Bear Lincoln Testifies
by Nicholas Wilson
UKIAH, CA -- In a moment
anticipated since he surrendered over two years
ago, Bear Lincoln took the witness stand September 4 to tell his story of
what happened on that fatal night of April 14, 1995, when his close friend
Leonard "Acorn" Peters and Mendocino County deputy sheriff "Bob" Davis were
both shot to death.
In response to questions from defense attorney J. Tony Serra, Lincoln clearly stated that he didn't know that the people shooting at him from the darkness were police. He shot blindly for self-protection after being ambushed and while under fire himself. He does not believe that his bullet killed Deputy Davis.
he heard no warning and saw nothing before Peters exclaimed
"Oh fuck!" an instant before falling in "a barrage" of gunfire.
Lincoln, who said he was 20-25 ft. behind Peters, fired back into the
darkness, shooting a semi-automatic rifle in self-defense as he ran for the
side of the road, jumped over an embankment and escaped down a
He saw no one and had nothing to target. No sheriff's deputies were seen, no uniforms, no police cars, no lights, and not even the flash of gunfire, at that point. He heard no voice warning, "Sheriff's department, drop the gun" even once, let alone three times as Deputy Dennis Miller testified.
Fearing for his life, Lincoln fled down the brushy hillside to a small creek, then lay hidden in the creekbed near an abandoned cabin. He thought would be followed and killed, assuming his assailants were members of the Britton family seeking revenge for the murder of a family member earlier that day by Acorn Peters' brother.
That was why the two men carried rifles as they walked in darkness on the remote dirt road from Lincoln's cabin in Little Valley over a small ridge to a friend's house in Round Valley, where Peters expected to find his brother. Acorn worried that his brother was in danger of being found and killed by Brittons.
After a few minutes of silence, and thinking his assailants were gone, Lincoln worried about his friend and crept back to the road some 30-40 yd. downhill from where Acorn lay. Lincoln said, "I couldn't leave my friend there. I didn't know if he was dead or alive, but couldn't leave him there." He didn't go back intending to shoot anyone -- only to check on Acorn.
When he reached the road again and started towards the shooting scene, there was another explosion of gunfire. No one said anything. He saw flashes but couldn't tell if the firing came from more than one location. "It sounded like continuous automatic M-16 fire. There were bullets flying by me."
Bear shot from the hip with no target. He kept pulling the trigger but was out of bullets after a single shot. He jumped off the road and lay low in the brush. The gunfire continued, then stopped, and he heard a voice yell out, "10-99." "It made me confused; it was the first voice I heard, and it sounded like a police call. I thought there were maybe police and Brittons there together." After hearing that, he ran to his mother's house. "I wanted to warn them that people might come kill them." They had shot Acorn right in front of him for no reason, so anything was possible.
Good Friday began uneventfully for Bear Lincoln. The 40 year-old man awoke alone in
the cabin he had built about two decades earlier on
his family's land in Little Valley. In the small cabin were kerosene lamps because there was no electricity, although Bear had a generator for occasional TV watching. An outhouse served for a bathroom.
About 200 yards away was the two-story redwood house where his widowed mother Lucille Lincoln lives -- his father died in 1992. Elsewhere on the property his younger brothers Eric and Carlos lived. As the name implies, Little Valley is small, and with only four families there. The only road in or out was Little Valley Road, which Bear had traveled at all times of day and night, walking and driving, for many years.
He was outside doing some carpentry when his lifelong friend Leonard "Acorn" Peters drove up in his small pickup truck around 10 a.m. They talked a while and did some target practice for about a half-hour. Acorn was using a .30-.30 Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle that he usually had with him. Engraved on it was the name Cyndi Pickett ("She's Leonard's widow") Acorn was drinking from a four-pack of wine cooler he'd brought with him as they shot targets right in front of the cabin.
