Charges dismissed in Mendocino County marijuana robbery case after two mistrials
After two separate trials led to deadlocked juries, Mendocino County prosecutors dismissed all charges against a group of men from Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties accused of armed robbery in 2019 at a cannabis farm.
The dismissal ends a nearly two-year ordeal for the defendants, Nathan Dominic Kurtz, 26, of Petaluma, Azuriah Dominic Paul, 26, of Forestville, and Christian Shane Waier, 26, of Capitola, who claimed they had been double-crossed by a man who had given them marijuana and other items to settle a debt.
They argued they were unarmed when they went to the property and the alleged victim gave them some cash, pot and a pickup to start repaying a $70,000 debt — then staged a robbery scene after they left and called 911, according to defense attorney Jai Gohel.
“In the end the jury I think believed two main things: That the victim knew my clients and had business relationships with them and that he concocted or staged the robbery scene,” said Gohel, who represented Waier in the trials.
The lead prosecutor on the case, Dale Trigg, couldn’t be reached Monday through a District Attorney’s Office spokesman.
The encounter occurred July 9, 2019 on a remote Low Gap Road property about 10 miles west of Ukiah, an area known for marijuana cultivation.
About 9 p.m., a man called 911 to report he and another man had been attacked by six men wearing masks who tied them up with zip ties and duct tape, took marijuana, a pickup, cellphones and other belongings, according to court documents and the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies spotted the pickup and a Jeep Compass leaving the area as they responded to the call, radioing for backup to stop the vehicles. Two men in the Jeep, Paul and Waier, were arrested. The driver of the pickup got out of the vehicle and ran, and authorities later arrested Kurtz, the suspected driver.
Gohel acknowledged the case involved illegal cannabis cultivation but said his client and the other defendants did not rob anyone and were not armed.
“This was a marijuana debt collection that was not a robbery,” Gohel said.
Gohel said that a deeper investigation into the situation would have revealed that one of the alleged victims, David Stetson, had business ties with some of the defendants from their involvement in the illicit marijuana trade.
Attempts to locate Stetson were unsuccessful Monday.
The first trial began in March shortly before the coronavirus pandemic halted many court proceedings. A judge declared a mistrial after the jury couldn’t reach an agreement, splitting 6-6 on some charges and 9-3 for acquittal on others, court records show.
A second trial was held in October. Nine out of 12 jurors voted to acquit the defendants on all charges, according to court filings. District Attorney David Eyster announced his office would pursue a third trial.
But in February, the defendants requested Judge Keith Faulder dismiss the case, arguing the prosecution lacked credible witnesses to back up their claims.
At a March 5 hearing to discuss the defendants’ request, prosecutors announced they would dismiss all charges and forgo a third trial.
“This would have been a serious crime, don’t get me wrong, and you can’t blame the DA for pursuing it,” Gohel said. “But I wish they had looked below the surface and investigated the underlying relationships.”
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.