Warren Trial, Day Seven: The Autopsies

Ryan Burns / Monday, Nov. 16 @ 6:09 p.m. / Courts

Warning: This post contains graphic details of injuries from a violent attack. 

On the seventh day of the double-murder trial of Jason Anthony Warren, a forensic pathologist described the extensive violent injuries he found during autopsies of Dorothy Ulrich and Suzanne Seemann, the two women killed on the same morning back in September 2012.

Special Prosecutor Paul Sequeira, from Mendocino County, continued to lay out evidence tying Warren to the brutal murder of Ulrich in her Hoopa home and, roughly an hour later, the allegedly deliberate collision with three women and a dog running along Myrtle Ave. north of Eureka, which resulted in the death of Seemann and the dog and grievous injuries to fellow runners Terri Vroman Little and Jessica Hunt.

As for the defense, Glenn Brown with the county’s Alternate Counsel office continued his representation of Warren by questioning some of the details in the evidence presented, but he has yet to succeed in destabilizing the weight of evidence against his client.

Suzie Seemann running in the Trinidad-to-Clam Beach event in 2009. Photo courtesy Hank Seemann.

The day’s first witness, forensic pathologist Dr. Ikechi Ogan, testified that in his postmortem examination of Seemann he found a pattern of blunt force injury with abrasions, contusions and lacerations on her head, torso and extremities, plus a dislocated shoulder, skull fractures, punctured lungs, broken ribs and more. He outlined those injuries in great detail while the prosecution displayed photos taken during the autopsy.

He also relayed the “story” that the evidence was telling him. For example, a bruised and scraped area on Seemann’s forehead told Dr. Ogan that she fell forward, landing with a strong impact on a rough surface. A deep laceration and contusion on her back thigh was consistent with the height of the bumper on the Kia Spectra that Warren is alleged to have stolen from Ulrich.

Sequeira asked if that injury was consistent with being hit in the back of the leg with a car.

“That’s what it is, sir,” Dr. Ogan replied coolly.

Scrapes and “round pockmarks” on the back of Seemann’s elbow “told me the story of impact,” the doctor continued. It was a fall with motion on a gravelly surface.

While this evidence was being presented, Warren sat at the defense table with his head down, apparently drawing or writing with a small pencil. Periodically throughout the day Warren would reach out to the nearby bailiff with one of these pencils in hand, and the bailiff would pull out a new, sharper one from a drawer and trade with Warren.

Dorothy Ulrich. Photo courtesy Shirley Ortega.

Dr. Ogan continued his testimony with descriptions from the Ulrich autopsy, which revealed a different, more complex method to murder. Previous testimony has suggested that the murder weapon was a samurai-style sword, and Ulrich’s body showed signs of blunt-force trauma, chopping-type injuries and stab wounds. The back of her head had a large laceration and skull fracture, which showed that, “It had to be [caused by] a weapon that had some weight to it,” Ogan said.

Ulrich also suffered at least nine different lacerations to her scalp, six stab wounds to her torso — four of which were to the back — and defensive wounds on her hands and arms. Ulrich’s lung and heart were punctured, and she had small broken blood vessels in her eyes, known as petechiae, which suggest strangulation, choking or suffocation, Ogan said.

Multiple people in the courtroom, including Ulrich’s mother, got up and left to avoid the graphic images from the autopsy. Ogan described the stab wounds in detail, explaining how some suggested a double-edged blade while others showed evidence of a hilt, though he also explained how those two types of injuries can be caused by the same weapon if it penetrates to different depths.

Ogan’s interpretation of the evidence, he said, was that the injuries were caused with a “heavy, sharp weapon, such as a machete, an ax or a sword,” and the cause of death was “many sharp- and blunt-force injuries,” including a blow to the back of the head that fractured the base of her skull.

On cross-examination, Brown asked Ogan to go back over some of the details in his testimony, with particular emphasis on the petechiae, or broken blood vessels in the eyes. Brown suggested that those could have been caused by yelling, bleeding, a heavy strike or even just lying face-down. Ogan allowed that he couldn’t say definitively that Ulrich had been strangled. Brown made no attempt to argue that Ulrich wasn’t stabbed and bludgeoned to death.

Brown also had questions about the Seemann autopsy. He noted that Dr. Ogan had said the pockmarks found in her elbow were consistent with impact with with a rough surface, which is not the same as saying they were caused by impact with a rough surface. 

“See the difference?” Brown asked.

Ogan was nonplussed. “It’s a semantic difference,” he said.

