Monday, October 18, 2010

Judge lays down rules for Rampone trial

by Tom Nadeau

Visiting Judge R.M. Smith laid out the ground rules today for the coming Yuba County Superior Court trial of Angelic Louise Rampone, who is charged with the first-degree murder in connection with the death of two men in Olivehurst in 2005.

Smith’s first order of business was to hear Deputy District Attorney Michael Byrne announce that he was dropping the special circumstances allegations.

That means Rampone, who has pleaded innocent to all charges, now faces two possible life prison terms without parole, if she is convicted.

Smith then instructed Byrne and defense attorney Roberto Marquez as to how he wanted to conduct the trial business.

Trial pace will be brisk ...

Jury selection on People v. Rampone, CRF-#05-699 is to begin Tuesday with a pool of some 130 juror-candidates getting questionnaires to fill out for the lawyers and the judge to review.

Smith said voir dire -- the “see and tell” session where the lawyers get to quiz juror-candidates about their opinions and beliefs – should start Thursday.

He expects to ultimately empanel 12 jurors and two alternates, Smith said.

A typical trial day will begin at 9 a.m. and break for lunch at noon, Smith told the lawyers. In between there will be two 10-minute breaks at the top of the hour, one at 10 a.m. and another at 11.

The afternoon session is to run from 1 to 3:30 p.m. with one 10minute rest stop midway through.

That is a relatively Spartan regime compared to a typical jury day in Yuba County where the day may begin at 9 or 9:30 a.m. with a 15-20 minute break about 10 a.m. Lunch runs from noon to 1:30 p.m. followed by an afternoon session highlighted by one visit to the relief break mid-afternoon.

Juries usually recess for the day around 4:30 p.m.

Rampone is one defendant in a complicated murder proceeding that all started with the slayings of Christopher Hance and Scott Davis at an Olivehurst medical marijuana farm.

Investigators say several people went to the fenced property where Hance had legal permission to grow the marijuana for his father who used the natural drug to ease his severe physical pain. The visitors’ plan was to steal marijuana.

But when Hance and Davis accosted the intruders, suspect Michael Huggins shot them dead.

Also charged in connection with this fatal incident is Dustin Sparks, who last week entered a guilty plea to reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter. He awaits sentencing in January, 2011.

As the Sparks defense recounted the incident, when the group arrived, only Huggins entered the property. Sparks remained outside having decided to bail out of the situation. Driver Rampone remained in the vehicle.

Both Sparks and Rampone fled the scene when the shooting started, according to earlier statements.

Killer Huggins was arrested and tried for special circumstances first-degree murder, but a Yuba County jury found him guilty only of voluntary manslaughter.

Meanwhile, as Rampone’s trial proceeds, a separate writ of certiorari filed by Sparks is being considered by the US Supreme Court.

If the High Court takes it on as an issue, Sparks plea deal calls for his guilty plea to be rescinded and he goes back to square one and could go to trial on his original murder one counts.

Sam Pierce contributed to this story.


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