Two jailed ahead of murder trial
Two of six men facing charges related to the alleged murder of Shanta Olsen were taken into custody Wednesday, while three other defendants were allowed to remain out on bail.
Ronney Turner, 31, and Devon Deontae Jennings, 21, were taken to Nevada County jail after Judge Robert Tice-Raskin set their bond status to no bail, both defendant’s attorneys confirmed, meaning that both men will remain in custody until they stand trial.
Dakari Mondell Harris, 22, and William Rynell Levise, 31, also charged in the case, were both allowed to remain out of custody and return home until trial, under pretrial release conditions specified at Wednesday’s hearing. Ladderick Timothy Wynn, 20, was also granted pretrial release under the same conditions as Harris and Levise, after his case was handled in a separate hearing on Friday.
All of the defendants have pleaded not guilty to the numerous felony charges against them, which include gang enhancements and multiple counts of criminal conspiracy, all related to the November 2020 incident.
Along with the charges filed against the other five co-defendants, Trey Rondal Richard, 23, is being charged with the murder of Olsen, 36. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and has been in custody continuously since his arrest last November.
Harris, Levise, and Wynn, were allowed to remain free until trial under terms worked out with the Nevada County Probation Department. Both men will have to wear an ankle monitor to help authorities keep track of their whereabouts, report regularly to a designated pretrial release officer, and can only leave their homes for certain specified purposes, which include going to work or attending religious services, according to their attorneys.
Tice-Raskin also ordered a third-party custodian to take responsibility for the defendant’s compliance with all court orders.
The District Attorney’s Office sought and received a grand jury indictment of all the co-defendants late last month, a move that forced the men to appear in a Nevada County courtroom on June 7 for arraignment. While all of the accused except Richard already made bail last year, a no-bail warrant was issued by the Nevada County Court following the May indictment, meaning that the defendants had to appear at this week’s arraignment to face new judgments about their respective custody statuses.
All of the accused are from Dallas, Texas, except for Harris, who lives in Louisiana.
At the initial arraignment on Monday, and again on Wednesday, when the hearing continued, Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh argued to Judge Tice-Raskin that the five men represented a danger to the public and a flight risk.The flight risk issue has been repeatedly raised by prosecutors, who have expressed concerns about the logistics of forcing the defendants to face justice locally when they live out of state.
Given these factors, Walsh asked Tice-Raskin to raise all five defendants’ bail to $1 million, a request that if approved would have likely ensured that the five would stay in custody until trial, as it appeared improbable that they would be able to pay such an amount.
On Wednesday, Tice-Raskin allowed Harris and Levise to remain free on pretrial release but agreed with prosecutors that Turner and Jennings should remain in custody.
The judge set these latter two defendant’s to no bail instead of approving the prosecution’s million dollar bond request. While the effect of the ruling is essentially the same as if the prosecution’s request had been approved, California bail law prohibits judges from setting bail to an amount that the defendants are unable to pay, so Tice-Raskin made the technical move of detaining both defendants without bail, Walsh said.
Levise, Turner and Jennings each made bail to the amount of $150,000 following their arrest last year; Harris and Wynn both bailed out at $100,000, according to court records.
Defense attorneys for the men detained expressed disappointment with the results of Wednesday’s ruling.
“We believe that there was sufficient evidence presented at the hearing to show that Mr. Turner is not a danger to the community or a flight risk. Nonetheless, we will of course abide by the court’s order,” said Jennifer Mouzis, who represents Turner.
The District Attorney’s Office contends that Turner occupied a particularly prominent role in the Bird Gang — the purported criminal gang of which all six defendants are alleged to be members. Turner is considered to be a leader in the gang and was most culpable in the events leading up to Olsen’s death, according to Walsh.
Mouzis asserted that claims of Turner’s gang involvement are false, and that the prosecution’s case against her client is unsubstantiated by the existing evidence.
“Mr. Turner is innocent of the charges of which he is accused. In particular the gang enhancement charges alleging that he is a part of the Bird Gang are false, and the Bird Gang itself does not even actually exist. Any suggestion otherwise is not supported by the evidence, and I look forward to fighting this case at trial,” Mouzis said.
Paul Comiskey, who represents Jennings, made similar statements regarding his client’s innocence and maintained that there was no evidence that Jennings was a flight risk or a public danger.
“Mr. Jennings has been out of custody for several months now and has had no problem with the law during that time,” the attorney said, adding that he nonetheless respects the judge’s decision and looks forward to proving his client’s innocence at trial.
No date for a trial of the six men has been set, but a pretrial conference has been scheduled for July 16, when prosecutors hope a trial date will be set, according to Walsh.
Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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