Albion Monitor /News

Stage Set As Trial Opens With All-White Jury

by Nicholas Wilson

on "Bear" Lincoln Case

Previous update on case

UKIAH, CA -- In a tiny courtroom two hours north of San Francisco, the murder trial of Bear Lincoln begins today as an all-white jury hears opening statements from famed San Francisco defense attorney J. Tony Serra and the prosecutor.

The jury of seven women and five men was finally chosen after an arduous three-month process which ended with Deputy District Attorney Aaron Williams barring from the jury all persons of color, including three Native Americans. Judge John J. Golden denied a defense motion for a mistrial based on racist application of Williams' peremptory challenges.

Alleged anti-Indian racism by law enforcement is a central issue in Lincoln's defense case. Serra raised it in winning a new trial and acquittal for Patrick "Hooty" Croy, another Indian man, who had been sent to death row for killing a deputy in Shasta County. On retrial, the jury found he had acted in self-defense, which is also the principal defense in the Lincoln case.

No resolution of deputy jury-tampering charges
There has been no resolution of jury-tampering charges against sheriff's correctional officer Brandon VanCamp, who allegedly told a juror last month that Lincoln had confessed (which is untrue).

Lincoln's lawyers demanded that felony charges be brought against VanCamp, and that an investigation look into whether this was an isolated incident or part of a wider conspiracy on the part of law enforcement. In addition to possible criminal charges, VanCamp could also face a contempt of court citation for violating the blanket gag order, which prohibits anyone in county law enforcement from making public statements about the case.

State Deputy Attorney General Michael O'Reilly is heading an investigation of the matter, but he has not yet filed a report.

Rally at courthouse featured Dennis Banks, former Congressman Hamburg
Judge Golden delayed the start of the trial a week after learning that a long-scheduled Lincoln support rally would be held in front of the courthouse July 21, scheduled to have been opening day of the trial. Over 250 people joined in that rally, featuring speeches by nationally known American Indian Movement field director Dennis Banks, former Congressman Dan Hamburg, Round Valley Indians for Justice leader Cora Lee Simmons, and others.

Banks spoke briefly but passionately, drawing repeated cheers. He noted that the trial had been delayed a week, "hoping we would go away. Well we are not going away. We will be here today. We will be here tomorrow. We will be here next week and next year. We will not go away until Bear Lincoln is released."

He continued, "America is going to be watching what happens here in Ukiah. AIM will commit all its resources to this trial. We will commit people to come here to monitor the trial. Ukiah is going to be 'online, America.' We're going to watch you, Ukiah."

Hamburg also drew cheers when he said, "We may have a legal system in this county, but it's very doubtful we have a justice system." He called the events of April 14, 1995, "as one of the most shameful episodes in Mendocino County history."

The previous day at an all-day rally near Covelo, attorney Tony Serra delivered a fiery speech in which he accused the prosecution and law enforcement of flagrant racism. Serra called on Lincoln supporters to speak out to the media as he and other defense team members are prohibited from doing by the gag order.

Serra told the crowd, "We are angry! We on the legal team are angry and frustrated that we have been forced by the system to give up one constitutional right, the First Amendment, in order to secure another constitutional right: Our right to a fair trial. And we are angered by this gag order. And what we ask that you do is, you speak on our behalf. You take the facts, you take the evidence, you take what occurs in court, and you disseminate it. You be our voice. You be, ultimately, Bear Lincoln's voice...

"...Ask questions. Why is he being charged with death penalty? Why were there so many officers up there on the hill that are unaccounted for? Why are there trees that have been cut down? Why have shells and bullets been removed from the scene? Why have they heard so many different gunshots where there are now no guns that have been identified as the cause of the shots? Has there been a coverup?"

Only about two dozen seats available to public
In a final pretrial hearing yesterday, Judge Golden denied prosecution motions seeking to mention Lincoln's police record. The defense has withdrawn a motion for change of venue. The judge made clear that the gag order will remain in effect, arranging for every member of the defense and prosecution teams to be served with a written copy of the order. A defense appeal of the gag order has been denied by the Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court, and is now going to federal courts.

Judge Golden also finalized a seating plan for the undersized courtroom. Five seats are reserved for media (including the Albion Monitor). Of the 52 spectator seats, only about two dozen are available to the public. Assigned by random drawing, competition for those few seats is expected to be particularly intense today, when several hundred might have wished to hear opening arguments.

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Albion Monitor July 29, 1997 (

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