See related story "Relatives laud DA Rees"
Mad River Union
EUREKA – Relatives of manslaughter victim Douglas Anderson-Jordet accuse former Deputy District Attorney Elan Firpo and former District Attorney Paul Gallegos of faithlessness and paltering with the facts in the case against Juan Joseph Ferrer, sentenced last week to 12 years in prison for stabbing Anderson-Jordet to death in November 2013.
Sister in-law Patty Anderson said at the sentencing hearing in Humboldt County Superior Court, “Our experiences over the last 18 months, including the prosecutor’s [Firpo’s] gross misrepresentation of facts to the family and the public,” have made healing and forgiveness much harder.
“I stand before you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially exhausted,” Anderson said in preamble. Then she assailed Firpo point by point, based on the chronology of judicial steps that followed in the wake of her brother-in-law’s drunken death.
In February 2014, Anderson recalled, “a plea deal was reached without ever going to a preliminary hearing.” That agreement effectively left the deceased’s family with a fait accompli, in her view. “We were asked to make a decision [to accept the deal] by the following day.”
Anderson accused Firpo of presenting “facts” – Anderson’s quote marks – “that she later released to the press in defense of her actions.” Those reputed facts alleged Anderson-Jordet’s “‘inflamed demeanor, behavioral excesses, homophobia and being the aggressor in a physical fight.’”
Anderson charged that Firpo destroyed “Douglas’s character and integrity” from the outset and provided the defense with arguments to use at trial – which proved to be prophetic.
The deceased’s sister-in-law explained that family members felt they had had no choice but to accept the initial plea deal, because “we were led to believe by Ms. Firpo that a jury trial might very well result in an acquittal or, at best, an additional six months on the [putative two-year] sentence.”
Matters worsened, Anderson continued, when Firpo’s campaign to succeed Gallegos as district attorney became embroiled in a controversy over the efficacy of the plea bargain.
The resulting publicity, compounded by statements to the press by Ferrer’s attorney, Marek I. Reavis, “suddenly made the false allegations about Doug being homophobic and the aggressor the only ‘facts’ that the public would get to hear,” Anderson lamented. “So much for protecting our parents and Douglas from this slander.”
Although Anderson blamed Firpo for rushing the family to accept the agreement, the former deputy district attorney told the local press at the time that in fact it was Anderson-Jordet’s relatives who sought to expedite the case, to avoid a public airing at trial of the deceased’s reputed drinking problems.
But the tentative plea deal led to a split between two sisters, and perhaps between two factions, in the deceased’s family, according to Firpo. At first, she explained, the agreement was crafted in accordance with a sister who claimed to speak on behalf of the entire family and the consensus for a speedy resolution.
But another sister took umbrage to the deal, according to Firpo, and that enabled rival candidates in the district attorney’s race to exploit the intramural schism in the family to their electoral advantage, while criticizing Firpo’s ostensible plea bargain infirmities. She had never tried a murder case, the plea bargain became a political lightning rod and a judge threw out the deal in response to the outcry.
Anderson said at last week’s sentencing hearing that it was only when the family obtained access to the police reports and the hospital and autopsy records that “We were horrified to find that the facts had been grossly misrepresented to the family and to the public.”
Anderson recalled that even one of Ferrer’s accomplices the night of the fatal stabbing, Nicholas Stoiber, admitted to police that he, Ferrer and another companion, Sophie Rocheleau, “‘Basically jumped the guy.’”
The family could not fathom how Firpo accepted “Ferrer’s third iteration of a bogus story when [she] had this kind of evidence of what really did happen,” Anderson said. “It is unclear to us whether this was motivated by lack of resources, inexperience, the upcoming election or incompetence, but it deeply wounded our family and did irreparable damage to Douglas’ reputation.”
Anderson went on to level withering criticism at Gallegos, whom she characterized as professionally incompetent and faithless. She assailed the ex-district attorney for ignorance of the facts, unjustified delays, tendentious legal arguments and failure to keep the Anderson-Jordet family duly informed of developments in the case.
“We felt betrayed once again by the DA’s office,” Anderson said. “Mr. Gallegos argued against us in court and it became very clear that we had far more knowledge of the evidence and the police reports than he did. He spent much of the time trying to convince us of the difficulty of going to trial with three defendants, dazzling us with [legal] case studies.”
Midsummer 2014 through the end of the year “was filled with inexcusable delay after delay by Mr. Gallegos, with no rational explanation offered to our family,” Anderson complained.
Inexcusable as well, in her view, was Gallegos’ failure to keep her family in distant Minnesota informed.
When Stoiber’s and Rocheleau’s ultimate plea deals were finally reached, “we were not told that Stoiber was offered a lesser charge of misdemeanor battery, rather than the felony assault he was originally willing to plea to,” Anderson stated. “I found that out in the media and by Googling the penal code. Mr. Gallegos never mentioned that he was offering a lesser deal and he always carefully referred to the charges by a penal code number when speaking with us” – one more dilatory tactic, in the family’s view.
Another Anderson-Jordet relative, Patty Henderson, declared flatly, “I don’t believe that we will ever know the truth about the events that occurred in the early morning hours of November 25 .”
Henderson did not say why she believed that, but the larger reasons are plain and by no means exclusive to the Ferrer case. There is first of all the insuperable gap between what happens and what people believe happened. Opinions, passions, biases, self-interest and concealed motives sabotage recovering the actuality of past events.
The gaping hole in every murder trial is the deceased’s missing account of what occurred, although the body can reveal a good deal of forensic evidence.
No criminal investigation can gather 100 percent of the facts; in the Ferrer case, the murder weapon was missing (Ferrer threw it away) and there were no eyewitnesses to the stabbing except those involved in the confrontation.
As prosecutor Roger C. Rees said in his opening statement at the trial, neither he nor anyone else in the courtroom, other than the defendant, was present at the scene of the crime. Hence, the totality of a past event, even one as dramatic and intimate as murder, lies beyond human reach, as historians have learned for millennia to their dismay.
Without video surveillance cameras, Rees told the jurors pointedly at the start of the trial, “We never would have known the defendant was responsible for Doug’s death” because neither Ferrer nor his confederates had any intention of turning themselves in.