The next witness was Dr. John Van Speybroeck, a general surgeon who examined both Jessica Hunt and Terri Vroman Little, the joggers injured in the same impact that killed Seemann. Both suffered broken legs, with Hunt’s an “open” or compound fracture of both the tibia and fibula. Hunt also had brain injuries, lacerations to her scalp, ear and elbow, ligament damage in her knee, a broken foot and many bruises and abrasions.

Vroman Little didn’t fare much better, suffering a cranial nerve injury, broken lower leg, scalp abrasions, a bruised lung and a concussion. 

Brown had no cross-examination questions for Dr. Van Speybroeck.

The day’s final witness was Kay Belschner, a senior criminologist with the California Department of Justice, who detailed the evidence recovered from the Kia Spectra. When she examined the car at Humboldt Towing shortly after the incident, it had extensive damage, including dents, broken headlights and a shattered windshield. And closer examination revealed a wealth of physical evidence.

There were three “smears” on the hood, as if something heavy had slid up them, she said. Apparent blood stains were found on windows, the windshield, the side of the car and the interior. A lock of hair that had been apparently chopped off proved to be consistent with Ulrich’s hair. Animal hair recovered from the car’s bumper was consistent with that of Maggie, the dog who’d died in the collision. 

Belschner also recovered incriminating evidence from the clothes Warren was wearing when he was arrested. Broken glass consistent with windshield glass was found in his jacket pockets, cap, shoes, long-sleeve shirt and shorts. Fibers from his jacket were consistent with fibers found on the driver’s side seat of the Kia. And Warren had apparent blood stains on his tank top, shoes and long-sleeve shirt. The samples were sent to Department of Justice labs in Redding and Chico for analysis.

One other piece of evidence: Dorothy Ulrich’s severed, “blood-soaked” ponytail was found in the hood of her sweatshirt.

Again Brown asked for clarification on some of the evidence during cross-examination. He asked Belschner a few questions about dents and window shatters in the Kia before Judge Timothy Cissna said time was up for the day. The trial will resume Tuesday morning.



OP-ED: Let’s Not Allow the Marijuana Industry to Write Its Own Rules

Scott Greacen / Monday, Nov. 16 @ 3:18 p.m. / Op-Ed

Under a tight March 2016 timeline set by new California laws regulating medical marijuana, Humboldt County is scrambling at last to write locally appropriate rules for commercial cannabis cultivation. Among the most significant problems the new rules must address is protecting watersheds already overloaded by rapidly increasing pot-related impacts.

Some commercial growers say they want to be legal, but the attempt by an industry group, California Cannabis Voice – Humboldt (CCVH), to promote an even bigger boom by writing weak rules never quite got off the ground. That’s just as well, because CCVH never really tried to address the environmental impacts of the industry we already have.

Despite that false start, county staff have delivered a strong draft ordinance that could, if tightened up in a few critical areas, set Humboldt County on the path to a marijuana industry we could actually be proud of. Unfortunately, the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are being pushed not to tighten, but to weaken, the draft rules.

CCVH is arguing that we have to set loose rules to entice growers to participate in a legal industry. But loose rules won’t restrain people who are only in it for the money and are causing real harms. Loose rules won’t protect our watersheds and communities. And loose rules won’t satisfy our environmental laws, which reflect our society’s reasonable expectation that we will not needlessly wreck our rivers, nor drive native fish extinct.

Nestled behind the Redwood Curtain in as beautiful and productive a landscape as exists on this planet, it’s easy to feel our messed-up world would be a better place if the rest of it were more like here. But the problems we face in protecting Humboldt’s environment are problems people face everywhere. Obstacles and pitfalls abound on the path to effective environmental regulation. Most have less to do with nature than with human nature.

Consider Exxon, and what the company knew before it funded a 20-year campaign of climate change denial. Exxon knew by the early 1990s that burning its oil would amplify the greenhouse effect of Earth’s atmosphere, with catastrophic effects for nature and humanity. Exxon knew because its own scientists had done the research confirming the connection between fossil fuel combustion and global warming. And Exxon acted on its knowledge: Even as then-CEO Lee Raymond was lying about the plain facts to Congress, his shareholders and the American public, the company was securing drilling rights in the Arctic that could only be reached if global warming melted the sea ice. Which it now has. Exxon made trillions of dollars pushing the planet closer to the brink.

Assuming humanity survives the gauntlet of terrors we are building for our grandchildren, the Exxon episode is likely to go down as a definitive instance of the principle famously expressed by Upton Sinclair, that “it is difficult to get a man to understand a thing, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” One need not be a comic-book villain like Lee Raymond to deny the bad effects of a system that’s working for you personally. Absent countervailing forces, few do.

