Number of pending murder cases expected to strain county resources
August 5, 2008
Although there’s no official record tally of pending murder cases in El Dorado County at one time, most who’ve been around for awhile will tell you 13 is more than they’ve ever seen.
As of Friday, the list of individuals charged with murder by the District Attorney’s Office included: Patricia Presba, Jaime Ramos, Morris Greenberg, Dana L. Dodd, Nicholas J. Denham, Christine A. Varozza, Charles A. Bailey, Joseph M. Nissensohn, David C. Zanon, Raul R. Reyes, Tony H. McClung and Connie M. Zahn.
Meanwhile, Ulysses Roberson and Joseph M. Nissensohn are currently being held at the Tahoe jail facility in South Lake Tahoe where they both await murder trials.
“You bet it’s the most I’ve ever seen,” Superior Court Judge Eddie T. Keller said Friday. “I’ve tried a great many murder cases over the years, but I’ve never seen so many pop up at once like this.”
Since murder cases are the most complex of all, they require much more time and resources of county government agencies, primarily the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices.
District Attorney Vern Pierson said his office will do the best it can to handle so many big cases at once, but said he is pessimistic that the resources available will suffice.
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“Of the attorneys in our office, only a relatively small number are experienced enough to handle these types of cases,” he said. “It also has a major impact on the investigators in our office.”
Pierson, like Keller, said the high number could just be coincidental, but added that the recent economic downturn has appeared to have had some effect on the recent cases.
Just last week, Presba and Ramos were charged with murder with a special circumstance of killing for financial gain and the case of Greenberg appears to be somewhat financially related, as his home was reportedly being foreclosed at the time of the incident.
Pierson said at this point, his office hasn’t even begun to feel the major impact of all the pending cases.
“With so many lately, it’s been the sheriff’s detectives who have been impacted the most,” Pierson said. “But we will definitely start to feel the effects soon.”
But others say it will be the office of the Public Defender that gets taxed the most.
Veteran deputy public defender David Brooks, who is currently handling the most complex case on the list ” suspected CHP officer killer David Zanon ” said many of the pending defendants are being represented by attorneys in his office.
Brooks said federal law requires defense counselors to meet rigorous experience requirements to be able to aptly defend those charged with murder. Only a few others besides him in the Placerville office have met such criteria.
He said the public defender’s resources will surely be taxed, but that the taxing won’t come all at once.
“Everybody’s preparing for the impact, but it really won’t be felt for awhile,” he said. “And it will be incremental.”
That could mean delays in the system. Instead of taking two years for such cases to reach trial, it could be three, some attorneys believe.
The issue of limited resources in the Placerville Public Defender’s Office was actually introduced as an argument in open court in June. Assistant Public Defender Mark Ralphs reasoned that the case of suspected serial killer Nissensohn should to be sent up to the South Shore, where it could get the attention it requires. A judge agreed and the case was transferred.
All 13 of the murder defendants, with the exception of Presba and Ramos (who are in Utah awaiting extradition), and Greenberg (who remains hospitalized), are currently being housed in the two El Dorado County jails without bail.
The next of the defendants set to stand trial is McClung, who is accused of murdering his girlfriend and wrapping her in plastic in September 2006. His trial is set to begin this month.