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D.A. Sends Bear Lincoln Case to Lungren

by Nicholas Wilson
Bear Lincoln Index

Both D.A. and Attorney General are lame ducks
In an apparent last-ditch effort by Mendocino County officials to convict Bear Lincoln for the 1995 shooting death of a deputy sheriff, District Attorney Susan Massini announced at a brief Nov. 20 court hearing that she has referred the case to California's Attorney General for possible prosecution at the state level.

Massini, who was turned out of office by voters in November, apparently sent the files to Attorney General Dan Lungren shortly after the election. Lundgren is also a lame duck who will be succeeded in January by former Democratic state senator Bill Lockyer.

The news was a surprise to even Judge John Golden, who had expected Friday's hearing to set a date for Mendocino's retrial of Lincoln. Another hearing is now slated for January 15, when a retrial date may be set, or the case dropped. Massini will be out of office by then, as will Mendocino County Sheriff James Tuso, who is widely suspected of pressuring Massini to retry Lincoln.

Massini not sharing info with election winner
Also at the November hearing in Ukiah was D.A.-elect Norman Vroman -- but only as a spectator "like any other member of the public," he told Monitor.

Vroman confirmed in a phone interview Monday that he will not retry Lincoln unless there is significant evidence that was not presented at his 1997 murder trial. Vroman said he wanted to look at the Lincoln case file, but learned Massini had sent it to Lungren's office soon after Vroman defeated her in the Nov. 3 election.

Vroman explained that normally a case is referred to the Attorney General for possible state prosecution only when the D.A. has a conflict of interest that might interfere with local prosecution. Vroman said he has "no conflict of interest, just a different view of the case" than Massini's.

Massini did not return phone calls on three successive days to explain her unusual actions.

Background on trial
Massini's office had thrown the book at Lincoln, trying him on over 20 counts, including first degree capital murder of deputy sheriff Bob Davis on April 15, 1995, second degree murder of his own friend who was slain by Davis, attempted murder of both Davis and surviving deputy Dennis Miller, and every possible aggravating special circumstance, special allegation, and weapons charge.

After a long and closely watched trial that ended Sept. 23, 1997, a jury unanimously acquitted the Round Valley Indian Reservation resident of murder and attempted murder charges. Two holdouts hung the jury on the lesser included charge of manslaughter. Other jurors said that the two holdouts came into the jury with prior knowledge of the case and a bias against Lincoln that they did not reveal until deliberations had begun. After the acquittal Massini dropped weapons charges related to the murder charges "in the interest of justice."

But despite being told by most of the jurors that they were shown no credible evidence that Lincoln was guilty of any crime, and that he had acted in self-defense, Massini soon announced her decision to subject Lincoln to a retrial on the manslaughter charge. In so doing she discounted not only the jury's 10-2 vote for acquittal on that charge but also a letter signed by nine jurors opposing retrial, and other petitions and letters bearing over a thousand signatures.

Many observers believed that Massini's decision to retry was in deference to sheriff Tuso, a personal friend of deputy Davis who attended the trial daily and bitterly condemned the jury's acquittal of Lincoln. They believe Massini found it politically expedient to yield to intense pressure from the sheriff and many of his deputies to retry Lincoln.

The retrial was first set for early this year, then postponed until September and again postponed until January 1999 due to conflicts in the schedules of defense attorney J. Tony Serra, Massini, and Judge Golden.

Massini was favored candidate of Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Massini's handling of the Lincoln case was frequently an issue during Massini's unsuccessful campaign for reelection to a fourth four-year term. Vroman told voters that he wouldn't retry Lincoln unless new evidence of guilt was available, but he also criticized Massini for not personally prosecuting the highly politicized case herself rather than assigning it to Deputy D.A. Aaron Williams, who had never tried a capital case. Williams announced his resignation near the end of the trial, saying he had accepted a job as a federal prosecutor in the Marianas Islands.

Also a campaign issue was Vroman's federal conviction and nine-month prison sentence for failing to file income tax returns. This was cited repeatedly in stories in the New York Times- owned Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and was cited again in the paper's editorial endorsement of Massini for reelection.

Completely unmentioned by the region's largest newspaper, however, was Massini's own conviction a year earlier for contempt of court for violating a Lincoln case gag order which her own office had obtained over the strenuous objections of the defense. A visiting judge found Massini guilty of making prohibited statements to PD reporter Mike Geniella during the Lincoln trial.

Massini was sentenced to five days in jail and a $500 fine, both suspended provided she did not again violate the gag order. Serra commented at the time that to his knowledge he had never heard of another California D.A. being held in contempt in this way. "I think her integrity has been impeached, and I think it's something big. I think she ought to be ashamed of herself," Serra said.

An Associated Press story after the election inspired by the PD's coverage made much of Massini's defeat by an "ex-con" who favored marijuana decriminalization. In the media flurry that resulted, Vroman was even wrongly called an ex-felon, although his convictions were in fact for misdemeanors. Ex-felons are barred from voting and holding public office.

Vroman said he believed there was no law requiring citizens to file income tax returns, and he wanted to create a test case. He lost the case and served his sentence. He is a former police officer, judge, and deputy D.A., and is currently a practicing defense attorney.

Vroman said he will honor the will of the California voters by adopting a protocol for recognizing legal medical marijuana use. He is joined in this position by Mendocino County's sheriff-elect Tony Craver, who also vows to find a solution to long-standing law enforcement problems on the Round Valley reservation. Vroman and Craver are on record favoring decriminalization of marijuana and shifting law enforcement attention toward shutting down methamphetamine labs. The two will take office January 4.

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Albion Monitor November 26, 1998 (

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