The mother of the victim, Ryan Roth, and the mother of the suspect, Branden Riddle-Terrel, both sobbed in court Tuesday as Riddle-Terrel pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in Roth’s stabbing death.
Roth’s mother, Jeri Ielmorini, broke down as she addressed Nevada County Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger, telling her, “My son is gone. He had two little boys that don’t have him no more … I’d like to say more, but I just can’t.”
Riddle-Terrel allegedly had been on a drug- and whiskey-fueled binge before he launched a savage attack on Roth, stabbing him at least 18 times at Roth’s Lake of the Pines’ home in February 2012.
He had pleaded not guilty to one count of murder with a special allegation of use of a deadly weapon, as well as one count of criminal threats against a female victim, Melissa Lawrence.
Lawrence testified at a preliminary hearing into the evidence that Riddle-Terrel had been drinking, as well as smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine and inhaling nitrous oxide that night.
Yvonne Zepeda, who said she met Lawrence while they both worked as dancers, testified that Riddle-Terrel did at least 20 hits of nitrous oxide while at the party and snorted “a lot more” cocaine than anyone else.
Zepeda testified that Riddle-Terrel pulled out a switchblade and started waving it around, rambling to himself.
“He said, ‘I’m going out like a m-f-ing gangster,’” she said.
Riddle-Terrel then allegedly walked over to a couch where Roth was lying down and watching TV and started waving the knife around and making more “gangster” comments, Zepeda said. At some point, he made a comment about never going back to jail, she said.
Roth then allegedly tried to grab the knife as Riddle-Terrel’s back was to him, she said. Riddle-Terrel was “startled” and began stabbing Roth, she said.
Placer County pathologist Don Henrikson testified that Roth sustained 18 major stabbing and slashing wounds to his head, torso, neck and arms, including a 3-inch deep wound that severed his right ear and sliced into his neck, nicking his cervical column. Another major wound penetrated Roth’s right chest and penetrated his lung, Henrikson said.
After the stabbing, Lawrence drove away with Riddle-Terrel in the passenger seat of her car. She testified that she pulled over after Riddle-Terrel told her he killed Roth, and he began strangling her before she was able to escape. Riddle-Terrel led law enforcement agencies on a car chase through three counties, driving through two sets of spike strips before being extricated from the car with the assistance of a K-9 officer.
Riddle-Terrel agreed to plead to the voluntary manslaughter charge in return for a stipulated 11-year prison sentence, which Ielmorini said she was not really satisfied with.
“I believe in an eye for an eye,” she said after the hearing.
Assistant District Attorney Anna Ferguson noted the charge was a serious violent felony and a strike offense and would be served at 85 percent time credit for good behavior. She told Heidelberger the resolution was reached partly due to a psychiatric report, as well as the intoxication issue.
In January, Riddle-Terrel’s attorneys indicated they were looking into the possibility of entering a dual plea based on insanity, and a psychiatric examination was conducted.
“This is obviously really a tragic situation that no one involved wanted to happen,” said defense attorney Kate Hallinan. “We all recognized that, (which) allowed us to reach a resolution.”
Co-counsel Greg Bentley explained there was lack of intent based on the level of intoxication, mixed with an underlying pre-existing psychiatric disorder that led to a psychotic state.
“Branden lacked any intent to commit murder,” Bentley said. “This was his best friend … It’s a tragedy for everyone.”
Riddle-Terrel is set for sentencing Aug. 23.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.