Five out of the six co-defendants charged in a case involving the fatal shooting of 36-year-old Shanta Olsen appeared Monday in court after all six men were indicted on felony charges by a grand jury last month.
The arraignment will continue on Wednesday, when all defendants are expected to enter pleas and where the question of bail for the accused men will be considered by a Nevada County Superior Court judge.
Dakari Mondell Harris, 22, Trey Rondal Richard, 23, Devon Deontae Jennings, 21, William Rynell Levise, 31 and Ronney Turner, 31, were all present in Nevada County Superior Court to answer for a range of felony counts, including conspiracy to transport marijuana, illegal firearm usage, and gang enhancement charges, according to court records. Richard himself is facing a murder charge in connection with Olsen’s death, in addition to other charges, and has been in custody since his arrest in November.
All men have pleaded not guilty to all charges against them, court records show.
Laderrick Timothy Wynn, 20, is also named in last month’s indictment, but did not appear in court on Monday, as his attorney, Kelly Lynn Babineau, couldn’t attend. Wynn is expected to appear at Wednesday’s hearing, according to prosecutors involved in the case.
At the Monday hearing, prosecutors asked Judge Robert Tice-Raskin to book the accused men into the Nevada County Jail, requesting that the bail for each of the defendants be set at $1 million. The prosecution’s request does not apply to Richard, who is already in custody without bail.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh argued that the high bail amount for the five co-defendants was justified for multiple reasons, including the unique gang enhancement charges present in the case, as well as past judicial precedent affirming a court’s authority to approve bail enhancements after an indictment. Walsh also noted that the $1 million figure was comparable to bond amounts set for accused gang members in regions neighboring Nevada County, such as Placer and Yuba counties.
The defense attorneys for each of the four accused men all vigorously contested the prosecution’s request for bail enhancement.
Attorneys Jennifer Mouzis and Michael Phillips, who are representing Turner and Harris, respectively, argued that the way prosecutors had obtained the May 21 indictment circumvented customary procedures in this kind of case. The District Attorney’s Office didn’t notify the defendant’s attorneys about the indictment ahead of time, and instead only found out about the proceeding from a subsequent post on the district attorney’s Facebook page.
Neither the defendants’ attorneys nor the court had adequate time to review the transcript of this grand jury proceeding ahead of Monday’s arraignment, leaving the accused little chance to defend themselves against the prosecution’s request for a bail enhancement, the attorneys said.
“I don’t think that the court should have an opportunity to consider bail until the counsel can be on the same footing as the prosecution. They did the grand jury proceeding in secret and we were not allowed to be there, so the court shouldn’t consider bail at this time,” said Paul Commiskey, who represents Jennings.
Phillips argued there was insufficient evidence that had been presented to substantiate the gang enhancement charges that prosecutors had cited as justifying the bail enhancement.
“There’s little evidence of gang enhancement here,” Phillips said. “None of the hundreds of discovery pages presented by the district attorney so far have anything to do with gang enhancement, and that allegation is going to fold at some point.”
In addition to criticizing the gang enhancement accusations, Phillips also echoed the concerns expressed by the other defense attorneys about the secretive nature of the indictment.
“What the prosecution is attempting to do today is quite troubling,” he said.
The District Attorney’s Office has alleged that all six co-defendants, five of whom are from Dallas, Texas, are involved in a Texas criminal entity known as the “Bird Gang.” Walsh has previously pointed to a YouTube video released by Ronney Turner following his initial release from custody last December, titled “First Day Out,” as explicit evidence of the group’s gang ties. In the video, where Turner celebrates his release, he makes some references to the “Bird Gang.”
After hearing the competing arguments of both the prosecution and all of the defense attorneys present, Tice-Raskin determined that while the court does, in fact, have the authority to authorize a bail enhancement in the case, he would defer the arraignment proceedings to Wednesday, to allow all the attorneys, as well as himself, to further review evidence presented in the grand jury transcript.
“While I do believe that under the law the court has discretion on whether bail should be increased in this case. All parties need to have the opportunity to provide full input,” Tice-Raskin said.
The co-defendants in the case, other than Richard, who are all from out of California, were ordered by Tice-Raskin to remain in Nevada, Sacramento, or Placer counties, between now and Wednesday’s hearing. All of the accused were also ordered to report to the county probation office to check in, as a means of ensuring that none of the men would leave the area before the arraignment’s continuation this week.
All of the five defendants out of custody are expected to enter pleas at Wednesday’s hearing, Walsh said. Richard’s defense attorney, Ben Jacobs, who was present at Monday’s proceeding via Zoom, reiterated his client’s not guilty plea, which had already been entered last year. The rest of the accused men will have the opportunity to reaffirm their not guilty pleas, in response to the May 21 indictment, or enter any change of plea at Wednesday’s proceeding.
The six accused men were all arrested in November after the shooting death of Shanta Olsen, which allegedly took place after a drug deal involving the defendants, Olsen, and some others had gone wrong. After the botched deal, involving the sale of marijuana, Olsen and another person pursued the defendants in a vehicle chase, which ended after Richard purportedly fired a handgun out of his vehicle, with a bullet striking Olsen in the head. She later succumbed to her injuries, according to authorities.
Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at [email protected]