Calaveras County Superior Court

Witness recalls rapid-fire shots

By Jason Cowan, The Union Democrat, @jcowan1031

It was like a barrage of bullets from guns that ranged in caliber said one witness called to testify Thursday for a man accused of killing three at a marijuana farm near Mountain Ranch in October 2015.

Sostenes Romero, owner of property adjacent to the scene of the crime, said he heard the first two shots just after he woke up to make coffee, a morning routine that normally begins at 6 a.m.

He said he heard seven to eight more shots at some point before 6:30 a.m. Thinking it may have been a hunter, he hopped on an off-road vehicle and rode a few hundred feet through a pasture and over the road. He said he didn’t see anyone, but spotted a white pickup sitting halfway off the road.

“They were rapid-fire shots. Different calibers of weapons. Different calibers of guns. Some small, loud and muffled,” Romero said. “When I went down the hill (later on), the same truck was abandoned sitting off the road.”

Romero was one of seven witnesses called Thursday to testify in defense of Jeremiah Barrett, a man on trial in connection with the Oct. 20, 2015, shooting deaths of three men, Robert Daniel Haney, Terry Glen Looney Jr. and Wesley David Smith.

Barrett has maintained his actions were done in self defense.

Sean Davis, a fourth person at the property that day who ultimately escaped, said he did not know of anybody in the group he was with who had a weapon. He was eventually left behind by the three victims as they attempted to steal marijuana from the site.

He didn’t know anything else regarding the victims. He had a confrontation with the person on the property and eventually escaped. He said he fell and took a nap by a tree before he ran to a nearby house and was taken in. Calaveras County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Davis for an outstanding warrant just hours later in Mokelumne Hill.

Sgt. Kevin Stevens, an investigator from the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office on scene the day of the crime, said a 12-gauge pump action shotgun and a box of ammunition was found in a trailer on the property when he revisited the site on Oct. 22.

Inside the box of ammunition were two different sets of bullets: .22 caliber long rifle and .45 caliber shells. The former fit the description of spent shell casings found on Nov. 5, 2015 on the property by a private investigator hired by the defense. The brand manufacturers, however, did not.

Bill Posey, a toxicologist from a Clovis-based lab, reported the methamphetamine levels in the fluids of the victims were elevated due to postmortem effects, but they were still considered to be effective levels.

Cross examination from prosecutor Brad Jones revealed levels could be comparable to a hypothetical presented during trial of a college student who takes meth to attempt to study for an exam.

Judge Tim Healy denied requests by the defense outside the presence of the jury to call another witness, a psychiatrist who works with meth inmates in Sacramento and Davis, to further explain the impacts of meth use on behavior.

He said the defendant would had to have known the three men were on meth at the time of the incident. When interviewed by law enforcement, Barrett said he suspected they were “tweakers” when asked why the victims behaved the way they did before the shooting.

“I have not heard enough evidence your client knew of the meth,” Healy said.

Three character witnesses were also called to testify on behalf of Barrett. Among them was Jenae Plasse, Barrett’s girlfriend, who said the defendant was caring, loving and gentle. He hadn’t shown any signs of aggression or violence.

Former Amador County Supervisor and father Maurice Plasse said he knew Barrett to be a hard worker who would routinely wake up early to go to different construction jobs. He said the defendant helped them put on a 60th anniversary party for his mother and father.

The jury was excused until 9 a.m. Tuesday. Foley said he wanted to look into calling Barrett to testify. Parties will meet at 10:30 a.m. Friday for an informal discussion before they go on record at 11 a.m. to discuss jury instruction.

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The Union Democrat
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