Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Moncia Sementilli & Robert Louis Baker, Pretrial Hearing 14

Fabio Sementilli
Source: HairTalk.com

November 13, 2019
I almost didn't make it to the hearing on time. I was held up at the 9th floor Los Angeles County Sheriff's security station. I'll talk about the ever changing security policy for the 9th Floor in a new post next week.

I ran into Deputy DA Beth Silverman on the 9th floor elevator bay She was in front of me at the scanner. She appeared quite rushed and not her usually cheerful self.

Inside Dept 101 8:36 AM
When I enter Judge Coen's court he is already on the bench. There is a pretty prosecutor at the people's table I don't know. Two of the defense attorneys, Michael Simmrin and Hans J. Allhoff are chatting with the court off the record. Deputy DA Beth Silverman is nowhere in sight.

I'm not certain, but I believe it is the court who asks where Ms. Silverman is. There is some speculation chatter that maybe Deputy DA Melissa Opper will be here and not Silverman. Then I believe one of Judge Coen's clerks informs him that Deputy DA Silverman went to Department 104 first.

Checking the DA's daily court calendar, there is a hearing in Dept. 104 where Deputy DA Tannaz Mokayef  of the Major Crimes Unit is prosecuting defendant Patrick Watkins, charged with capitol murder and two dozen attempted murders. It's a good bet Deputy DA Beth Silverman is co-counsel on that case.

When the parties in the well of the court hear that Deputy DA Silverman went to her hearing in Dept. 104 before her hearing before this case, Judge Coen has a look on his face and I hear this multi-voiced "oooooooooooooooh" coming from the well of the court. I'm not sure if Judge Coen's cryptic response was related to the news or not.

Defense counsel and the court chat off the record about potential trial month dates in 2020. Judge Coen states he has two death penalty cases and that ".... Beth says this case will take eight weeks." I believe it's Mr. Simmrin who states he can't believe the trial will take that long.

Judge Coen's clerk indicates the court does have some time in January 2020, but not the full 8 weeks. One of the defense attorneys asks if Judge Coen has anything in April. The court responds to the April request, "That's also a death case." There's also a trial in mid May that's a death penalty case. Judge Coen tells the parties, "It looks like I have June and July open ... that's how it looks now."  Mr. Simmirin tells the court, "You're a popular judge." Then there is a change in what I'm understanding about April. Now I hear that as April stands now, there's no more that six weeks available. [I'm taking that to mean April and then two weeks in May, since a death case starts mid May.]

Sprocket Note: Understand that cases are fluid and things can change at the last minute. A defendant can take a plea or a case with multiple defendants can successfully argue to sever their cases. These are the things that make judges court calendars change. Attorney's sometimes take their chances when juggling their own case load to get a favorable trial start date.

We are waiting for Deputy DA Silverman. The pretty prosecutor at the table approaches me and asks if I am "... on the Raymond case." I tell her, "No, I'm sorry. I'm not."  The court is waiting for the defendants in the other prosecutor's case and the sheriff's have no news on when they will arrive. The last news was the defendants were ten minutes out.

Judge Coen addresses the pretty prosecutor. "The job as Assistant Head Deputy is really hard." He then tells her that he read that a new "DA" has come into the race. District Attorney Jackie Lacey is running for reelection in 2020 and there are a few challengers.

I believe Judge Coen is talking about former defense attorney Rachel Rossi, who is joining former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and two Los Angeles County Deputy DA's, Richard Ceballos and Joseph Iniguez in their bid to take over the coveted LA County DA spot. The prosecutor is cautious since press are in the room. She asks the court, "Your honor, may I approach?" He grants the request and she goes to the bench to talk to the court privately.

8:48 AM
Deputy DA Beth Silverman arrives, greeting Judge Coen's staff and opposing counsel. There is a bit of small talk between counsel about hard drives and when they will be ready.

Very quickly, Sementilli is brought into court. She doesn't look to cheery today. She takes her seat and Mr. Allhoff leans in to whisper to her.

Daniel Nardoni, one of Michael Gargiulo's defense attorneys, enters Dept. 101 and takes a seat in the gallery.

The court asks off the record about a return date for the Baker/Sementilli case. A date of January 9, 2020 is proposed. Deputy DA Silverman quickly agrees. The deputies bring Baker out. He sits in his usual spot on the end. 
8:51 AM
The court goes on the record for the next pretrial setting. Mr. Simmirin speaks for the record to set the case for January 9 and the case calendar for zero of 90 with the "reasonable people's continuance." Counsel agrees.

