Serious Cases | Lost Coast Outpost | Humboldt County

Wayne asks Steven Steward, Ben McLaughlin

1 ^

Serious Cases

Candidates, Both of you have spent time as both prosecutors and defense attorneys, and both of you have touted your experience as a reason to vote for you. And trial experience is hugely important, since a judge’s rulings may allow the guilty to go free or the innocent to be punished. So… First, please tell me how many cases you have personally tried to verdict as a prosecutor and how many cases you have personally tried to verdict as a defense attorney. (Hung juries don’t count, and neither does sitting as a “second chair,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.) Second, please tell me about the most serious or complex case that you’ve tried to verdict as a prosecutor and the most serious or complex case that you’ve tried to verdict as a defense attorney. Thanks, Wayne

— Wayne


Ben McLaughlin

Good morning, Wayne.

Someone much smarter than I once told me to write down every single trial I’ve done, the verdict, parties, etc.  My rather shortsighted answer was, “Why on earth would I ever need to do that?!?”  Well, here we are…

The title of your question is “Serious Cases,” which I interpret to mean “serious or violent” felonies, such as murder, robbery, and rape.  I’ll limit my answer to trials of those sorts of charges.   

As a prosecutor, I estimate that, of the trials I did, at least 50 were serious or violent felonies. With respect to which trial was the most serious or complex, I am torn between Peo v. Rodney Groh and Peo. v. Kevin Walker—the former was a charge of Murder and the latter was a charge of Rape and Rape in Concert.

Peo. v. Groh involved a homicide that occurred in 2008, at what was the Budget Motel on Broadway.  Mr. Groh’s defense that the victim “fell” was unpersuasive, following the testimony of the forensic pathologist and the DOJ Criminalist, who testified that a clump of hair recovered at the scene had “weeping follicles.” This meant the follicles were forcibly torn from the victim’s scalp.  The testimony regarding the weeping follicles dispelled, in my opinion, any “reasonable doubt” the defense could create re a fall due to extreme intoxication.  ***The homicide was investigated by the EPD and DOJ, both of whom did a super job processing the crime scene***

Kevin Scott Walker was arrested in 2010, after Jane Doe reported that Mr. Walker and another unknown male raped Ms. Doe at the Arcata softball complex.  Ms. Doe reported the rape to several softball players, who then assisted Jane Doe in alerting law enforcement.  Mr. Walker denied the allegations and, unfortunately, the second male was never located.

Owing to her strength, Jane Doe testified at trial.  She was amazing.  In addition to Ms. Doe’s testimony, the APD investigator submitted the results of a swab of Mr. Walker’s penis to the DOJ, for DNA analysis.  As fate would have it, the penile swab captured a single sperm.  Unfortunately for Mr. Walker, the sperm did not belong to him; rather, it belonged to Doe’s boyfriend at the time. 

After the verdict, Ms. Doe let out an audible cry, as did at least one juror, and gave me a hug.  Even to this day, Ms. Doe’s reaction ranks as one of the most gratifying moments of my life.  I also remember that Chief Tom Chapman came to court for the verdict, wearing his dress uniform.  Between the APD, DOJ, DAO, and Jane Doe, it was a total team effort.  

As a defense attorney, I’ve tried maybe 8-10 serious or violent felony cases.  The case I’ll talk about is the Peo. v. David Dues, which concluded recently.  Mr. Dues was charged with Assault with Intent to Commmit Rape, False Imprisonment, and Indecent Exposure.

Two things made this case difficult, from my perspective.  First, what happened to the victim was horribly traumatic and I wanted to make sure she knew that, in no way, was I trying to minimize her experience.  Second, Mr. Dues had a complex psychiatric and psychological history, including Autism and a foot fetish.  Trying to demonstrate to a jury that Mr. Dues’ intent was not to rape, but to engage in masturbatory conduct with Ms. Doe’s feet, while not offending the jury or trivializing Ms. Doe’s obvious trauma, was difficult.

Mr. Dues’ case was the first time I’d ever retained a BDSM/Fetish expert (hopefully the last time) for trial.  The gentleman was a PhD candidate from UCSC and highly informative.  Hats off to the prosecutor, who did a great job challenging our expert; but, in the end, the jury either believed the expert or felt that he created enough reasonable doubt regarding Mr. Dues’ specific intent. Mr. Dues was convicted of False Imprisonment, Simple Assault, and Indecent Exposure.

The Rodney Groh and Kevin Walker cases are linked on my website:

Sorry for the longwinded answer.