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Mendocino D.A. And Vroman Throw Charges

by Nicholas Wilson

D.A. Sends Bear Lincoln Case to Lungren
Outgoing Mendocino D.A. Susan Massini accused her successor Norman Vroman of abuse of discretion by making a campaign promise not to retry Bear Lincoln, and that's why, she said, she has referred the case to the state Attorney General's office and asked them to take the case out of Vroman's jurisdiction.

Vroman in turn says Massini is "an expert on abuse of discretion" and accuses her of lying about his position on the Lincoln case. He also believes she decided to retry Lincoln in order to avoid answering hard questions from voters about her botched prosecution.

One thing is certain: There is no love lost between Massini and Vroman.

Massini told the Monitor November 30 that although Vroman has never reviewed the Lincoln case files, he made an unconditional promise that if elected he would dismiss the case. Massini said she based her charge on sources in Round Valley who reported that Vroman had said, "If I'm elected, Bear Lincoln is a free man."

"That's bullshit!" said Vroman the next day. "And of course that is no legal reason, even if it were true, to refer it to the A.G." The only reason a local D.A. would ever refer anything to the A.G. office is if there's a conflict, he said. Vroman denied he had ever made an unqualified promise not to retry Lincoln. "No way, never, not in Round Valley, not anywhere."

Charges Massini with continued lying about his position
Vroman said Massini's charge that he had made an unqualified promise not to retry Lincoln is, "a lie, an unqualified lie. I went through it at candidates' nights over and over, and I'll say it again now: I haven't been able to see what's in the file. I would like to look at the file. From a prosecutorial stand, unless there is something glaring in that file that was not presented at the trial, or there is some new evidence that's come to light, when you get a jury that comes back 10-2 for acquittal, unless you find something like that you would never retry the case. That's what I said every time, and she knows that's what I said."

When the Monitor asked Massini if she had seen Vroman in the room at the Nov. 20 hearing in Lincoln's case she replied, "Yes, he was sitting with the defense team in the courtroom!" Vroman laughed and said "There was nobody in the courtroom when I came in and sat down. The defense (investigator) came in and sat next to me, and on the other side of her sat Bear Lincoln. ... Susan doesn't like me. She's looking for any way she can to slam me. No, I wasn't sitting with the defense team. I was there because Judge Golden asked me to be. He saw me in the hall and said 'We're handling the Lincoln matter today; I think you ought to be in court.'" Lincoln attorney Phil DeJong confirmed Vroman's version, saying, "He was there and we sat next to him."

Asked if Golden seemed to think he would be setting the trial date, Vroman said, "Yes, based on what he said. He said, 'We're here to set this matter for trial.' And (Massini) said, 'Well, I've referred it to the A.G.'s office. I've sent the entire file over there.' I'd almost swear to that." When asked if he's sure that's what Massini said, he replied, "I was there and I heard it. She said 'I no longer have possession of the file; I sent it to the Attorney General's office.'" Vroman remembers commenting to DeJong as they were going out the door, "God, I wanted to see that file and now I can't even look at it; it's gone to the A.G.'s office."

But Massini told the Monitor, "The file's sitting directly in my office where it always has been; it's never been sent anywhere, so that's not true. I sent a letter to the A.G. the middle of November requesting that they take the ["Chuck" Diaz murder] case because it's an absolute conflict, and they have agreed to prosecute that case. And I asked them to review the Lincoln case and they have agreed to do so. They haven't promised to prosecute it; they're just looking at it." Massini said her letter to the A.G. is not a public record because it is a prosecutorial matter involving a pending case.

Vroman represented Diaz's co-defendant, Gerald "Butch" Lester in a sensational murder case in which a former Hell's Angel's member, his wife and two children were slain and their Fort Bragg home burned, allegedly to cover up the 1986 killings. Lester was convicted in his third trial and given a life sentence. It would be a clear conflict of interest for Vroman to have discretion whether to prosecute his former client's co-defendant.

"We've got about 30 days left of her, and then you're going to see some changes"
Massini is not alleging Vroman has a conflict of interest in the Lincoln case, but that he has abused his discretion by making it a campaign promise not to retry. "[The A.G.] may say he's absolutely correct, and that would be fine," Massini said. "Then it would not be the result of a campaign promise, it would be the result of the facts."

It was news to Vroman that Massini had referred the Diaz case to the A.G. office and that they had agreed to take over jurisdiction. "She told the defense attorneys that if they would have their clients take a lie detector test and they passed it she would dismiss charges," said Vroman. "She publicly stated it was a very, very weak case against (Diaz) and she didn't know whether she would prosecute it or not." He said Diaz had taken and passed the "lie detector" test, but Massini still won't dismiss the case.

Vroman went on to say,"I'm angry because she has thwarted me at every step in the transition and has directed her employees not to talk to me on pain of being fired." But Massini countered that she had sent Vroman a letter right after the election, "inviting him to come here, and asked him to write out a list of his areas of interest and concern so that we could prepare and get documents and things ready for him." She said Vroman wrote back, "In response to your letter of Nov. 6, I too wish to make this transition as smooth as possible." She said a meeting of the two is set for Dec. 8.

Vroman said he has his own theory about why Massini announced a year ago she had decided to retry Lincoln: " As long as it was still pending for trial she wouldn't have to explain on the campaign trail why [the prosecution was] fouled up. It was a door to hide behind."

Vroman agreed that if he had made an unqualified campaign promise not to retry Lincoln, Massini would be right about it being an abuse of discretion, but he couldn't resist observing that "she's an expert on abuse of discretion."

His parting shot: "All I can say is that we've got about 30 days left of her, and then you're going to see some changes. And that's what the people want because that's why they elected me."

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Albion Monitor December 5, 1998 (

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