UPDATED 2.18.14 with edits & additional information
Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – They aren’t suspects any more. Three Arcatans have pleaded no contest in the stabbing death of Douglas Anderson-Jordet last Nov. 25.
On Thursday, Feb. 13, Juan Joseph Ferrer, 35, admitted to aggravated involuntary manslaughter. Though initially charged with murder, the charge was reduced because, said Deputy District Attorney Elan Firpo, he didn’t necessarily intend to kill Anderson-Jordet.
Nicholas Benjamin Stoiber, 28, pleaded no contest to assault with force likely to cause bodily injury without a weapon. He is free on his own recognizance, and will likely receive felony probation.
Sophie Buttercup Rocheleau, 24, who had initially faced that same charge, pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of misdemeanor battery. She is also free, and will receive probation.
Ferrer, who had no criminal record, could have escaped the aggravation penalty had he cooperated with authorities. That could have led to a possible sentence of two years. Someone with a criminal record might have been eligible for a two-year sentence, and a person who had committed similar acts could get four years.
Firpo said Ferrer’s response to the situation was unhelpful. He left town immediately afterward, initially denied the crime and refused to produce the knife used to kill Anerson-Jordet. “I interpreted that as aggravated,” Firpo said.
Ferrer has stipulated to a four-year sentence with 50 percent credit and three years probation, meaning he will serve two years. Because of realignment, he will spend that time in the Humboldt County Jail.
The three may also have to pay up to $10,000 each in restitution to Anderson-Jordet’s family as well.
The clash between the three and the victim apparently resulted from a random encounter at 12th and H streets. Anderson-Jordet, normally a reserved individual, was said to be more outspoken while under the influence of alcohol.
According to testimony from the accused, which was partially corroborated by a nearby resident who heard some of the yelling, Anderson-Jordet had aggressively insulted Rocheleau with homophobic and racial slurs, even making disparaging comments about her appearance.
The confrontation escalated from verbal to physical when Stoiber punched Anderson-Jordet in the mouth. This caused his teeth to split his lip from the inside. At some point, Ferrer produced a knife and stabbed the victim below the ribcage, but, Firpo said, “at such an angle that it penetrated the heart.” Anderson-Jordet then fell to the ground and was kicked by Rocheleau.
When the three left the scene, Anderson-Jordet was still alive and continuing verbal exchanges with the departing assailants. “All three claimed they didn’t know they had hurt him that bad, because he was still yelling when they walked away,” Firpo said.
Anderson-Jordet was later discovered lying on the corner, and died on the way to the hospital.
APD began its investigation from a standing start, with no weapon or clues. Chapman said their initial approach was consistent with the age-old police adage of “GOYAKOD,” which stands for “get off your ass and knock on doors.”
“That’s how you solve cases,” Chapman said.
One door knock produced the earwitness, a nearby resident who overheard the yelling. Another knock yielded video from Humboldt Clothing Company, which captured images of the three walking north on H Street.
Police printed out a copy of the picture and asked around downtown. One person said, “Hey, that looks like Sophie.” An Internet search on “Arcata Sophie” turned up Rocheleau’s name, and she was contacted.
She and Stoiber were brought to APD and interviewed, then arrested. At the time, Chapman would only say that “a decision was made that there was sufficient evidence to make an arrest.”
More directly stated, they confessed.
“Oftentimes, people will try to minimize their involvement or try to protect others,” Chapman said. “But with experience and training in interviewing people, you can see through that.”
“Stoiber and Rocheleau were pretty straightforward,” Firpo said. “Mr. Ferrer never was.”
Chapman heaped praise on his “diligent” APD investigatory team, particularly Det. Sgt. Todd Dokweiler and Det. Chris Ortega. “I couldn’t be more proud of them,” he said. “Our officers did an outstanding job of putting this case together. I have great confidence in their investigative abilities, and it’s reflected in this case.”
He said the initial investigation produced some false leads, which the detectives winnowed out via “the tried and true method of researching the hell out of it.”
A knife which was initially taken as evidence turned out not to be the weapon used on Anderson-Jordet. That knife has never been recovered.
While two years jail may strike some as a light sentence for killing someone, Firpo said Anderson-Jordet’s family are satisifed with the outcome, as is she.
According to Firpo, the family wasn’t interested in the matter going to trial, where the victim’s behavioral excesses would be publicized and scrutinized in detail. While normally a reserved individual, she said, “there was evidence from several sources that when he was intoxicated, his personality shifted,” Firpo said. “The family wanted disposition so as not to go through a trial.”
On Tuesday, DA candidate Allan Dollison condemned the plea deal. Click here for the candidate’s statement.
Firpo asserts, “I think this is the right resolution in this case.”
“It was very unfortunate that Mr. Ferrer was carrying a knife,” Firpo said. “This should have been no more than a verbal kerfuffle that everyone walked away from.”
Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman agreed. “You don’t whip out a knife in a fist fight,” he said. “Nothing good is going to come of that. Walk away.”
Stoiber and Rocheleau are free on personal recognizance. Sentencing is set for April 3.
Ferrer is represented by Deputy Conflict Counsel Marek Reavis.