Here in Humboldt, our own slice of global environmental crisis is the extinction, now underway, of species that have evolved over millions of years in the places we now call home. Coho salmon are just one of the most spectacular examples of the region’s living wealth whose future now hangs in the balance. Having hung on through overfishing, unregulated logging and draining of the estuary, coho in critical tributaries of the South Fork Eel like Sprowel Creek and Redwook Creek now face extirpation from a deadly combination of water diversions and increased erosion. Humans are taking too much water out of the creeks and pushing too much dirt around. The vast majority of the worst impacts are obviously tied to “medical” marijuana operations that have been rapidly increasing in number and size for years.

But consider the response of CCVH’s Luke Bruner, the Donald Trump of marijuana messaging, to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s warning that weed-related water diversions and sediment loads had amplified the drought to wipe out a generation of coho in Sprowel Creek. “We don’t farm the way the Central Valley corporate types farm. Up here, we take care of nature,” Bruner told the Willits News.

We are not all that different from Exxon. We know now that our fabled Emerald Triangle pot economy cannot be sustained in its current form without lasting harm to our watersheds, our fisheries and our communities. We know that we have taken too much water out of the creeks, and yet we keep pumping. We know that we have carved up too many unstable slopes, and yet we keep digging. We know millions of Californians’ efforts to conserve energy to reduce our carbon footprint have been canceled out by thousands of people using huge amounts of electricity to grow pot indoors, and yet we keep trashing houses to grow weed.

Like Exxon’s executives, our leaders have ethical obligations to tell the truth, and to prevent practices that will harm us all. But that abstract responsibility may weigh little in a political balance against huge amounts of money much more easily made if we just tell ourselves those impacts aren’t all that bad –- that those angy environmentalists and jack-booted bureaucrats are just trying to push people off their land — or if we merely conclude that fish in our creeks are nice, but not as nice as a plump, tax-free stack of cash and all the lovely things it can buy.

Even the best among us are prone to self-deception. Nearly everyone in Humboldt is connected or affected somehow, and we have learned not to look too hard at how our friends and neighbors make a living.

As a community, we are having a hard time comprehending what our collective paycheck requires we not understand. But as a society, we have to account both for the fact of our collective impacts, and for the impulse to conceal them, if we are to build a system that will prevent the very harms we find hard to think about.

Another story of corporate crime illuminates the challenge: Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” motors. High-mileage, peppy turbo-diesel Jettas, Passats, Golfs and Beetles have been a big hit around here, and they’ve made VW one of the largest carmakers in the world. But those “clean” diesels turn out not to be so clean – just programmed to meet emissions standards when tested. In normal operation, they deliver great fuel economy, good performance and pollution levels 10 times legal limits. Volkswagen decided they could make more money selling cars that would needlessly hurt people and our planet, if they could just fool regulators into letting them to sell their dirty cars.

Maybe I’m way out on a limb here, but I have been troubled from the beginning of CCVH’s campaign to “legitimize” and “celebrate” the pot farmer’s “way of life,” with its implicit insistence that any environmental problems associated with the weed industry are all about trespass grows and the legendary “few bad apples.” To my jaundiced eye, these self-appointed pot promoters have approached the problem of the weed industry’s impacts as Volkswagen did the challenge of selling their diesels: How can we get regulators to approve our product without changing our polluting practices?

The lesson I take here is that we need to build a regulatory system for marijuana that’s strong enough to secure, for example, the level of watershed protections required to allow coho to recover in their former habitat. If we do not, we are just inviting people who we know cannot bring themselves even to acknowledge their own impacts, who face powerful incentives to ignore laws and rules, and who are immersed in a culture rife with rationalizations, to play their own version of VW’s diesel game: Getting permits without actually changing the practices that are wrecking our watersheds. If we build a system of marijuana regulation that makes cheating easy, or even possible, we’ll get cheating. If we build a system that doesn’t include strong enforcement tools, we can be assured many will continue to flaunt even the simplest rules.

This is why we must not merely “discourage” water trucking, but ban it. This is why we shouldn’t allow legal growers to use illegal, dangerous pesticides. This is why we need to set a realistic cap on the number of grows the county will permit, restrict them to sizes that can be easily regulated, and insure they are not done in unsuitable locations. This is why we should institute truly consequential fines for unpermitted commercial grows to immediately discourage any more cut and run grows.

Of course, the reckless pursuit of short-term profit can create huge long-term liabilities, at great cost to the public and our future. Volkswagen faces tens of billions of dollars in fines and costs. The company may be lucky to survive with only the loss of everything it gained by selling dirty diesels in the first place. Having literally followed the tobacco industry’s playbook in funding climate denial, Exxon faces liability and prosecution under the same laws that forced big tobacco to agree to hundreds of billions in settlements for the harm they did.

