Nevada County judge delays decision in Stan Norman homicide case
A two-day hearing into the evidence against the two men suspected of murdering Vietnam veteran Stan Norman wrapped up Wednesday morning.
But Nevada County Superior Court Judge Linda Sloven opted against issuing a ruling immediately, instead taking the matter under submission. Sloven will rule on May 9 whether the case against Sean Bryant and Michael McCauley will proceed to trial.
Bryant, 52, and McCauley, 42, both face charges of murder with a special circumstance of torture in the death of Norman, 70.
The preliminary hearing into the evidence against them began Tuesday and continued Wednesday with further testimony from Bryant’s girlfriend. The woman and both of her daughters were present in her Cascade Shores home during the protracted assault that ended in Norman’s death on April 15, 2018.
Under cross-examination from McCauley’s attorney, Kelly Babineau, the woman testified that Bryant was volatile and had a hair-trigger temper, while McCauley was dominated by the older man.
After Bryant initially attacked Norman, shooting him with an AirSoft gun loaded with marbles and an arrow, he left and returned with McCauley, who appeared shocked, the girlfriend said.
“Was he expecting this horror show?” Babineau asked.
No, the girlfriend replied, adding McCauley was “freaked out.”
Former Nevada County Sheriff’s Deputy Rhiannon Grotke, now an investigator for the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office, testified regarding the interviews with the two girls, who were 14 and 15 at the time.
The older girl told Grotke that when Bryant returned with McCauley, both men began kicking him. She said Bryant hit Norman several times with a baseball bat before handing it to McCauley and telling him to use it.
The girl told Grotke that McCauley’s initial response was, “Are you serious?” McCauley was afraid and shaking, but Bryant threatened to kill him, the girl said.
According to Grotke, the younger girl said McCauley told Bryant that Norman was only about “2 percent alive.” But Bryant insisted, telling McCauley to hit the victim harder, to “hit him like you mean it.” She said she heard about five blows but was not in the room at the time.
Duress no defense, DA says
Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh said Bryant was the actual perpetrator of the torture, but called McCauley an “on-the-scene aider and abetter.”
“It’s not a defense that he didn’t have the desire or the motivation,” Walsh said. “At the end of the day, he realized Stan Norman was close to death and participated in acts that ultimately killed him.”
The prosecutor also discounted duress — threats or violence used to make someone do something against their will — as a defense for murder.
“Maybe he did not want to be involved, but that doesn’t matter,” Walsh said. “What matters is that he realized his acts … would cause Stan Norman’s death.”
Babineau disagreed, saying McCauley cannot be held accountable for the torture, which occurred before he arrived. And, she said, Norman was already dying and would have died regardless of her client’s actions.
Walsh called that assertion “pure speculation,” however.
Bryant’s attorney, David Brooks, argued against the special circumstance, telling Sloven, “Not every prolonged assault is torture.”
Brooks said his client’s very high level of intoxication and high emotion would make it difficult to prove a specific intent to kill. He suggested that Bryant’s girlfriend, who was granted immunity, had some involvement in the assault and had plenty of time to get help, calling her credibility “very suspect.”
Separate case involves allegations of torture
Sloven also heard evidence in a separate case involving Bryant and his girlfriend, in which he faces charges of torture and domestic violence with a special allegation of great bodily injury. A third charge of manufacturing controlled substances was dropped.
The woman testified he had attacked her several times previously, holding a knife to her throat and eye and hitting her in the face.
Bryant told her he was going to kill her because she was “against him,” the woman said.
On the night of May 14, 2018, they got into an argument and Bryant again threatened her with the knife, holding it to her neck. He punched her in the face and then in the back of the head before later holding an AirSoft gun loaded with metal pellets to her neck and trying to shove a large marble down her throat.
“Then he burned me with a lighter,” she said. “He was telling me I was going to die slow.”
The woman said Bryant continued to attack her through the night, threatening to kill her family.
The next morning, Nevada County Sheriff’s detectives serving a search warrant on the residence in connection with Norman’s murder ended up arresting Bryant for domestic violence. He was subsequently charged with homicide in late May 2018 and McCauley was arrested several days later.
After hearing the evidence, Sloven decided to hold off on issuing a ruling in that case as well. The parties will return to court May 9.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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