MENDOCINO COUNTY has one "media" — this one. No, I’m not bragging; that’s the way it is here and one "media" is a simple statement of fact. We have a more or less benign DA, a laughable bunch of judges with the possible exceptions of Mayfield, David Nelson and LaCasse, all of whom are relatively new, and the cops, at this time and eternally subject to change on short notice, are doing what they’re supposed to do as law enforcement professionals. They even arrest rich people, although rich people, as in the rest of the country, seldom do any time. No sir, Mendocino County’s system breaks down completely in its absence of a functioning media, and if media is dysfunctional or non-existent, lots of people are going to be severely harmed because the system is allowed to operate in the dark. The lights have been out in Mendocino County for at least a hundred years, and they’ve pretty much stayed off all the way back to when the Indians got it.
TAI ABREU OF FORT BRAGG got severely harmed out of all proportion to what he did, and there’s no justice if punishment is out of proportion to the known facts of any given crime. As most of you reading this know, punishment has never been more out of sync with crime than now, with most of America a bunch of whining fatsos hiding behind the cops and the courts.
MR. ABREU got life in state prison without the possibility of parole because he didn’t murder Donald Perez, a gay man from Los Angeles. What Mr. Abreu did do is this: He was co-participant in the robbery of Mr. Perez that ended with Mr. Perez, his throat cut, duct-taped to a tree a mile from the Fort Bragg Police station. Mr. Perez’s remains were taped to the tree for almost a month, exactly 14 feet from the pavement as literally hundreds of people walked past, drove past, hiked past, jogged past, paddled past up the Noyo River — all of them and their dogs, and there this man remained in his upright silver sarcophagus in the late summer sun between the Noyo and the old A&W log road. He might still be there if one of Mr. Abreu’s pot pals hadn’t gone to the cops and, exempting himself from perp status, told the cops his friends had lured this guy to Fort Bragg to rob him but had robbed him and killed him and laughed about it one day when they were all hot-boxing pot in an abandoned car in the non-perp’s Fort Bragg backyard.
MR. PEREZ, aka "Vic," may or may not have had his throat cut, as it turns out. His remains were inconclusive one way or the other, although there doesn’t appear to have been another way than the duct wrap and then a quick, deep knife to the throat, and not a happy way to go in a green gold bower beside a lazy early September stream. But Mr. Abreu, age 19 at the time of these terminally sad events, was sitting look-out man in Mr. Perez’s truck on the road above the death tree when Mr. Perez was slashed by one of Mr. Abreu’s two confederates. Or died of suffocation from the duct tape, or was hit over the head, or died of some other unnatural cause. Whatever happened happened without Mr. Abreu’s presence, not that he intervened or not that he even disapproved. We’re deep in moral murk here, and for sure Mr. Abreu was co-participant in an ultimate evil, but he paid for it out of all proportion to his participation while his co-conspirators got 15 years or so each and can look forward to seeing Fort Bragg again as men in early middle age.
BUT THE LAW says a murder committed during a robbery gets you life without parole whether or not you did the murder part of the crime, and by this unyielding standard a murder was indeed committed by all three boys, and Mr. Abreu was on board for the robbery part of the murder, as were his co-participants, one of whom, a very sick young man to have done it, walked up to the gray, writhing mummy Mr. Perez had become and cut Donald Perez’s throat deep, all the way to the top of his spine.
MR. ABREU, compounding the crime with himself as the second vic, made the fatal mistake of pleading not guilty to the murder of Donald Perez, reasoning that because he hadn’t killed anybody, hadn’t even been there when one of his partners in crime had cut Mr. Perez’s throat, he was innocent of the crime of murder. Worse (for him) Mr. Abreu demanded a jury of his peers. He was sure his attorney could explain to the jury that he was up on the road when whatever happened, happened. He wasn’t hadn’t killed the guy. He’d robbed him, but he didn’t kill him. Tai Abreu didn’t know murder was on the menu. Nobody knew until it happened, and when it happened Tai Abreu was not there. He was up on the road sitting in Donald Perez’s brand new truck.
MENDOCINO COUNTY gets all upset when 19-year-old defendants don’t do what the system wants them to do. In Mr. Abreu’s case the system wanted him to plead guilty to a jazzed-up manslaughter, and the taxpayers would be spared the expense of a lot of legal fol de rol, and the DA, in triage mode these days as them that don’t have hurl themselves at each other and sometimes at them that have, would be spared the time and trouble of a murder prosecution. Abreu would get 10 or 15 years for his part in Perez’s killing and he’d be out to resume life as it exists outside the cruelest prison system between the collapse of the Soviet Union and Abu Ghraib. But Abreu didn’t go along, and the Mendocino County justice system killed him deader than one of his two crime com-panions had killed Donald Perez.