Judge Coen then asks each defendant if they agree to put their case over until January 9th. Both defendants respond yes. And that's it. Over in less than two minutes max. It looks like as Sementilli is getting out of her seat to return to the custody area, she quickly looks back to the gallery. After Sementilli, Baker is taken back into custody.

As I leave Dept. 101, I stop to ask Mr. Nardoni if he and co-counsel Dale Rubin will be representing Gargiulo through his appeal. Mr. Nardoni says they will not.

Next court date is January 9, 2020.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Christian-Newsom Torture Murders Status Update, Lemaricus Davidson New Trial Bid

We have another guest post from T&T contributor David in Tennessee!

Judge Rejects New Trial for Lemaricus Davidson in Christian-Newsom Torture-Murder Case

On Friday, November 8, 2019, Judge Walter Kurtz turned down a bid for a new trial by Lemaricus Davidson in the January 2007 murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

Davidson has been considered all along as the ringleader and prime mover of the crimes.

"But Kurtz ruled Friday that killer George Thomas' claim that Davidson had no role in Newsom's death was suspect and not enough to merit either a new trial or a new sentencing hearing."

Judge Kurtz decided "the newly presented facts related to Mr. Davidson's role in the death of Christopher Newsom would not have affected the guilty verdicts in this case nor the imposition of the death penalty."

Davidson's attorneys contended Thomas' testimony at the August trial made Boyd responsible for Newsom's murder with Davidson not involved.

Judge Kurtz ruled Davidson was a central figure in the crimes with "... an active and prominent role in the commission of the crimes for which he was convicted."

In other words, the Judge considered the totality of the evidence.

Thomas had taken a secret deal to testify against Boyd. For doing so his sentence would be reduced from Life Without Parole to 50 years. He put the blame for the rape-murder of Newsom on Eric Boyd.

Kurtz didn't believe a lot of what Thomas said. Why? "The court has difficulty in crediting all of Mr. Thomas's testimony given the court's knowledge of his role in these crimes," Kurtz wrote.

A major point is that even in his putting blame on Boyd, Thomas gave still more proof of Davidson being the ringleader of the crimes.

"The court accredits Mr. Thomas's testimony that Mr. Davidson ordered the killing of Mr. Newsom, and that Boyd was the person who killed Mr. Newsom and (set his body afire)."

The full details of the crime are told in earlier articles at Trials and Tribulations.

In his 2009 trial, Davidson claimed that Christian and Newsom weren't kidnapping victims but had come to his house to buy drugs. Davidson claimed the killings happened while he was out selling drugs.

All five suspects claimed to have seen and heard nothing, either stoned, asleep, frightened, etc.

When Davidson and attorneys learned of Thomas's deal, they tried to use it to their advantage. This, despite Thomas's testimony completely refuting Davidson's assertion the couple were willing visitors, not kidnap victims.

"Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald argued Thomas's testimony would have 'destroyed' Davidson's defense strategy in his 2009 trial and shouldn't be used now as a basis to attack his convictions and death sentence."

The Judge ruled Thomas's testimony did nothing to absolve Davidson's guilt. Thomas's testimony has Davidson ordering Boyd to kill Newsom and told Thomas to go with him.

Taking Thomas at face value, Boyd and Thomas left the house with Newsom under orders from Davidson.

My own view is that Davidson, Boyd, and Thomas -all three- took Christopher Newsom out to be killed. This was after Newsom had undergone horrendous torture.

Judge Kurtz based his ruling on the "totality" of the evidence. Davidson's attorneys will undoubtedly appeal the ruling.

Incidentally, when Davidson was captured, he was wearing Chris Newsom's shoes. Newsom's cap's and partially burned drivers license were found in the house in which Davidson was hiding.

Eric Boyd provided the vehicle used in the kidnapping.

Here is a video report by Knoxville's ABC affiliate.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Stephanie Lazarus Case - HLN ORIGINALS, New Episode 11/3/19

Sherri Rasmussen & John Ruetten, 11/23/1985

New Show on Sherri Rasmussen Murder
New show airing on HLN Originals, November 3, 2019 at 8pm ET. As part of HLN's series DEAD WIVES CLUB, a new episode will air this Sunday on the murder of newlywed Sherri Rasmussen, murdered by Stephanie Lazarus, a trial I covered from gavel to gavel.

Journalist Matthew McGough, author of TheLazarusfiles.com, former news anchor, writer and producer Pat LaLama and I were interviewed for the episode.

Complete T&T Lazarus trial coverage.

Stephanie Lazarus, Arrested June 2009