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Old 11-16-2007, 08:17 AM   #1
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Rare Robbery Case Brings Cries Of Racism

Rare robbery case brings cries of racism

By JULIANA BARBASSA, Associated Press Writer Fri Nov 16

Three young black men break into a white man's home in rural Northern California. The homeowner shoots two of them to death — but it's the surviving black man who is charged with murder.

In a case that has brought cries of racism from civil rights groups, Renato Hughes Jr., 22, was charged by prosecutors in this overwhelmingly white county under a rarely invoked legal doctrine that could make him responsible for the bloodshed.

"It was pandemonium" inside the house that night, District Attorney Jon Hopkins said. Hughes was responsible for "setting the whole thing in motion by his actions and the actions of his accomplices."

Prosecutors said homeowner Shannon Edmonds opened fire Dec. 7 after three young men rampaged through the Clearlake house demanding marijuana and brutally beat his stepson. Rashad Williams, 21, and Christian Foster, 22, were shot in the back. Hughes fled.

Hughes was charged with first-degree murder under California's Provocative Act doctrine, versions of which have been on the books in many states for generations but are rarely used.

The Provocative Act doctrine does not require prosecutors to prove the accused intended to kill. Instead, "they have to show that it was reasonably foreseeable that the criminal enterprise could trigger a fatal response from the homeowner," said Brian Getz, a San Francisco defense attorney unconnected to the case.

The NAACP complained that prosecutors came down too hard on Hughes, who also faces robbery, burglary and assault charges. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

The Rev. Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP and pastor at Hughes' church, said the case demonstrates the legal system is racist in remote Lake County, aspiring wine country 100 miles north of San Francisco. The sparsely populated county of 13,000 people is 91 percent white and 2 percent black.

Brown and other NAACP officials are asking why the homeowner is walking free. Tests showed Edmonds had marijuana and prescription medication in his system the night of the shooting. Edmonds had a prescription for both the pot and the medication to treat depression.

"This man had no business killing these boys," Brown said. "They were shot in the back. They had fled."

On Thursday, a judge granted a defense motion for a change of venue. The defense had argued that he would not be able to get a fair trial because of extensive local media coverage and the unlikelihood that Hughes could get a jury of his peers in the county. A new location for the trial will be selected Dec. 14.

The district attorney said that race played no part in the charges against Hughes and that the homeowner was spared prosecution because of evidence he was defending himself and his family, who were asleep when the assailants barged in at 4 a.m.

Edmonds' stepson, Dale Lafferty, suffered brain damage from the baseball bat beating he took during the melee. The 19-year-old lives in a rehabilitation center and can no longer feed himself.

"I didn't do anything wrong. All I did was defend my family and my children's lives," said Edmonds, 33. "I'm sad the kids are dead, I didn't mean to kill them."

He added: "Race has nothing to do with it other than this was a gang of black people who thought they were going to beat up this white family."

California's Provocative Act doctrine has primarily been used to charge people whose actions led to shooting deaths.

However, in one notable case in Southern California in 1999, a man who robbed a family at gunpoint in their home was convicted of murder because a police officer pursuing him in a car chase slammed into another driver in an intersection, killing her.

Hughes' mother, San Francisco schoolteacher Judy Hughes, said she believes the group didn't intend to rob the family, just buy marijuana. She called the case against her son a "legal lynching."

"Only God knows what happened in that house," she said. "But this I know: My son did not murder his childhood friends."

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Old 11-16-2007, 09:41 AM   #2
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He should do serious time, for the assault & robbery. I'm guessing one of the other 2 robbers was the one with the baseball bat; that sounds like attempted murder to me and he wasn't charged with that.

The murder charge is a joke, and you have to question the motivation. I'd guess race, but I admit I tend to see race in cases like this.

I'm betting there's more to this story, I hope it actually sees a courtroom and isn't plead out. I doubt it though.

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Old 11-16-2007, 12:27 PM   #3
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Yeah, hard to know without having more details about the nature of Hughes' involvement in the whole thing. I've heard of 'Provocative Act'-type arguments being used before elsewhere, but I thought those were basically for cases where an innocent bystander dies as a result of the victim's (or cop's) reaction. I suppose from the prosecutors' end it's a way of wringing out all the mileage they can possibly get from the one surviving offender in view of the injury to Edmonds' son, but considering the other two already paid with their lives for their (apparently direct) role in that, it seems extreme to hold Hughes accountable for what happened to them.

That said, from the article it's also hard to see where there are grounds for charging Edmonds with anything, and the claim that they were just there to buy a little marijuana seems patently absurd.
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Old 11-17-2007, 10:39 AM   #4
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"This man had no business killing these boys,"

Interesting choice of words, I'm sure they weren't meant to stir things further..............
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