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State Takes Over Bear Lincoln Case at Request of Defeated Prosecutor

by Nicholas Wilson
Bear Lincoln Index

Deputy A.G. will appear personally at crucial hearing
UKIAH -- With Bear Lincoln's community of supporters crowding the courtroom and hallways, the Native man and his lawyers learned on Friday that the state Attorney General's office has taken control of the case and is considering a retrial of Lincoln on manslaughter charges.

As predicted in the Monitor last week, San Francisco-based Deputy Attorney General Michael O'Reilly appeared in the courtroom to wrest the case from new Mendocino County District Attorney Norman Vroman. The file had been sent to the state office by defeated county D.A. Susan Massini, who failed to convict Lincoln of murder for the 1995 shooting death of a sheriff's deputy.

O'Reilly told the court that he would need three more months to study the file and determine whether the state wanted to retry Lincoln. Judge John J. Golden set April 23 as the date for the next hearing. Lincoln was acquitted of murder charges in a 1997 trial, but there was a hung jury split 10-2 favoring acquittal on the lesser charge of manslaughter.

D.A. Sends Bear Lincoln Case to Lungren
The hearing began with a dramatic moment as the newly sworn-in D.A. stood and said "Your honor, Norman Vroman for the people." As Vroman spoke, O'Reilly, standing next to him, apparently nudged him and told him he was not appearing for the people. Vroman told the Judge that he was now D.A. and had received no formal notice from the Attorney General that he was not in charge of the case. He said he was appearing for the people of Mendocino County, anyway.

O'Reilly told Golden that former D.A. Susan Massini had asked his office to take over the case, which they did in mid-December. O'Reilly said therefore that he, not Vroman, was appearing for "the people." After the setting of the April date, Golden adjourned the hearing, only five minutes after it began.

The judge didn't challenge or question O'Reilly about the unusual move. But as reported in November, judge Golden apparently didn't know that lame-duck Massini had sent the file to the Attorney General after her reelection defeat. Massini accused Vroman of promising during the campaign not to retry Lincoln if elected. Vroman said that he never made any such unqualified promise, and intended to make his decision only after reviewing the case file, which he still has not seen.

Vroman told the Monitor after court that he learned only that morning the A.G. had taken over the case. Asked if he intended to challenge the state's taking control of the case away from him, Vroman replied, "I see no reason to attempt to take on another case if I don't have to."

"Many of the people in this audience fought very hard to get a new D.A., one who might see this issue in a different light"
Golden's courtroom, the same one where Lincoln's murder trial was held, was filled to overflowing with Lincoln supporters, many of whom had traveled from as far as the San Francisco Bay Area. The hearing was at first assigned to the smallest courtroom in the courthouse, but it filled up within a minute, with the hallways still jammed. Even when moved to the larger courtroom, there were many more people than chairs available, and the bailiff ordered everyone without a seat to leave.

After the hearing, Lincoln confided that he was nervous at being in the courtroom again, but he felt that with all the support he was receiving he would be able to go through whatever happened. Former Congressman and Green Party gubernatorial candidate Dan Hamburg commented that he felt sure that Dep. A.G. O'Reilly was impressed when he saw the courtroom overflowing with Lincoln supporters.

Before the hearing, a rally of about 150 Lincoln supporters was held in front of the courthouse. Lincoln juror Ron Norfolk, a former logger, told the crowd he admired Lincoln's honesty and the courage he showed in turning himself in, knowing he was innocent, to face a possible death penalty, and even the possibility he might be killed before the trial even began. He said he was upset during the trial to learn of the unjust treatment of Lincoln's mother and family at the hands of deputies the night of the shootings. "It really broke my heart. This kind of thing is wrong and should be stopped," he said.

People had asked him why he stuck his neck out speaking about the case afterward. "For me it would be a sin not to try to speak out and not to do my best to let people know about the injustices and all these horrible things," he said. "I think Bear has suffered long enough. I think his people have suffered enough, and I think it's time to just get it over with."

Hamburg, too, said the matter had gone on too long, pointing out that it had been nearly four years since the tragic shootings that took the lives of Acorn Peters and deputy Bob Davis. He cited the more than two years that Lincoln spent behind bars before and during his murder trial. "I was really hopeful that today would be the end, and that the A.G.'s office would remand the case back to our local D.A. Many of the people in this audience fought very hard to get a new D.A., one who might see this issue in a different light than Susan Massini did. We got that D.A., and now we find that the case has been taken over by Sacramento."

Hamburg suggested people go to Sacramento to demand that new Attorney General Bill Lockyer turn the case back over to Vroman. "The only way we're going to get justice for Bear Lincoln or anybody else is to struggle for it," he concluded.

After calling for recognition of and introducing Lincoln's mother, aunts and other family members from the Round Valley Reservation who had faithfully attended the long murder trial and many additional hearings, Cora Lee Simmons said, "Justice for Native Americans! That's what it's all about. We are going to see justice, right here," she said, pointing at the courthouse. "Maybe it won't be today, but it is coming."

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Albion Monitor January 16, 1999 (

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