7.16.2008

TS - Gundersen turns down plea deal

Gundersen turns down plea deal

Former Blue Lake Police Chief David Gundersen, who is facing 28 felony charges, turned down a plea deal that could have landed him in prison for anywhere from nine to 26 years, attorneys said in court Tuesday.

”We rejected it in its entirety,” Gundersen's attorney Russell Clanton said of the deal, in which Gundersen would have pleaded guilty to one count of spousal rape and another of forcibly raping a second victim. “Our position is that the defendant has no criminal liability.”

After Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson asked for a progress report on settlement discussions, District Attorney Paul Gallegos said he had offered the plea deal and Clanton said the defense declined it.

The defense, Clanton said, would only be agreeable to a deal in which Gundersen would plead guilty to one of the misdemeanor counts he is facing in exchange for dismissing the remaining 30 charges.

Watson asked Gundersen if he had been informed of the plea bargain discussions and if Clanton had accurately represented them.

”Yes, sir,” replied Gundersen, who sat next to Clanton during his brief court appearance Tuesday clad in a red jumpsuit.
Gundersen, who was arrested Feb. 8 and remains held in the Humboldt County jail on $1.25 million bail, again pleaded not guilty to all charges Tuesday after Gallegos filed amended charges with 31 counts, including 24 charges of spousal rape with the use of an intoxicant, forcible rape of a second victim with a firearm enhancement, attempting to dissuade a witness, violating a court order and possessing a submachine gun and a pistol with an attached silencer.

Jury selection was slated to start Tuesday, but was pushed back until today in order to allow Clanton and Gallegos time to put together a jury questionnaire that would probe potential jurors on their general ability to hear the case fairly. Watson also asked court staff to put together a hardship questionnaire for potential jurors and, in doing so, estimated the trial would take up to 10 weeks.

Watson also heard oral arguments regarding two motions Clanton filed last month seeking a change of venue and to have the charges of spousal rape tried separately from the charges of forcibly raping a second victim.

Watson essentially put the change of venue motion on hold, saying he would wait to see if it looks like an impartial jury can be seated in the case before ruling on the motion.

On the second motion, Clanton argued that the spousal rape charges concerning Jane Doe 1 are inherently different than the forcible rape charge regarding Jane Doe 2. The alleged acts are separated by seven or eight years, involve two different victims and two distinct sets of circumstances, Clanton argued.

Clanton also argued that Jane Doe 2 is an unreliable witness and, consequently, the forcible rape charge is much weaker than those concerning Gundersen's alleged conduct with Jane Doe 1.

”I've been a defense attorney for years and I can honestly say I don't think I've ever seen a case with such a weak set of facts brought before a jury,” Clanton said of the forcible rape charge.

He said the potential for prejudice in trying the charges together is “just overwhelming,” as the stronger Jane Doe 1 charges would likely buttress the weaker Jane Doe 2 charge in the jury's eyes.

In response, Gallegos argued that the charges are related as they both involve “the use of another person's body against their will for one's own sexual gratification.”

Further, Gallegos argued that if the charges were tried separately, the evidence would be admissible anyway.

Watson took the matter under submission, but did not say when he would issue a ruling.

After Tuesday's court appearance, Clanton said he was glad Watson checked in on settlement talks because it helps ensure both sides are communicating about the case. However, Clanton said he and Gallegos are far apart in plea discussions and reiterated that the only plea Gundersen would accept is a misdemeanor charge, and that would only be to avoid a trial in which the defendant faces virtually a life sentence if convicted on all charges.

”That's the only thing we would ever plea to,” Clanton said. “There is no chance in the world we would plea to anything that involves felony culpability. He has no criminal liability in any of this.”

Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 07/16/2008 01:30:31 AM PDT