Here on the North Coast, we already face enormous downstream costs from the damage we’ve allowed to happen over the last decade. If we don’t soon fix the badly built Green Rush roads, stream crossings, and grow sites that have spread across our landscape, a lot more of Humboldt’s hills are going to wind up in our streams and rivers — a deep harm that can be cured only slowly and at great expense. The acute threat of drought and diversion may give way to the chronic crisis of sediment-choked streams. It’s like trading a heart attack for cancer.

We have an historic chance at last to effectively address these festering problems. But we must choose to act. We have to demand our decision-makers don’t just defer to those with the most to gain. We would not let Exxon or Volkswagen write the rules they will follow. Nor do we allow the timber industry or the wine industry to declare they won’t follow watershed-protection rules because they’re too tough. If we did, we’d have very few rules indeed, and even fewer salmon.

Humboldt County’s marijuana entrepreneurs are understandably excited by the prospect of future profits. They would do well to consider, however, that they risk losing what little remains of their social license if the now-legal weed industry continues to cause unnecessary harms. Truly effective rules and strong enforcement will be vital to ensuring the Humboldt brand on which so many hope to capitalize actually means something in the future.

A final note: Because the county has to pass an ordinance quickly, there’s only time to do a Mitigated Negative Declaration, a brief environmental analysis appropriate where no potentially significant environmental impacts can be expected to occur as a result of the proposed program. If the ordinance does successfully prevent the significant impacts clearly associated with the industry today, that course is consistent with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. But if the new rules are too weak, their enforcement mechanisms too uncertain, to truly prevent those impacts, CEQA requires more detailed analysis, effective mitigation, consideration of alternative policies and, among otherwise equal alternatives, choice of the most environmentally protective. For our part, Friends of the Eel River will not shirk our duty to seek effective protection for our watersheds and fish.


Scott Greacen is executive director of Friends of the Eel River.

‘Large Quantity of Marijuana’, Vehicles, Cash and Firearms Stolen During Pair of Willow Creek-Area Armed Robberies

Andrew Goff / Monday, Nov. 16 @ 2:44 p.m. / Crime

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office press release: 

On Saturday, November 14, 2015, at approximately 2 p.m. the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office received a report of an armed robbery that occurred near Horse Mountain in Willow Creek. The robbery occurred around 2:00 a.m. on Friday the 13th. The victim was asleep in his vehicle when he was blinded by flashlights and struck with a firearm in the head by unknown suspects. The victim stated approximately $2,000 in cash was stolen along with his vehicle. The vehicle is described as a 1996 maroon Toyota T-100 with Texas license FXR-3009. The victim was unable to provide physical descriptions for the two male suspects.

On Sunday, November 15, 2015, at about 10:00 a.m. the Sheriff’s Office received a call of an armed home invasion robbery. The robbery occurred several miles up Friday Ridge Rd in Willow Creek at approximately 8:00 a.m. but was not reported to the Sheriff’s Office until 10:00 a.m. There were four occupants in the residence when two male suspects entered the residence and demanded money, keys, and firearms from the victims. The suspects were wearing dark hoodies and one was wearing a mask. There were apparently two additional suspects outside the residence; one male and one female. The suspects fled with three firearms and an unknown, large quantity of marijuana from the 215 grow that was at the residence. Suspects took the victims vehicle during the robbery which was later recovered by deputies in the Upper Mill Creek area.

  • Suspect #1 as approximately 5’7”-5’8” height, 130-160 lbs, thin build; 
  • Suspect #2 is described as approximately 5’11”-6’1” height, 160-170 lbs, with a thin, athletic build.
  • The victims were unable to provide suspect information for suspects #3 and 4.

At this time it is unknown if these two incidents are related.

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.


Hey, Potential Dog-Adopters: Act Now, Because the Animal Shelter is Dangerously Full

Hank Sims / Monday, Nov. 16 @ 2:34 p.m. / Animals

The Humboldt County Animal Shelter has been up to its ears in dogs for the last few days. It’s gotten so bad that the county facility has come close to doing something it does very, very rarely, and only in times of an overcrowding emergency — making plans for euthanasia.

Right now there are 48 dogs housed in the shelter. It is built to house 50. If you’ve been thinking at all about adopting a dog, now is probably the time to do that.

Earlier today, KHUM’s Bayley Brown spoke with Tammy of “It’s a Dog’s Life” about the crisis at the shelter, with details about some of the doggies available and how to go about adopting them.


Below please find: All the dogs currently in the shelter. Click here to go directly to the PetHarbor.com page listing these each of these good girls and boys, with more information about each of them — including whether or not they are ready to adopt right now.

