Mad River Union
EUREKA – On the witness stand for the second day running, double murder suspect and drug dealer Jason Michael Arreaga of Lucerne freely admitted he had lied baldly and repeatedly to investigators when he was arrested 13 months ago, telling the jury, “I was scared – two people had been killed and I didn’t want to be next, or my family.”
Deputy District Attorney Zachary Curtis serially marched Arreaga, 30, through each of his lies to detectives about the shooting deaths in a Fieldbrook driveway of Eureka couple Harley Hammers Jr., and Angel Robin Tully, both 37, at the shanty trailer residence of Angelique Eller at 4406 Fieldbrook Road in September 2014.
Testifying in a dull monotone, at times almost mumbling, the pale, whey-faced Arreaga did not attempt to dispute or deny his falsehoods about what had happened, as Curtis read them aloud to the court in quick succession from pages and pages of transcript: “I have no fucking idea [what occurred], that’s why I’m asking you guys … what the fuck is going on? I’d like to know why I’m here, ” Arreaga was recorded stating in the interrogation room.
The prosecutor reminded the defendant that he had denied all knowledge “of somebody dying” and Arrrega did not demur, even for a moment.
Calm throughout Curtis’s methodical and deliberate cross-examination, Arreaga said he feared that the person he accused of the murders his first day on the stand, Hammers’ estranged wife Shavonne, would retaliate against him in kind if he implicated her to county Sheriff’s deputies when he, Shavonne Hammers and Arreaga’s then-girlfriend, Carly Michaels, were picked up at a traffic stop near Fernbridge on Sept. 4, 2014, the day after the murders.
Arreaga testified that he was scared of Shavonne, then and now, and he openly characterized her in his testimony Wednesday, Oct. 14, as “a complete psychopath.”
Given those feelings, Curtis suggested it was inexplicable that Arreaga “covered up” for her when detectives confronted him only hours after the killings.
“I wasn’t covering up,” Arreaga replied, “I was worried about my safety and my family’s safety. I didn’t want to say incriminating things against her.”
Then why, the prosecutor asked the defendant, did you tell investigators that Shavonne was “cool,” not only once but twice? Curtis read aloud Arreaga’s words: “She’s really cool but it seems like there’s always chaos around her.”
Shavonne Hammers, 36, the prosecution’s lead witness in the trial, has an acknowledged history as a meth addict, an attempted suicide victim and a mental illness patient. She testified she was inside Eller’s trailer when she heard gunshots and Michaels, who was also inside, backed Shavonne Hammers’ version of events in her subsequent testimony. Both testified against Arreaga.
Imperturbable on the witness stand, Arreaga claimed that Shavonne ran from the trailer when he knocked on the door to alert her and Michaels that Harley Hammers and Tully had just pulled into Eller’s driveway in a maroon Maxima. Tully was yelling demands that Shavonne Hammers come out to resume a rancorous dispute over Tully’s continuing love affair with Harley Hammers.
Arreaga deduced that Shavonne committed the murders because, he testified, although he did not see the gun or witness the shootings, he saw her standing over Tully’s body, then move it out of the way of Arreaga’s gold Buick so that, he, Shavonne and Michaels could escape the crime scene before police arrived.
But Shavonne Hammers told the jury it was Arreaga who shot both victims and moved Tully’s body away from the back of the car.
The jury is confronted therefore with a classic “he said/she said” case in the wake of Arreaga’s decision to testify for himself, a move that his lawyer, Public Defender Heidi Holmquist advised against. The trial is in its third week and will resume Friday, Sept 16.
Curtis asked Arreaga to explain to the jury why, given his intense personal fear and dislike of Shavonne Hammers; given her volatile and combative personality; knowing as he did of her past attempted suicide; knowing that it was she who had procured the murder weapon, a .380 caliber pistol, and had it his car; given that she had taken the Buick and left him stranded for three hours at Blue Lake Casino, ignorant of her whereabouts; why had he not taken her directly to her mother’s apartment complex in McKinleyville, “dumped her things on the sidewalk” and returned home to Lucerne with girlfriend Michaels, as originally planned?
Curtis employed a tone of quiet amazement that Arreaga, a convicted felon with a prison record who drove Shavonne Hammers from Lake to Humboldt County with an illegal gun in the car, acquiesced to associating with a person he considered alien and nothing but trouble.
Uniformly meek, respectful and unprepossessing in demeanor, Arreaga answered that Michaels pressed him not to abandon Shavonne Hammers with no place to go. Shavonne Hammers had argued with her mother, son and brother over her drug and alcohol abuse and left her mother’s apartment complex in a huff. She was supplying the teenager Michaels with drugs, including meth. The woman and the teenager had befriended one another the summer before the Fieldbrook slayings.
Pressed by both of his companions, deeply attached to Michaels and weary from lack of sleep, Arreaga simply caved as they importuned him to remain in Humboldt until Shavonne Hammers found somewhere else to bivouac.
“I didn’t want to argue anymore,” he said. His passivity helped pave the way for the tragedy that followed, hours after his decision to extend the stay in Humboldt.