Suspect in Jenner beach murders pleads no contest

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Read a 2014 Sonoma Magazine story on the 10-year anniversary of the killings and the life-changing effect they had on former Sheriff Steve Freitas here.

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For past coverage of the slayings, go here.

Shaun Michael Gallon, a Forestville man and ex-felon jailed nearly two years ago in the slaying of his brother, admitted in a Sonoma County courtroom Thursday to the 2004 murders of a young Midwestern couple camped on a Jenner beach, along with other violent crimes, bringing an abrupt end to the county’s most unsettling cold case in a generation.

Lindsay Cutshall, 22, and her fiancé, Jason Allen, 26, were found shot at close range on the stretch of the Sonoma Coast where they had camped on a break from their summer jobs as Christian camp counselors. They were strangers to Gallon, who grew up along the Russian River.

Nearly 13 years would pass before detectives received a jailhouse note from Gallon that would prove to be the ultimate breakthrough in the cold-blooded and baffling crime.

On Thursday, Gallon gave his first public admission to the killings in an agreement with prosecutors in which he also confessed to killing his younger brother, Shamus Gallon, 36, in 2017 at the family’s Forestville home.

Gallon, 40, will never be released from prison.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office agreed to not seek the death penalty, and Gallon agreed to punishment totaling seven consecutive life terms plus an additional 18 years and eight months for using firearms and a prior felony conviction for a bow-and-arrow attack.

Sonoma County Judge Robert LaForge approved the no-contest deal Thursday, one day before prosecutors were to begin presenting evidence against Gallon in a preliminary hearing. Victims and family of victims spread across the country had been prepared to get onto airplanes to be present. Now, there will be no trial.

“This is exactly what we wanted,” said Cutshall’s father Chris Cutshall, pastor of Fresno Bible Church in Ohio. “I personally believe in the death penalty so I would have been OK with that. But we are not out for revenge — we are out for justice. We are happy he will be in prison for the rest of his life.”

Gallon also admitted to trying to kill former Monte Rio resident John Robles in 2004 by placing a package bomb on the man’s parked car outside his home — about two months before Cutshall and Allen were found dead on the Jenner beach. It was Robles’ wife Parvoneh Leval who went out to the car that morning. She began to grab the mysterious package on her husband’s car roof. Robles was inside their home with their daughters, ages 2 and 6, when he heard the explosion. He ran outside, and saw his wife collapse, covered in blood.

She has mostly recovered from her injuries but they moved out of California and remained fearful with no suspect in custody.

Robles said he broke down in sobs after learning he would not face Gallon in the courtroom Friday.

“I wasn’t expecting to feel that way,” said Robles, 45, of Vancouver, Washington. “A lot of it is reflecting on the past 15 years and reliving some of the moments of that day, thinking about all the ‘what ifs.’”

They will have the chance to face Gallon July 15 when he is sentenced by LaForge.

Read a 2014 Sonoma Magazine story on the 10-year anniversary of the killings and the life-changing effect they had on former Sheriff Steve Freitas here.

_____

For past coverage of the slayings, go here.

His attorney, deputy public defender Jeff Mitchell, said Gallon did not have a public statement Thursday. At sentencing, Gallon will have the opportunity to address the court, the victims and their families.

“He will serve the rest of his life in prison. He is receiving an extremely severe punishment, but along with that punishment he can try to redeem himself and reflect,” Mitchell said.

During Thursday’s brief hearing, LaForge questioned Gallon and his attorney to ensure he was fully aware of the plea agreement’s terms and mentally competent to make the choice. Gallon said he understood the proceedings and Mitchell said he didn’t doubt Gallon’s competence.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said she reached her decision to offer a plea bargain with Gallon — and forgo pursuing the death penalty — after discussions with the family of the victims, other victims, and a review of the record, including information presented by the defense requesting prosecutors not seek capital punishment.

“Notwithstanding the heinous nature of the crimes, and the number of victims who fell prey to this defendant, it was necessary to weigh the evidence, the burden carried by the surviving family members, and the impact on the public safety of the community in accepting this disposition,” Ravitch said in a statement. “We hope those directly impacted by this violence, and those who have grieved over the loss of life, will find solace in the finality of this disposition.”

The agreement provides a swift public conclusion to a string of troubling crimes stretching back 15 years.

But unlike the public process of a jury trial, it provides no clues as to Gallon’s motives in a pair of notorious killings that became one of Sonoma County’s most haunting unsolved crimes.

In the 13 years after Cutshall’s and Allen’s bodies were found on Fish Head Beach, with fatal wounds from a .45-caliber rifle, rotating teams of detectives chased leads, tips and suspects, some sent them traveling across the world. They explored possible connections to other unsolved homicides from the Pacific Northwest to Arizona.

It was Gallon who provided the crucial information to help detectives solve both the Jenner case as well as the 2004 bombing that maimed Leval. He was in the Sonoma County Jail after being arrested in his brother’s murder when detectives invited him to contact them if he wanted to discuss other cases.

Some weeks later, detectives received a jailhouse note. Gallon was ready to talk.

Gallon confessed to the killings in a series of interviews with detectives, providing information only the killer would know, said Sonoma County sheriff’s Lt. Tim Duke, who was the lead detective at the outset of the case.

Gallon was identified as the lone suspect in the case by then-Sheriff Steve Freitas in May 2017 press conference.

“The admission, the evidence, there is no one else. Unequivocally, it was Shaun,” Duke said outside the courthouse on Thursday.

Sheriff’s officials have insisted that Gallon was an early suspect whose name was never eliminated from the list of prime suspects, even as they crossed off other names. He was 25 at the time of the killings, had grown up in Forestville and was known to sheriff’s deputies. Six days after Cutshall and Allen were murdered, he was arrested on an unrelated stolen property and weapons case, which was later dropped.

Thirteen times he was arrested and crossed paths with deputies over the years, the sheriff’s office has said. He served a prison stint for a 2010 conviction for firing an arrow into an occupied car.

Sheriff Mark Essick said he believes the plea agreement is a just resolution to the case because Gallon will never be set free.

“This is not a man who made one mistake,” Essick said. “This is a guy who murdered his brother in cold blood in front of their mother, who murdered this couple just here to camp and who placed a bomb on a car.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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