Friday, July 30, 2010

Not near enough to death: Judge rejects move to record ailing witness's testimony

by Tom Nadeau

A Yuba County judge has rejected a prosecution request to record the testimony of a key witness against Dustin W. Sparks, who may find out Sept. 14 whether he goes to trial on a double murder charge.

The witness, Michael Hance, was in ill health, Deputy District Attorney Michael A. Byrne told Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor and he was hoping to get Hance’s testimony recorded that day, just in case he died before trial started.

Two mini-cams had been pre-positioned to capture Hance’s testimony, if O’Connor ruled favorably.

But two defense attorneys opposed the motion, saying, essentially, that Hance didn’t look all that sick to them, that he had been physically able to attend court that day, the trial was but a few weeks away and, besides, Hance was expected to be the first witness in the trial and would probably only testify for one day.

Hance entered with the aid of a cane. Under Byrne’s questioning, he described his physical condition – a condition not to be envied.

Organs failed, failing or removed ...

Several of his internal organs either had stopped working properly or were removed entirely, he testified. Portions of his stomach had been removed and a long section of his esophagus had been cut out, he said.

Also a diabetic, Nance had been admitted to hospital several times in recent months, most recently because of his high blood-sugar levels.

Blood sugar level is measured by means of a glucose meter, with the results expressed in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. The average normal person should have a glucose level of around 80 to 125 mg/dL.

The last time he was admitted to the hospital, his level had rocketed to 1,200, Hance testified.

But his main problem, Hance said, was his failed pancreas. Doctors have told him that, if he could get a pancreatic transplant, he might live 10 years more. If not, he might five years left, Hance testified.

Sparks is charged with first degree murder. He is one of several defendants named in connection with a double-murder case that dates back to September 2005.

A jury acquitted the shooter, Michael Huggins, of first-degree murder but found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

The jurors reportedly rejected the first-degree charge, reasoning that Huggins did not intend to rob or burglarize the Hance property when he entered the fenced and gated property at 3 a.m. armed with a loaded .45 caliber handgun.

Huggins apparently convinced the jurors that he had gone to the property intending to buy marijuana and only shot Christopher Hance and Scott Davis when they and a guard dog attacked him.

The marijuana was being grown for Christopher Hance’s seriously disabled father, Michael Hance.

News reports indicated that Sparks had remained outside the fence during the encounter.

While Huggins was convicted of voluntary murder, Sparks still faces first-degree murder charges.

Sparks' attorney, Justin Scott, has argued that, in view of the jury’s decision on Huggins, his client should only be charged with voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder.

The issue was appealed to the state’s higher courts. The California Supreme Court ruled in February that Sparks could be tried on the tougher charge.

Also in court Wednesday was another defendant in the complex case: Angelic Louise Rampone. Her attorney, Roberto Marquez, joined Scott in disputing the need to record Michael Nance’s testimony in advance, basically on the same rationale that Nance’s death was insufficiently probable.

Judge James Curry, who resided over much of this case, rejected a May 29 motion by Marquez to dismiss the charges against Rampone. However, Curry did later trim her bail from $1 million to $10,000. That ruling led to her release from the Yuba County Jail.

Curry has since retired from the bench.

A further hearing in her case is set for Sept. 14.

Judge O’Connor’s rejection ruling was not as heartless as it may seem. She told Byrne the form of medical request that Nance’s doctor had provided the court – a simple letter – was insufficient documentation for her to base a proper legal ruling.

She left the door ajar for the prosecution to re-file its motion should circumstances changed before trial.

The pre-positioned mini-cams were never turned on.

A pre-trial discovery hearing will be held Aug. 16. Further action on Sparks is expected on Sept. 14.


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