Trials set in high profile Nevada County cases
A man accused of numerous rapes and another man charged with the murder of an unborn child in an unrelated case are both set for jury trials this year, Nevada County authorities say.
Mark James Yeager, 44, of Grass Valley, is scheduled for trial on July 6 after pleading not guilty to one count of second-degree murder, court records show.
Christopher Michael Sparpanic, 34, of Camptonville, is set for trial Oct. 19 after pleading not guilty to four different allegations of rape, along with numerous other sexual misconduct felonies, including sodomy by the use of force, forcible oral copulation, and a charge of kidnapping, records state.
In February 2020, Yeager is alleged to have assaulted his ex-girlfriend, an incident that prosecutors say caused her to prematurely birth a fetus that later died. While Yeager was initially charged with felony domestic violence, this charge was later amended to second-degree murder after evidence showed that the fetus’ death was connected to the injuries inflicted by Yeager during the assault, according to Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh.
Yeager would face between 15 years to life in state prison if convicted of the crime. The District Attorney’s Office will seek a sentence in this range if his case goes to trial, but negotiations currently underway between prosecutors and the defendant’s attorney could potentially lower this sentence, Walsh noted.
Walsh said that Yeager’s defense attorney, Kenneth Tribby, has asked prosecutors to consider reducing the second-degree murder charge to voluntary manslaughter, an offense that carries a maximum punishment of 11 years of state prison, according to California law. Walsh said that these negotiations are still in progress, and that no definitive plea agreement has been reached in the case.
The deceased fetus is believed to have been fathered by Yeager. At court hearings, the child’s mother expressed that she does not wish to prosecute Yeager any further, a factor that may be considered in any decision on whether to amend the charge against the defendant to manslaughter, according to Walsh.
Tribby, who represents both Yeager and Sparpanic, declined to comment as to negotiations with the District Attorney’s Office, and did not give any statement concerning either of his client’s cases.
Yeager’s ex-girlfriend had apparently moved out after the two had separated and was living in Cascade Shores at the time of the purported assault. The alleged victim was afraid of Yeager, and wanted to be away from him after he became increasingly dependent on drug abuse, Walsh said.
On Feb. 17, 2020, Yeager allegedly broke into the woman’s house and demanded money before becoming extremely violent. He strangled her and threw her on the ground violently, actions that prosecutors say led to the woman later giving birth prematurely.
She was 17 weeks pregnant at the time, and medical records purportedly showed a healthy pregnancy up to the time of the assault, which led prosecutors to later amend the charge against Yeager to second-degree murder.
In prosecuting Sparpanic, Walsh said the District Attorney’s Office will not seek any negotiated resolution, but will instead pursue a jury trial and seek the maximum penalty for the defendant if a conviction is obtained. In Sparpanic’s case, he would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if found guilty.
This refusal to entertain offers from the defense stems from the threat to public safety that prosecutors believe Sparpanic poses as a repeated sexual offender, Walsh said.
“We have to do our best to protect the public, especially when you have someone facing this many counts of forcible sexual assaults against multiple victims. He really is the kind of person who should be locked up forever,” Walsh said.
Court records show that Sparpanic is accused of four counts of forcible rape, three counts of attempting to commit sodomy with the use of force, one count of penetrating a victim with a foreign object, and one count of forced oral copulation. Sparpanic also faces enhancement charges related to the kidnapping accusations. All charges are felonies.
Sparpanic’s alleged victims tended to be homeless women, and in multiple cases, these women claimed that Sparpanic would offer them a ride somewhere or say he wanted to hang out, before taking his victims to a more remote location and raping them, reports state.
Walsh expressed that the transitory nature of the homeless population, as well as the vulnerability of these victims, makes it more challenging for prosecutors to gather evidence and build their case for trial.
“In this kind of case it’s common for serial rapists to have a (method of operation), a type of victim, and victims that might have housing challenges and are more transient are particularly vulnerable people,” he said. Walsh added that difficulties innate to communicating with homeless people have complicated efforts to get Sparpanic’s accusers to testify at his trial.
“This will absolutely be a challenge, but it’s a challenge that we’re embracing,” he said.
Both Yeager and Sparpanic remained in custody Monday at the Nevada County Jail as they await trial, records show.
Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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