Case dismissed against man charged with murder in Nevada County
A Nevada County man who had been in custody since May 2018 on a murder charge walked free last week after the case against him was dismissed.
Christopher Lee Bancroft, 31, had been facing one felony count of murder in the death of Donald Ormsby, whose body was found on Countrywood Lane in June 2016. Bancroft was a suspect but was not charged until after he served a sentence on an unrelated Placer County burglary, authorities said at the time of his 2018 arrest.
Bancroft declined to comment after his release. But his mother, Kelli Crump, said the prosecution, lasting over two years, felt like being trapped in a horror movie.
“They kept going after Chris, even with all the other evidence,” she said Thursday. “They kept pushing him to take a plea. … He had 25 to life hanging over his head.”
Nevada County Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh said the decision to dismiss the case came after he took over as the case’s prosecutor in April.
“I went through the file and spoke with Bancroft’s attorney, Roberto Marquez,” Walsh said, adding that Marquez asked him to look at some new evidence.
“I conducted an exhaustive review of the entire case,” Walsh said. “There were a couple of new witnesses that had come to light since the case was filed, pointing to a different suspect.”
According to a supplemental report from late October 2019 filed by a Nevada County sheriff’s detective that was provided to The Union, a witness came forward, saying he wanted to “do the right thing.”
The witness — whose name is being withheld due to the still active investigation — said that on June 19, 2016, he was at a property on Idaho Maryland Road when a man there told him Wallace Daniel “Danny” Tarp had thrown clothes related to Ormsby’s death into a trash pile on the property. Tarp had come to the residence covered in blood and wanted to burn his clothes, but didn’t have the time, the man told the witness.
Walsh said the report played a role in his decision to drop the charge against Bancroft.
“It was not the only factor, but it definitely was a factor,” he said.
Tarp, currently incarcerated in the state of Nevada, was named during a preliminary hearing in the case. He faces no charges in connection with Ormsby’s death.
The witness said in his statement that while he was going through the trash pile, he found a “pretty full” bag containing bloody clothing and tennis shoes, as well as items belonging to Ormsby, including his vehicle registration. The witness said he showed the items to a third man before discarding them.
Tarp later came to the residence and was “acting hella shady,” telling the witness to “keep quiet” about his being there. Tarp asked the witness to give him an alibi and “admitted” that Ormsby’s death was a robbery gone wrong, which had been set up by Schennal Gomez, according to the statement.
Gomez had also been charged with murder in Ormsby’s death, but the case against her was dismissed following the preliminary hearing into the evidence in July 2018.
The witness said Bancroft simply might have been “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He described Bancroft as a “dope-phene” and believed he was driving Ormsby’s car because Tarp “pushed it off” on him.
After reviewing the statements provided by Marquez, Walsh said he conducted additional follow-up.
“I came to a place where, based upon the evidence, I didn’t feel we could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “I am not saying Christopher Bancroft is factually innocent, but I felt … I couldn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. As a prosecutor I have to have confidence, I have to know that I have the right person, in order to ethically proceed forward to trial.”
Marquez said he was pleased with Walsh’s decision.
“There just was too much doubt in the record as to my client’s responsibility in this case,” Marquez said. “There is a lot of evidence in the record that he’s innocent, including a witness that exonerates my client and totally inculpates the prime suspect, Danny Tarp, both with physical evidence and his own admission of guilt, that he killed Mr. Ormsby.”
Walsh noted Ormsby’s death was a tough case from the start and initial witness statements pointed to Bancroft.
Tarp, Walsh said, was considered a possible suspect and that was noted during the preliminary hearing. Tarp had been granted “use immunity,” which Walsh said meant that if he was called as a witness, his testimony could not be used against him in the future.
Tarp remained in custody Thursday in Nevada state on unrelated charges, prison records show.
“We can absolutely still prosecute him for any crime we could prove against him,” Walsh said.
During that 2018 evidentiary hearing, Detective Rhiannon King testified Gomez initially said she did not see anything but only heard the two men arguing after the trio had planned a burglary together. In subsequent interviews, Gomez told King she saw Bancroft slashing a shovel at Ormsby’s head several times.
Gomez said that she left with Bancroft in Ormsby’s car, King testified.
On June 18, 2016, Bancroft showed up at Ashlee Dalton’s door in the car and they drove to the Roseville area, where he unsuccessfully tried to use Ormsby’s debit card at a Rocklin Target. At some point Bancroft told Dalton he killed Ormsby and then quickly retracted the comment, King testified.
On the witness stand, Tarp said Gomez told him Bancroft had killed Ormsby with a shovel, during a burglary planned by Ormsby, Bancroft and Gomez. Under questioning, Tarp admitted to having had a relationship with Gomez and to “clashing” with Ormsby. Grass Valley Police Officer Brian Covella testified he responded to a physical fight involving Tarp and Ormsby on June 17.
Walsh said as of now, Ormsby’s death remains an active investigation, but his office does not have an imminent plan to arrest another suspect.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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