Alleged carjacker held on all counts in Nevada County
November 29, 2016
Inconsistencies — and one outright lie — by the victim of a gun-point carjacking were not enough to dismiss charges of kidnapping, criminal threats, assault with a deadly weapon, and being a felon in possession of a firearm after a preliminary hearing into the evidence against the defendant, Daniel Gene Paradiso.
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Linda Sloven noted that the testimony raised a number of questions that could create enough reasonable doubt to sway a jury. But she added that she did not need to meet that threshold to find probable cause during the preliminary hearing.
Sloven said one indisputable fact was that the victim, Jeffrey Olsen, leaped out of the moving vehicle, leaving the driver-less car to crash.
"The one thing that seemed believable was what happened in the car," she said. "Why would anyone throw themselves out of a car unless they were in significant fear?"
Olsen testified regarding the Sept. 12 incident, offering a different version from that initially provided to law enforcement.
Olsen initially told the responding California Highway Patrol officer that he gave a man he did not know a ride from the Cedar Ridge Y.
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But in court Tuesday, Olsen said he had gone to a friend's house off Meadow Drive and saw Paradiso, whom he described as an acquaintance, in the driveway.
He testified that he had a few drinks — approximately a half-pint of Jagermeister — and that Paradiso asked him for a ride as he was leaving. Paradiso told him his motorcycle had broken down and he wanted to see his kids, Olsen said.
Olsen said that he had turned onto Highway 174 when the "next thing I know, he's got a gun to my ribs."
According to Olsen, Paradiso repeatedly accused him of sleeping with his wife.
"He wanted all the money he thought I had on me," Olsen said. "He took my phone and threw it out the window."
Olsen said Paradiso tried to pistol-whip him, but he was able to block it with his elbow.
"He got irritated," Olsen said. "He asked me where I want it — 'Did I want it in the head? Did I want it in the leg? Either way, you're catching a bullet.'"
Paradiso directed Olsen onto Rattlesnake Road and then told him to pull over because he was "going in the trunk."
Olsen testified that he told Paradiso he had $500 in his pocket, but that he would have to grab his wallet.
"I threw myself out of the car," Olsen said. "I figured that was my only option."
Olsen initially testified that the CHP officer estimated the car's speed at 40-50 mph. On cross-examination, he said that was his estimate.
He added that he broke his collarbone, and that his toes and fingers were "all hamburgered up."
He was also questioned as to why he told the CHP officer that he did not know Paradiso and that he picked him up on Highway 174.
Olsen testified that he was reluctant to provide the real address because his friend's mother was elderly and he didn't want law enforcement to show up and give her a heart attack.
Other inconsistencies that Deputy Public Defender Tamara Zuromskis strove to highlight included the reason Olsen was at the house off Meadow Drive, as well as past issues with Paradiso.
Detective works to debunk contradictory testimony
Nevada County Sheriff's Det. Russell Greene testified that he responded to the scene of Paradiso's arrest in October, and that a revolver was found under the driver's seat.
Greene acknowledged the discrepancies in Olsen's statements, including the fact that he did not initially mention Paradiso confronting him about his wife.
According to Greene, he interviewed Olsen and his daughter, Kaelea Olsen, after the young woman told a student resources officer her father had made false statements.
Greene testified that the residence off Meadow Drive was a known drug house and that he suspected Olsen had gone there for drugs.
The testimony in court took a surprise turn when Zuromskis began quizzing Greene about two people who had come forward to claim they had been in the car with Paradiso and Olsen.
Greene said he interviewed Samuel Bray, who said he had been hitchhiking on Highway 184, that Paradiso and the driver were discussing child support and that he saw the driver jump out of the car on Highway 174. Bray did not mention a gun, Greene said.
Bray was not believable, Greene said, in part because he got the location of the crash wrong.
Greene added that surveillance video from the spot on Highway 174 where Bray claimed to have been picked up shows the car driving by and not stopping.
Paradiso's wife also claims she was in the vehicle, but Greene did not provide much information beyond noting that she placed four people in the car, including Bray, and Bray said it was just the three men.
Greene also testified that several witnesses who got to the scene shortly after the wreck did not see Bray walking away, but instead named a completely different man, Jonathan Trihub.
He reportedly had been following the car on a motorcycle and stopped; Paradiso got on the motorcycle and took off southbound on Rattlesnake Road.
Trihub was arrested at the scene by CHP on the day of the incident, but was later released from jail without formal charges being brought against him.
Trihub is not being investigated at this time, Greene testified.
Deputy District Attorney James Morris told the judge that the required elements were present to hold Paradiso to answer on all counts.
"The court has heard a great deal about inconsistencies and credibility," Morris said. "But what has remained consistent is what happened in the car."
Morris added that it was not unusual for accounts to vary each time, saying that if Olsen had told the exact same version the defense would have argued that he was "sticking to a script."
Zuromskis, however, said she just did not believe Olsen, saying, "Telling stories is a good way to describe (his) testimony."
She characterized some of Olsen's statements on the stand as sounding as if it came from a movie, and questioned the likelihood of his relatively minor injuries stemming from jumping out of a fast-moving vehicle.
"He's not a credible witness," Zuromskis said. "He's an admitted liar."
Sloven, however, found sufficient evidence on the four counts; Paradiso is set for formal arraignment on Dec. 9.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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