Sheriff’s Office Lucks on Big Weed Cache in Blue Lake Apartment Complex

Hank Sims / Monday, Nov. 16 @ 10:07 a.m. / Crime

From the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office:



At approximately 10:40 a.m. this morning [Editor’s note: ???] [UPDATE: ‘This morning’ being Friday morning.] a Humboldt County Deputy Sheriff was attempting to serve a local warrant in Blue Lake and noticed a vehicle involved with the case at an apartment complex on the 400 block of Railroad Ave. The deputy knocked on the front door of the second floor apartment complex and it was answered by an uninvolved subject to the local warrant. The subject was wearing black latex gloves that had marijuana residue on them as well as marijuana residue on his person. There was a strong odor of marijuana emanating from the apartment as well. The deputy contacted the Humboldt County Drug Task Force (DTF) and a search warrant was issued by the Humboldt County Superior Court.

Deputies, along with DTF, searched the residence and confiscated 146 lbs of marijuana “trim,” 75 lbs of packaged marijuana, 7 lbs of butane honey oil, and a large, industrial, operational butane hash lab. Deputies arrested Douglas Bocchetta, 24, of Cincinnati, and William Mattingly, 20, of Blue Lake. Both were transported to the Humboldt County Correctional Facility and booked for HS 11379.6(a)-Manufacture/Etc. Controlled Substance; HS11359-Possession of Marijuana for Sale; HS11357(a)-Possession of Concentrated Cannabis. Their bail has been set at $500,000 each.

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.

HSU Football Advances to Playoffs for First Time in Nearly Five Decades

Andrew Goff / Monday, Nov. 16 @ 7:42 a.m. / LoCO Sports!

GO JACKS! #Humboldtstate #HumBuildt

Posted by Humboldt State University on Sunday, November 15, 2015

Way to go, Jacks! As they should be, Humboldt State University is gushing about the success of this year’s football squad after the announcement that the team will participate in postseason play for the first time since 1968. That alone would be swell news, but you should also note that you don’t have to travel far if you want to cheer on our gladiators. HSU will host Augustana in the Redwood Bowl on Nov. 21, the first time an NCAA football postseason game has occurred in Humboldt since a 1960 game has played at Eureka’s Albee Stadium.

Tickets are available! More in the HSU press release below:

For the first time since 1968, Humboldt State football is advancing to the postseason. And the Lumberjacks will begin their playoff journey in Redwood Bowl.
Humboldt State is the No. 4 seed in the 2015 NCAA Division II Super Region Three bracket and will host No. 5 seed Augustana on Saturday, Nov. 21. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online at HSUJacks.com.
The Lumberjacks captured their second Great Northwest Athletic Conference title under Head Coach Rob Smith and went 9-1 overall during the regular season. HSU went a perfect 6-0 against GNAC opponents, including a 29-13 road win over rival Western Oregon Saturday.

“We are excited to bring playoff football to Redwood Bowl and to have the opportunity to play in front of the best fans in California and Division II,” said Smith. “This is a very deserving group of players. These kids have worked hard from day one.” 
The Green and Gold return to the postseason after a 47-year absence. In 1968, the Lumberjacks won the NCAA Pacific Coast Championship game with a 29-14 win over Fresno State in the Camellia Bowl. Humboldt last hosted a postseason game in 1960 at Eureka’s historic Albee Stadium. Legendary coach and Hall of Famer Phil Sarboe led the Lumberjacks to a 13-7 win versus Whitworth and a berth to the NAIA National Championship in St. Petersburg, Fla. A 9-yard field goal was the difference as the Green and Gold fell to Lenoir Rhyne, 15-14, in the Holiday Bowl.  

(VIDEO) More Gnar Shredding: Tow-in Surfers Go Big at Humboldt Bay Harbor Entrance

Andrew Goff / Monday, Nov. 16 @ 7:30 a.m. / Weather

Thank you, Alaskan storm system!

As you may recall, over the weekend some surfers took advantage of the sizable swell by waxing up, firing up the jet skis and staging a tow-in surfing exhibition at the Humboldt Bay harbor entrance to the delight of camera luggers positioned safely on shore. Remember? We posted some excellent photos yesterday.

Well how ‘bout some moving pictures? Since the Internet is a great place to test the “you can’t have too much of a good thing” theory, LoCO will direct your peepers to the clip posted yesterday by YouTube user Humboldt Mike. C’mon. You’ll admit that looks like fun, right, Coasties?

PREVIOUSLY: (PHOTOS) Alaskan Storms Cause Big Surf Along the Humboldt Coast