Branden Riddle-Terrel allegedly had been on a drug- and whiskey-fueled binge before he launched a savage attack on Ryan Roth, stabbing him at least 18 times at Roth’s Lake of the Pines home in February.
Two women who had been at the party the night of Feb. 23 testified at the preliminary hearing for Riddle-Terrel in Nevada County Superior Court Tuesday. Riddle-Terrel has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder with a special allegation of use of a deadly weapon in Roth’s death, as well as one count of criminal threats against a female victim.
Melissa Lawrence, who had been dating Riddle-Terrel, testified that Riddle-Terrel had been drinking, as well as smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine and inhaling nitrous oxide that night. ‘
She said she did not know whether Riddle-Terrel had been using steroids.
Lawrence said she did not see the attack, but came out of a bathroom to see Roth lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She said that after someone yelled at them to leave the house, she drove away with Riddle-Terrel in the passenger seat of her car.
“I didn’t know what had happened,” she said, adding her boyfriend called his mother on his cell phone and was rambling.
“He was not making any sense,” she said.
Lawrence testified that Riddle-Terrel then told her he killed Roth, and said, “This is ride or die sh-- — this is Bonnie and Clyde sh--.”
According to Lawrence, she soon pulled over, and Riddle-Terrel started strangling her. He allegedly then let go and she fled out of the car and up a hill, at which point he drove away in her car.
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.
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.
Riddle-Terrel was “hammered” and slurring his words, Zepeda said. “He seemed really out of it.”
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.
Death probably occurred “within minutes,” the pathologist said, depending on the length of time of the attack and whether Roth received any help.
Steroids came up again, when defense attorney Kate Hallinan asked if Roth had anabolic steroids in his system; Henrikson answered in the affirmative.
Nevada County Sheriff’s Cpl. Mike Sullivan testified that during an interview at the hospital, Riddle-Terrel asked him how many guys attacked him, and told him he had been attacked.
Deputy Tim Strong testified that he interviewed the other men who were at the residence at the time of the fatal assault.
By one account, Roth had punched Riddle-Terrel in the face in an attempt to get him to back off before the suspect began stabbing him.
Riddle-Terrel allegedly continued to stab Roth despite
the attempts of the other men to restrain him or get the knife away.
But after he was disarmed, Riddle-Terrel allegedly began wandering aimlessly through the house, Strong said.
Riddle-Terrel’s mother, Jean Joeger, broke down frequently as she testified about the hour-long phone call she got from her son that night.
“I have never heard him sound like that ever before,” she said. “He said that he was Jesus; he said that he was the president ... I don’t think he even knew it was me.”
She said he did not seem to be responding to her, testifying that she stayed on the line until the car chase ended.
“I kept telling him to get out of the car but he wasn’t listening,” she said.
Nevada County Assistant District Attorney Anna Ferguson told sitting Judge R.M. Smith that Riddle-Terrel repeatedly stabbing Roth was deliberate, and that his fleeing the scene
and choking his girlfriend
meant this was no quick, impulsive act.
But Greg Bentley, co-counsel for Riddle-Terrel, argued that his mental state precluded intent and therefore meant he should not be charged with second-degree murder.
“Branden and Ryan were friends,” Bentley said. “There’s no motive. His voluntary intoxication, coupled with unconsciousness (of his actions), brings you down to involuntary manslaughter.
“He didn’t know what was going on ... This is a man in a psychotic state.”
Hallinan argued that Riddle-Terrel was not actually threatening his girlfriend by saying that this was a “ride or die” situation.
But Smith quickly dismissed her logic, pointing out that after Lawrence pulled over, Riddle-Terrel started to choke her.
“I’m going to use the common sense that I’ve developed through my years on the bench,” he said, before holding Riddle-Terrel to answer on both charges.
Formal arraignment was scheduled for Jan. 25.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4229.