Bear was using a .223 caliber Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle that his late nephew, Joseph Lincoln, had stored with him for safekeeping a few months earlier. There was no clip for the ammunition, so he hand loaded a cartridge for each shot. Joseph had recently been shot to death in a Santa Rosa, California, incident that also left his brother Winterhawk wounded.
Bear had stored the rifle in his loft along with two older .22 caliber rifles and miscellaneous ammunition that Joseph wanted his uncle to keep for him because he thought they would be safer from being stolen. With his nephew Bear had shot the Mini-14 two or three times before. He didn't feel he owned any of the three guns; he was keeping them for Joseph's girlfriend and mother of his two children who would likely claim them someday, although they had not talked about it since Joseph's death.
After target shooting, Bear and Acorn drove to check on the horses. Bear keeps Appaloosas in a pasture owned by his family in Round Valley, about two miles from the town of Covelo. He has two stallions and two mares, all yearlings that spring of 1995. At the pasture they spent an hour digging fence post holes for a corral.
Then they drove to Acorn's place in Hull Valley, where he lived with Cyndi and some of his younger kids. Bear and Acorn were close friends, and spent time together most days. After a trip to Covelo -- where Acorn bought another pack of wine coolers -- they returned to the pasture and worked together several hours.
They again went to a store in Covelo because Acorn wanted something. While there, Acorn bought a 30-shot clip for the Mini-14 as a gift for his friend. They returned to Bear's cabin. They had bought no ammunition, and the only .223 ammunition was what Joseph had left with the gun. Bear can't recall ever buying any .223 ammunition himself. They did a little more target shooting with the new clip in the rifle, then went back to a store and Acorn bought more wine cooler.
It was now
about 2:30 or 3:00 PM, and the two drove to the elementary school
to pick up Acorn's two kids and Cyndi's granddaughter. They took the kids to
the pasture where they were brushing and petting the horses as the two men left to buy snacks for the kids.
They stopped at Covelo's gas station so Bear could use the restroom and when Bear emerged, Neil Britton was taunting Leonard, laughing and dancing around him like a boxer. Bear hadn't seen Neil hit Acorn, but his mouth was bleeding. Neil was about a foot taller than Leonard, and a lot younger and stronger. Acorn appeared drunk.
Bear ran over as Neil looked like he was going to punch Acorn again. "I told Neil if you're going to hit somebody, hit me -- I'm sober." When Bear first came over, Neil took off running, then returned and took his shirt off. Bear invited Neil to go behind the station and fight; Bear didn't want to be arrested for fighting in public. There were witnesses around: The mechanic and employees at the station. Neil backed down and soon left with his sister.
After the confrontation, Bear and Acorn spent a few minutes looking for Acorn's brother, Arylis. Soon back at the pasture, Acorn was angry about the altercation, but wasn't hurt badly, with only a cut lip. Bear continued working on the corral. Acorn was too drunk to help, but continued to drink.
About 6 PM they all left and headed for the hamburger place so Acorn could get some dinner for the kids. As they passed the high school, Bear saw a big crowd and a police tape cordoning off part of the parking lot. There were police and maybe 50 people gathered, but they couldn't tell what had happened by looking, and continued past without stopping. Bear figured it was something serious because of the police tape. He didn't know there had been a killing. He didn't smile or laugh as he passed by, as Claudette Britton had testified; he had no reason to. And they had no advance knowledge that anything was going to happen there.
Instead of continuing on to the burger place, Bear suggested they go to Acorn's mother's trailer; something serious must have happened at the high school. They went there because they considered it a safe place -- it was the home base for the Peters family. Acorn's brother, Arylis, lived there, too.
There they learned from Bear's cousin that Gene Britton had been killed at the high school and that Arylis was involved. They stayed a couple of hours, and Bear and others were in the front yard where they saw two police fly past. Bear's cousin took the kids to Acorn's sister's.
