Amid sobs and flashes of anger, Ryan Roth’s loved ones took the stand Friday afternoon to tell his murderer exactly what they thought of him.
Roth’s mother, Jeri Ielmorini, cried as she read her statement during Branden Riddle-Terrel’s sentencing in Nevada County Superior Court. Her daughter, Heidi Roth, stood next to her for moral support as a posterboard covered with photos of Ryan stood propped behind them.
“I go to bed at night with this whole nightmare on my mind, and I wake up to the same nightmare every morning,” Ielmorini said, calling Riddle-Terrel a “very sick animal.”
Valerie Bishop, whose daughter Heather was married to Roth and had two boys with him, broke down while describing the day Roth bought his son a tiny dirt bike and taught him how to ride it.
“God, it was so cute,” she said, smiling a little before dissolving into tears. “I just can’t believe I’m sitting here ... How did this happen?”
Later, Bishop could be heard repeatedly expressing a desire to kill Riddle-Terrel before family members calmed her.
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.
At an evidentiary hearing, witnesses testified that Riddle-Terrel had been drinking, as well as smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine and inhaling nitrous oxide that night. Roth’s autopsy reportedly showed no signs of drugs or alcohol in his system.
A witness testified that Riddle-Terrel pulled out a switchblade and started waving it around, rambling to himself. Riddle-Terrel then allegedly walked over to a couch where Roth was lying down and watching TV and started waving the knife around.
Roth tried to grab the knife as Riddle-Terrel’s back was to him, but Riddle-Terrel began stabbing Roth.
After the stabbing, witness Melissa 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.
Murderer sentenced to 11 years
Riddle-Terrel had been charged with one count of murder with a special allegation of use of a deadly weapon, as well as one count of criminal threats against Lawrence.
He agreed to plead to the voluntary manslaughter charge in return for a stipulated 11-year prison sentence, a serious violent felony and a strike offense that will be served at 85 percent time credit for good behavior.
“It’s a tragic case for everyone involved,” Assistant District Attorney Anna Ferguson said, adding that the stabbing occurred not from typical motives such as anger or jealousy but due to “recreational” drug use.
Ferguson noted the prosecution was faced with an insanity defense coupled with voluntary intoxication in her explanation of the plea agreement. Defense attorney Greg Bentley said the case was not purely about voluntary intoxication, citing a psychologist’s report that had been sealed.
“Branden was found to be — at the time of the offense — suffering from a mental disorder so severe … he could not distinguish between right and wrong,” Bentley said. “There was no intent.”
“Obviously, no punishment will rectify this situation,” Judge Candace Heidelberger said. “Ryan left a legacy you can be proud of, that you can carry in your hearts.”
Riddle-Terrel’s mother, Jean Joeger, sobbed as she spoke directly to Roth’s brother, mother and sister.
“I too have spent many, many nights sleepless,” Joeger said.
“There’s no words,” she continued as she addressed Ielmorini.
“We’re moms, and we unconditionally love our children, no matter what.”
At the end of the hearing, Riddle-Terrel stood and turned to face Roth’s family, telling them he took responsibility for his actions, which he said were fueled by the drugs and alcohol.
“I took the life of another human being,” he said. “I know there’s nothing I can say.”
Riddle-Terrel insisted he would seize the opportunity for intensive rehab work during his prison term, which he has requested to be served at San Quentin.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to shed light (for) other people,” he said.
“You could shoot me dead right here — that would be the easy route. Everything I do is in his name … He’s always with me.”
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.