Warren sentenced on charges unrelated to murder, hit-and-run; DA: Pre-sentencing release 'right decision for that time'

Warren sentenced on charges unrelated to murder, hit-and-run; DA: Pre-sentencing release 'right decision for that time'

The man considered a “person of interest” in the death of a Hoopa woman and a hit-and-run crash that killed a Humboldt State University instructor was sentenced Wednesday to nine years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon, after failing to show for his sentencing in September.

Jason Anthony Warren, 28, was arrested on a warrant related to his failure to appear hours after the Sept. 27 hit-and-run that led to the discovery of Dorothy Ulrich's body in her Hoopa home.

He was released from custody in late August on a Cruz waiver, part of a plea agreement that had him facing six years in prison with the stipulation that the assault change would be dropped if he showed up for his Sept. 7 sentencing.

For failing to appear, he was sentenced for the assault, being a felon in possession of a firearm and admitting to a previous strike on his record.

Warren has not been charged in the homicide or the hit-and-run. The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office has referred to Warren as a “person of interest” in Ulrich's death and the hit-and-run.

Assistant District Attorney Kelly Neel said that following Wednesday's sentencing, Warren will begin the normal process of transferring to state custody.

HSU geography instructor Suzanne Seemann -- the mother of two young children and wife of Humboldt County official Hank Seemann -- died at the scene of the hit-and-run. Her running partners, Eureka residents Jessica Hunt, 41, and Terri Vroman-Little, 50, were severely injured.

The hit-and-run investigation led the CHP to Ulrich, a 47-year-old mother of three. She had borrowed the 2005 Kia Spectra that struck the women joggers on Myrtle Avenue. Ulrich was seen with Warren last Wednesday, according to her sister-in-law Maria Ulrich. The cause and time of her death have not been released.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos said his office can oppose or recommend a Cruz waiver release -- investigators may want an informant released to gather more information, for example -- but it is ultimately up to the court.

”Those separations of power are in place for a reason,” Gallegos said. “The system puts an inherent distrust in everyone.”

Deputy District Attorney Zachary Curtis did not oppose the Cruz waiver approved by Judge Timothy Cissna in Warren's case. Gallegos said the Cruz waiver is seen as a disincentive to commit further crimes and an encouragement to appear for sentencing.

The Times-Standard was unable to contact Cissna or Curtis by press deadline.

”I don't question the decision that was made,” Gallegos said. “It was the right decision for that time.”

”With the benefit of hindsight, I wish to God we had opposed it, and I wish the judge hadn't released him,” Gallegos said. “That, of course, presumes that (Warren) is guilty. I would remind people -- and it's my duty to do so -- Mr. Warren is presumed innocent.”

Golden Gate University law professor Peter Keane said Cruz waivers are not unusual when it is clear that a defendant will not be incarcerated.

It's less common when a defendant is facing prison time. Keane said a defendant would usually have to convince the judge that he or she had to get their affairs in order before serving a sentence. Those affairs typically involve finding care for young children or elderly parents, Keane said.

”Some sort of real 'hearts and flowers' type thing,” he said.

Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham said his officers arrested Warren after staking out a residence on California and Sonoma streets in Eureka, a few blocks from where the Kia Spectra was abandoned. The officers spotted Warren entering a pickup truck with another individual at about 4:30 p.m. last Thursday, and performed a traffic stop.

He said he sees the situation as the most recent example of how the state's public safety realignment plan is failing California counties.

”Again, this was another parole who had been sentenced to six years in prison, but was allowed to be released to take care of business,” Harpham said. ”When everything comes out on that, I think people are going to be as upset about this parole situation as I am. Because when the whole story comes out, it's going to be pretty tragic and it will show how unavoidable that situation was. This was a person who should not have been released.”

Gallegos said this was an opportunity to review communication between the courts, district attorney's office and various law enforcement agencies in the county. He stressed that the blame for the homicide and hit-and-run rests on the person who committed the crimes.

”Are there checks that can be placed along the way that can prevent reoccurrence?” Gallegos asked. “Maybe.”

”I can tell you my office is going to take a different look toward Cruz waivers,” Gallegos said. “We certainly don't want this to happen again.”

At a glance: Cruz waiver

A Cruz waiver is part of a plea agreement that has a defendant agree to have a greater sentence imposed for failing to appear at sentencing. In the case of Jason Warren, he faced nine years for failing to appear.

Grant Scott-Goforth can be reached at 441-0514 or gscott-goforth@times-standard.com.