Bear and Acorn
the car at the trailer; Bear reasoned that the valley would be "flooded with police" and it was likely they would be
stopped and hassled. Bear didn't have have a license and Acorn would be arrested for drunk
driving. Catching a ride with their friend Bunny Hoaglen, they avoided
driving by the high school because of all the police. They stopped for Acorn to purchase beer, then drove on to Little
Valley. Acorn had brought the rifle with him.
At the cabin Bear gathered wood and built a fire in the stove. Acorn talked about the shooting, and wondered if his brother Arylis was involved, as they had been told. Acorn was worried that the Brittons would find and kill his brother, and about 9 PM or so, wanted to go check on him to see if he was safe. Acorn was drunk, but Bear had no alcohol all day.
Acorn figured Arylis would be at Bunny Hoaglen's place in the reservation housing area, just over the ridge in Round Valley. They had no vehicle. Bear gave Acorn one of his hats because it was cold and had been drizzling on and off. Bear wore his favorite hat, black felt with red-tailed hawk feathers and a beaded hat band, which is now in evidence.
The gate to Bear's driveway is at the north end of Little Valley Rd., about 50 yards from the cabin. It's a flat, straight, driveway from cabin to gate, with trees and brush along both sides. Acorn started off a little ahead of Bear, then got further ahead as they walked up the hill. It was cold and cloudy. "There wasn't much light at all."
Bear carried the Mini-14 for protection in case they ran into the Brittons, and Acorn carried the .30-.30. Bear didn't know if Acorn's gun was loaded or not, but his gun had rounds in the new clip, although none in the chamber. Bear had loaded and tried out the clip earlier in the afternoon. As far as he knew he didn't have any more ammunition to add later, and the clip wasn't quite half full. Bear carried the gun at his side in one hand, and he assumes Acorn carried his the same way.
Acorn started off at a fast pace and in front of Bear the whole time, staying roughly 20-25 ft. ahead once they started up the hill. Acorn is known to be a fast walker -- he walked the hills often. They didn't talk along the way. Bear didn't hear anything on the hill, except dogs barking as they were leaving. Most families there have dogs, so he didn't take any note of it.
"It was dark; it was hard to see off of the road." As the two approached the summit, Bear heard nothing. He didn't hear radio transmissions. He didn't hear the sound of Acorn's rifle chambering a round, which made a "clicking noise" that he was familiar with. He didn't see any cartridge on the ground.
As you approached the summit, did you hear any voice from the
Bear: No, all I heard was Acorn's voice.
Q: Did you hear a voice three times identify...words to the effect police officers, or sheriff, drop your guns, did you hear that three times?
Q: Did you hear it two times?
Q: Did you hear it at all?
A: No, nothing like that.
Q: Were you expecting anyone to be up there at the summit?
Q: What was the first thing as you approached the summit that you did hear?
A: Well I heard Acorn, he said "Oh fuck!"
Q: Then what happened?
A: Then there was a barrage of gunfire, and he went down.
Q: And how far behind him were you?
A: About the same distance, 25 ft.
Q: And when you say a barrage of gunfire, what do you mean?
A: A lot of bullets going off at the same time.
Q: Could you see gunfire, that is any kind of light or fire from any muzzle?
A: No, I didn't see anything.
Q: Had you heard any person make any sound, other than Acorn, who said "Oh fuck?"
Q: Had Acorn shot? Did you see him shoot?
Q: Did you shoot before Acorn fell?
Q: How did he fall?
A: He fell over backwards.
Q: How far from you did he fall?
A: 20-25 ft.
What did you do then?
A: I chambered a round in my gun and I returned fire.
Q: What did you think then, what was in your mind then?
A: Well, I thought it was the Brittons who were hiding up there, and they had ambushed him and killed him.
Q: Why did you think that?
A: Because of the incident earlier.
Q: And when you said you returned fire, where did you shoot, at what did you shoot?
A: I just fired toward the intersection...I didn't have a target...I just fired.
Q: Did you see a police car, did you fire at a police care?