LINDA THOMPSON of the Mendocino County Public Defender’s Office, was Mr. Abreu’s attorney. The kid might just as well have gotten on the jail bus without stopping at the Mendocino County Courthouse. For reasons of convenience to the local justice system, the case was heard in Ukiah, not Fort Bragg where the crime had occurred. All the while, of course, and this being the ongoing media vacuum that Mendocino County is and always has been, the local papers, owned by the same Colorado-based newspaper chain, were running the wild-looking mug shots of the three young perps over inflam-matory stories the reporter, Glenda Anderson, got directly from the DA and the cops. All three defendants were lynched by the newspapers, as Ms. Anderson, girl friend of Bari car bomber Mike Sweeney, as always selectively indignant, huffed and puffed about the gay bashing that was not, so far as is known, a factor in the murder of Mr. Perez because Mr. Abreu says he’s bi-sexual while co-perp Mr. Stuckey was Mr. Perez’s some time lover.
IF IT WAS A GAY BASHING, Abreu’s gay attorney did the bashing. Maybe Ms. Thompson, a cross-dressing lesbian, was pre-disposed to killing all three perps, given that the ‘vic’ was a gay male and she as a gay woman can be assumed to have hard a rough go of it in America, Land Of The Free Ranging Hetero. As it turned out, Ms. Thompson could only kill one of the gay bashers — her client.
THE CASE WAS HEARD IN UKIAH because, and knowing Mendocino County I’d say it’s highly likely if not slam dunk fact, most of the lawyers involved in it live in the Ukiah area and don’t want to drive back and forth to the Mendocino Coast to put some punk in state prison for the rest of his life as his friends, family and teachers look on. Do the dirty work in Ukiah where no one will see, no one except maybe Glenda Anderson, hack reporter. The system, as anyone on the receiving end knows, has its own convenience as its first priority.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY THOMPSON among every-thing else she did not do for her "client," did not dispute the casual venue change. Mr. Abreu’s family, consisting on one ailing grandmother, was not kept informed of where Mr. Abreu was in the injustice process. Once in a while someone would tell her something, but not often, and nobody ever answers the phone anywhere in the Courthouse except the DA’s office and poor old gran was on the wrong side of this one. Nobody who knew any of the three boys, all of whom were born and raised in Fort Bragg, and none of whom had a history of vio-lence or even a prior of any consequence whatsoever, were aware that the case could have, should have, been heard in Fort Bragg.
THE PUBLIC DEFENDER, Ms. Thompson, a small, odd-looking woman who dresses in men’s clothes, did not assign an investigator to look into the crime’s par-ticulars on behalf of Mr. Abreu; she failed to challenge any of the persons who became Mr. Abreu’s jury, includ-ing a man from Fort Bragg who said he knew Mr. Abreu and did not like him; she called no witnesses of any kind in defense of Mr. Abreu; didn’t put Mr. Abreu on the stand to explain himself, which probably wouldn’t have helped him anyway because there’s no explanation and less excuse for being young, stupid and stoned; and a trial day later Mr. Abreu had himself a fast pass to life forever, deep in a state prison with no hope for parole ever no matter the facts of the crime that put him there, no matter how well he behaves inside those eternal, steel bowels. And this happens in the country of people who say they’re for hope and resurrection.
NO WITNESSES for the defense. No challenges to the jury panel. A one-day trial and good-bye forever Mr. American Pie. Mr. Abreu’s co-defendants? Did they want a jury of their peers, 12 middle-age and older mid-dle-class non-stoners? Nope. Not after they saw what happened to Tai Abreu. They pled out, and both of them will see home by 2020. And one of them did it. Cut Mr. Perez’s throat while he was taped to the tree. Mr. Abreu didn’t do that part of it, wasn’t there when "he gurgled when he died," in the lurid but false quote from Ms. Anderson, corporate journalist. Tai Abreu didn’t know Mr. Perez had gurgled when he died until after Mr. Perez had gurgled and bled to death in the summer sun on the north bank of the Noyo River.
