Suspect in Laytonville pot farmer's killing now considered kidnap victim; second suspect turns himself in
A second suspect has turned himself in over the case of a Mendocino County pot grower allegedly killed and robbed by the very trimmers he’d hired to tend his crop.
Gary “Giggles” Lynn Fitzgerald, 23, of Roanoke, Illinois, surrendered to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department on the evening of Nov. 23, officials said Monday.
Fitzgerald was booked on suspicion of murder with a bail set at $650,000. He joins Zachary Ryan Wuester, 24, of Haskell, New Jersey, who turned himself in Nov. 16 in Willits and was also booked into jail on suspicion of murder.
Both men are suspected of participating in the Nov. 11 killing of Jeffrey Settler, 35, a Texas native who was found slain at his rural Laytonville property and pot farm.
They’re also going to be charged with robbery because they’re accused of leaving the property with more than ?100 pounds of Settler’s marijuana, Sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney said.
A total of seven people are now considered suspects in a case that has rattled the North Coast at the peak of the marijuana harvest, when “trimmigrants” flood the Emerald Triangle looking for work separating the potent buds from pot plants.
One of the initial suspects in the case, Amanda Wiest, 26, of Fairfax, Virginia, has also been reclassified as a victim of kidnapping, Barney said.
Wiest was staying on the property near where Settler was killed and left the area with others following the violent attack, causing investigators to initially name her as a suspect, Barney said.
But after hiring an attorney, she met with investigators and convinced them she was not involved in the attack and was, along with her 4-year-old son, a victim, Barney said.
“What we learned since her interview was she did not leave of her own free will,” Barney said.
He suggested Wiest may have left with the others to protect her 4-year-old son. He declined to say if weapons or other force where used in the kidnapping.
“Suffice it to say that she did not feel free to leave,” he said.
Wiest was taken to Sacramento where she was released, he said. After contacting an attorney, she was interviewed by investigators and cleared of involvement, Barney said.
Neither man has been charged with kidnapping yet because the development is a “new wrinkle” in the case. It will be up to the District Attorney to decide whether to bring those charges, Barney said.
Like Wiest, Fitzgerald sought the advice of an attorney before turning himself in.
Barney encouraged the other five suspects in the case to come forward and tell their sides of the story.
They are Frederick “Freddy” Gaestel, 27, of Clifton, New Jersey; Gary “Cricket” Blank III, 34, of Elgin, Illinois; Jesse Wells, 32, of Binghamton, New York; Michael Kane, 25, of Pleasantville, New York; and a man known only as “Richie” who police said may be 25 years old and possibly from San Diego.
Barney said it would be unlikely that all seven suspects would be charged in a single person’s murder.
Indications are that there may have been a dispute over how much money was owed to the workers, Barney said.
A law enforcement source said the suspects had recently been evicted from the property, and some returned that night intending to rob Settler.
But the robbery turned violent and Settler fought back.
He was hit with a blunt instrument and his throat was cut, the source said. Barney declined to comment on such details, citing the pending investigation.