and Safety he did not plan to install any fireplace in the home."  The original plans had one.

Carney then moves onto Dale Feb's testimony.  "Because as Dale Feb said, because the building code says that even though the inspector approved (construction?) it doesn't relieve the builder of the responsibility."  You don't build a fireplace out of wood. The defendant absolutely knew he was violating safety standards.  Carney gives an example of police not catching criminals, bank robbers.  Carney adds, "Building and Safety is not to ensure everything complies with the code, it's to try to ensure that it does." Dale Feb said, "What we rely on is like anything else in our society is the good faith that the builder (would build to standards)."

Carney mentions again that Becker told Bescos there would be no fireplace. He mentions the plan of deception emails Becker wrote that say, "after inspection." He tells the electrician to install wiring that's not to code. Carney says, "The arrogance of listing Building & Safety violations in a contract is amazing to me."  Carney reads from the contract. "The Building and Safety violations in the house, ... So for Mr. Re to say that Mr. Becker relied on Building & Safety is entirely ludicrous."

Mr. Becker didn't mention in the contract the fireplaces were out of code. The carbon monoxide went back into the lower bedroom. The same bedroom that if not for the upstairs fire would have occurred in where those models would have lived.  Carney mentions another email Becker sent after a firefighter died in his house. Carney argues that for the defense to say that Mr. Becker relied on Brad Bescos, totally disregards the emails to the real estate agent, about removing fire suppressant sprinklers on the lower floors.

Carney accuses Becker of gross negligence.  He cites speed and cost.  The appropriate fireplace (that was eventually installed) cost at least $30,000.00.  Carney argues the Becker's building was total gross negligence.  "Any reasonable person, having seen all the red flags, with his background, knowledge, ... would certainly have known."  Carney states the fireplace need not be the sole cause of Glenn Allen's death. If (independent?) cause brings death ... still causation if (independent?) cause foreseeable, or the type of injury caused was death.

Defense counter argument
Main issue is the fireplace downstairs. The question of the insulation, fire breaks, again goes back to Mr. Bescos. Mr. Re addresses the warnings on the products.  "Those warnings are put on products by the company to avoid product liability." There's no evidence Mr. Becker put in a gel fireplace. "There is only a crime here if the acts were done in a particular way."  Re argues the intention of the code regulations, ... and what it means.  "The people are going into his mental stand and what his [Becker] mental state is. ... I f the court should find construction improper, is the defendant responsible in the face of a government authority that passes it?  And if the court says it can't I don't know where that leaves it."  Re mentions the mental state again.

Judge Tynan
The arguments are over and the court gives it's ruling. "Mr. Bescos is a problematic witness for the prosecution."  Mr. Re asks the court, "Do you want Mr. Becker to stand?" Judge Tynan replies, "I don't see why. We're all sitting here."

"I want to compliment all the attorneys. It's been a genuine pleasure to be here." Judge Tynan is concerned by the structure, the box the fire pit was put into, is on 18" high and the flame goes 16" high and the drywall above it." I'm convinced that Mr. Becker, as charming a fellow as he is, was deceptive in the building construction. ... I think he acted recklessly."  Judge Tynan is terribly sorry that Mr. Allen died. Judge Tynan states that he thinks Mr. Becker should be (committed over?) for trial and there is sufficient evidence that Mr. Becker is guilty.

The 2 million bond is discussed. Judge Tynan states that the date of arraignment will be December 16th in Dept. 116. Mr. Becker is still out on bail and his bail will stand. The court orders a pre-plea report.

The prosecution needs a moment to check with their supervisor to determine if they are going to file/claim 170.6 against having the case transferred to Dept. 116. It's just a matter of seeing if Bill Hodgeman is within arm's reach.  While this issue gets resolved (the case does get transferred to Dept. 116), Judge Tynan and his court reporter share with the room how she came to be assigned to Judge Tynan.

And that's it for the preliminary hearing.

Gerhard Becker Quick Links


Anonymous said...

Hi Sprocket,
Thanks so much for sticking with this case. I find it so fascinating and totally different from most of the others. It was worth the wait to read this today. I am so spoiled by your coverage. NO ONE covers trials as well as you do.
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