WHAT DEFENSE did Ms. Thompson present for Mr. Abreu? How did she explain this kid to the jury, the ritalin kid from early elementary school on, a semi-aban-doned kid, a kid whose mother is still cranking in Lake County, a kid whose father left him behind and went off to work in place beyond, even, the telephone? Ms. Thompson told the jury Mr. Abreu was indeed a bad per-son, which he isn’t, none of the three defendants is hopelessly bad or even half-bad, or even mostly bad. There isn’t a young man in this country who hasn’t come real close to doing something just as dumb or worse. One young man by himself is harmless. Two young men are borderline dangerous. They can go home or go crazy. Three young men will go crazy then go home. Sorry, Mom, but that’s a basic fact of life, and you can get your own confirmation every morning on the news.
BUT MS. THOMPSON went on about what a bad guy Abreu was, said he’d done it, said he was out of control. She conceded the prosecution’s case, which was that three murderous young men had put Mr. Perez to death because they wanted his cameras. The Public Defender agreed but, she said, Mr. Abreu hadn’t been advised of his rights by the detective assigned to the murder. One more time. Yeah but he wasn’t properly Mirandized. Yeah, I got the tail and I think there’s an elephant on the other end of it. So the odd little woman who dresses like a man went before a jury of conventional everyday Ukiah, Willits and Fort Bragg people confident that she could convince 12 very straight, carpenter’s level straight people, that Mr. Abreu should go home because he was not properly Mirandized!
IS LINDA THOMPSON CRAZY? Is she even within shouting distance of reality? Did she think the jury would see her as Clarence Darrow? Did she really think an obscure delineation of the Miranda Law would con-vince anybody that Mr. Abreu ought to go free? This was a defense?
THE WHOLE SHOW was so absurd, so purely nutso, so uniquely Only In Mendocino County, so far from even a semblance of a defense in a case with a young man’s life on the line that even the cops thought "it was a goddam disgrace, a travesty", as one put it. When the cops denounce a trial as "a goddam disgrace" you can be sure it’s a double goddam disgrace. Bear Lincoln had the whole PC gang piling on. He got publicity on top of publicity, media coming in the windows, so much public-ity that Tony Serra rode into town and defended him for nothing, intimidating the DA into dumping the case on an untried assistant and intimidating the wimp-twits sit-ting as Mendocino County Superior Court judges to call old Judge Golden in from some retirement home to hear the case. (Golden took zero crapola, including none from Serra and the PC Brigade, and Bear Lincoln got a fair trial.) A decade later, Judge Henderson, a practicing Catholic but no Christian, put on a big show of denounc-ing the "remorseless" defendant, going on about what a heinous crime had been committed while committing a second heinous crime with the Life In Prison Without The Possibility Of Parole sentence he was pronouncing on a kid who never had a chance in all his life in liberal Mendocino County.
TAI ABREU has a tired grandmother and me, meaning he’s the ultimate longshot. I’m going to try to raise the money for Abreu’s appeal which, it appears, will be a federal habeas process. I’ve taken the recent alms sent the AVA’s way and set them aside in an unofficial Abreu Defense Fund. They amount, as of the end of this month, to almost two grand. If anyone out there is inclined to sign on for the long haul, I can guarantee you your con-tributions will go directly to the intrepidly brilliant Mendocino attorney, Rod Jones, who has agreed to at least look at the options Abreu has, and they aren’t many. In fact, they almost don’t exist in a country seemingly crueler and more brutal by the day.
DEATH ROW people and celeb defendants get all the money they need to appeal their convictions, and most of them are guilty, and most of them totally undeserving. Mr. Abreu, young Mr. Abreu, like almost all L-WOP defendants (as they’re called by the legal hangmen) get buried so deep nobody can even hear them scream.
TAI ABREU did a bad thing, but he didn’t do the bad-dest thing that was done to Mr. Perez. One of his co-defendants did that, but they’ll get out of prison and Tai Abreu won’t get out of prison. Tai Abreu didn’t get an unfair trial. He didn’t get a any kind of trial. His Public Defender wasn’t incompetent, she was inexplicable. If these guys had had OJ’s legal team not one of them would have been convicted of anything, a fact even the cops concede. "We know we got the right guys, but who did what we still don’t know."
THIS KID’S CASE has got to get in front of a real judge, on the off chance there’s an honest one left somewhere in the upper reaches of this country’s country club system of jurisprudence. To get it in front of the honest judge who may or may not exist, is going to take time and money. I hope some of you will help out.
BRUCE ANDERSON is the publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, America’s best weekly newspaper.