Our View: Share the blame in botched murder case
The headlines just keep coming for Finley Fultz.
Accused in the 2014 shooting death of Isaac Zafft at a Penn Valley marijuana grow, Fultz had been jailed for two-and-a-half years awaiting trial. It finally happened, just not in the way most folks wanted.
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Tom Anderson found significant problems with prosecutors and law enforcement, leading him in October to call a mistrial. Then, Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh tried to get Anderson removed from the case, alleging the judge had political bias. That was followed by a decision from an out-of-county magistrate, who found no bias on Anderson’s part, that kept him on the case. About a month later Anderson dismissed the murder charge against Fultz and set a date for his release.
Anderson listed a litany of problems with the prosecution that warranted the dismissal: Law enforcement continued to question Fultz after he asked for an attorney; Prosecutors either lost or withheld evidence from Fultz’s defense attorney; The prosecution failed to disclose a package plea deal Fultz’s two codefendants made when they pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
One of those codefendants is Daniel Devencenzi. Terminally ill, Devencenzi had his sentencing delayed again and again until finally, on Wednesday, he sat in a wheelchair as Anderson handed down 11 years in prison.
Devencenzi’s a footnote in the case of Fultz. His sentencing delay speaks to a larger problem with this case. Whether it’s a District Attorney’s Office that can’t perform its basic duties, a judge who let a case get beyond his control or a bit of both, the prosecution of Fultz reveals glaring problems in our local justice system.
This isn’t a shoplifting case that warrants dismissal when a legal mishap occurs. This is an attempted robbery that left a man dead and put three suspects in jail for the past two-and-a-half years.
And now we’ve got months, or longer, of slogging through an appeal process that only drains more taxpayer dollars from government coffers.
The outright dismissal of this case by Anderson is troubling, as a filing from the state Attorney General’s Office argues. A retrial for Fultz is the appropriate way of fixing the errors committed by prosecutors and law enforcement, not an order releasing a man who already has an unrelated voluntary manslaughter conviction under his belt.
Anderson’s dismissal of this high-profile murder case isn’t the only problem. The judge only took his extraordinary actions in response to missteps by prosecutors and law enforcement.
This would qualify as a comedy of errors if a man wasn’t dead. Instead, it’s a tragedy and everyone who lives in this county is suffering through it.
Where’s District Attorney Cliff Newell during all of this? His opponent in last year’s election, Glenn Jennings, made hay about Newell’s courtroom absences. Newell should be front and center of this mess.
Prosecutors need to bring their A game, which seems to have been lacking. Newell’s No. 1, Walsh, and Anderson need to set aside whatever bad blood may exist over accusations of judicial shenanigans.
This county deserves to see Fultz prosecuted under the law. Those involved in his case should make this point in time a new beginning. No more errors or mistakes. No more name calling (we’re looking at Fultz’s attorney, Greg Klein, on that last one).
Let’s have our professional District Attorney’s Office, defense attorneys and judges give us another reason for taking pride in how our county does its business.
That, we think, is a footnote worth writing.
Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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