Q: Did you see two sheriffs there, did you fire at a sheriff?
A: No, I didn't.
Q: Did you fire from a fixed position?
A: No, I ran towards the edge of the road; I was firing as I went.
Q: And facing the summit, going up to the summit, what side of the road?
A: To the right. Kind of forward and to the right.
Q: Firing while you moved?
Q: Firing at what while you moved?
A: Just firing in the dark. I didn't have a target; I couldn't see anything, so...
Q: How many times did you fire?
A: I don't know.
Q: Fire more than one time?
A: Yes, several times.
Q: Hit anything?
A: I couldn't tell.
Q: Why'd you fire?
A: To try to make whoever was firing to stop, or...I don't know...a reaction.
Q: Seeing Acorn shot by a barrage of bullets in front of you, did you then believe that your life was in peril?
A: Well, because there was a lot of bullets going off, and I was standing right there in the open, in the middle of the road, and I figured I was going to be shot next.
Q: Where'd you go, as you went up the road firing; where'd you go after that?
A: I jumped off the right side of the road, and I went down the hill and hid in this creekbed.
Q: When you went down the hill, about how far is that? I mean, did you just go right over the road?
A: I just went off the edge of the road and down this little trail and the creek bed is about 50 yards; 60 yards.
He was near
an old abandoned cabin with a woodshed and outhouse by it, but
he didn't go into any structure. The creek flows next to the cabin a
few feet away. There was "a little bit" of water in the creek. Bear hid
there because "I was in fear of my life." He wasn't lying in wait.
He didn't know who was at the summit, but assumed it was the Brittons. He didn't know how many there were, but believed there could be many Brittons and their friends. He lay in the creek bed "in fear of my life, shocked, scared." He doesn't know how long he lay there. "It was hard to believe what had taken place. I told myself a few times that 'this is really happening.' It was kind of shock, I guess."
While down at the cree bed he heard nothing, "it was real quiet." There was no radio, no voices, no shots. That's why he thought they had left. "I couldn't leave my friend there. I didn't know if he was dead or alive, but couldn't leave him there."
When he didn't hear any more noise or gunfire, he figured they might have left. He made his way uphill and at an angle to his left, coming back to the road at a place further down than where he jumped off. He didn't go back intending to shoot anyone, it was only to check on Acorn.
"I got back on the road and started to walk towards the intersection. And then there was an explosion of firing again, gunfire." He estimates he was 30-40 yd. from Acorn's body. "I couldn't see anything, it was really too dark to see anything." He did see gunfire, but couldn't see any figure or person associated with it. No one said anything. He just heard a lot of gunfire and saw flashes from the gun. Whoever was shooting was closer to the road than before, since now he could see the muzzle flashes. It came from up the road, closer to the intersection. He couldn't tell if the firing came from more than one location. "It sounded like automatic weapons, M-16 going off continuously. There were bullets flying by me."
What did you do?
A: I returned fire.
A: I shot from the hip; I didn't have time to aim and didn't have anything to aim at, so I fired once, and kept pulling the trigger, and only one round went off, and it was empty, and the gun just clicked.
Q: One shot?
Q: Did you know you only had one shot?
A: No, I didn't.
Q: Did you fire more than once?
Q: Did you pull the trigger more than once?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: Did only one shot go out?
Q: Did you shoot any more than one time?
A: No, I pulled the trigger after that, and it just clicked.
When you got to your mother's house did you have any idea that a police
officer had been shot?
A: No, I didn't.
Q: Did you shoot a police officer?
Q: When you fired up there that one shot why did you do that?
A: I was being fired at, and to protect myself.
When he got to his mother's house, she was in her truck with the engine running, waiting for other family members. He told her Acorn was ambushed and killed on the ridge and they all had to get out of there. He might have told her who he thought killed Acorn, but it's not clear...the Brittons? He's not sure. His state of mind was "pretty hyped up... confused...a lot of mixed emotions...surprised...it's hard to describe."
He warned his mother not to take the road; Acorn's body was in the road, and he told her it would be safer to walk out the back way. He realized he didn't have the Mini-14 then. He didn't know where it was. He threw it somewhere on the hill while getting away through the brush. Bear grabbed his dad's old .303 rifle from his mother's house to protect himself. He was headed for Round Valley to tell as many people as he could what had taken place.
The route he took was along the valley floor and out through the south end of Little Valley. His path took him near the base of the hill below where Acorn was. He jogged close to the creek and stopped and listened, because "it was hard to just leave him there, not knowing what his condition was." He heard no noise at all when he paused several seconds to a minute to listen. He continued on to Round Valley, walking and stopping to rest three or four times on the long, circuitous route.
He reached a field next to Bunny Hoaglen's. Hidden by the tall grass, away from the streetlights, he could now hear gunfire from the hill and could see police lights going by on the road. He heard rifle and handgun shots. Serra asked Lincoln what was going through his mind. "I was in a state of confusion...shock...fear...just trying to comprehend what had taken place. There were police everywhere, so I assumed the (continued) shooting on the hill was them."
Bear tapped on a back window by Hoaglen's bedroom -- there was too much light in the front, and he feared for his life. Bunny raised the window, and Bear told him that Acorn had been shot from ambush. Then he learned for the first time that an officer had been killed -- up to that point, Bear didn't know a police officer was even injured. Hoaglen said it was on the police scanner. Bear was "very surprised."
Soon Bear continued toward his aunt Sylvia Duncan's house about a quarter mile away. He saw relatives outside the house and talked with them.
the .303 rifle with him, and leaned it up against a tree outside
when he first got there. "I may have taken it into the house later. I was
in and out of the house several times."
The subject of his hat came up. He asked if anyone had seen his hat. His mother told him she saw it on the road. His last recollection of the hat was tipping it off his head when the first barrage of gunfire started, because it was in the way. It had a leather neck string to keep it on while riding horses. He had it hanging over the back of his head while walking up the road.
He sat down and wrote a letter to his girlfriend. The main reason was he thought he was going to be killed, so the letter was a sort of will giving her two of the horses. He wrote to her what happened to Acorn because "she and Acorn were very close. She referred to Acorn as the dad that she had never had." (Bear's girlfriend was Cyndi Pickett's daughter, Gladriel.) He gave the letter to his mother. He believed the letter was his last will because "well, just seeing them shoot Acorn down, there was no reason for them to spare me...so...that's why I believed that."
This ended the direct examination. Prosecutor Aaron Williams declined to start cross-examination until the judge gave a final ruling on a defense motion limiting Williams from asking about certain incidents in Lincoln's history. Closed sessions on that subject took up much of the court day the previous day, and Judge Golden again cleared the courtroom for the balance of the morning in order to try to finish that motion.
The cross-examination will be treated in the next article.
testimony followed a frustrating day of closed session wrangling
over Lincoln's testimony. On Wednesday, Serra announced that he would put
Lincoln on the stand that morning, but he made a motion to limit the topics
Aaron Williams could address in cross-examination.
The goal of Serra's motion was to block Williams from bringing up anything that happened before the date of the shootings. Lincoln's prior conviction record has already been ruled inadmissible with certain exceptions, and it was these exceptions that Serra seeks to deal with.
Two defense witnesses were heard briefly Wednesday before the judge called a recess for the rest of the morning, only 26 minutes after the morning session had begun. Serra was overheard outside the courthouse likening the experience to "coitus interruptus," where he was psyched up and fully ready to go with Lincoln on the stand, the climax of the defense presentation, but then was told to stop and wait for hours. As it turned out it was 24 hours.
The Wednesday afternoon session followed a similar pattern, with public and press ejected for an unexplained closed session, then readmitted for one brief witness before another recess and secret hearing lasting the rest of the day.
Albion Monitor September 6, 1997 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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