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Woodruff Trial Underway in Riverside

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By Mary Shelton

In front of a courtroom packed with spectators, both attorneys painted different pictures of the tragic shooting that took the life of Riverside Police Department detective, Doug Jacobs.

Prosecutor Michael Soccio presented the shooting as "that tragedy that most people fear", of a police officer killed in the process of handling an incident which began as a noise disturbance complaint and ended in his death.
"Things weren’t going to work out that day," he told the audience filled with Jacobs’ family members, police officers and prosecutors.
Defense Attorney Mark Blankenship, who represents the defendant Steve Woodruff, said the case involved more than the shooting, but also dealt with the issues of mental retardation and determining criminal intent which he believed the prosecution had not done.
"The prosecutor made an immediate decision on who was guilty without examining all the facts," he said, citing his concerns about ballistics and other evidence.
Both attorneys presented differing views about eyewitnesses‚ testimony as well.
Calling Ben Baker, "one of the kindest officers," Soccio said that Baker had responded to a complaint by Holly Menzies about a loud radio played by Woodruff’s mother, Parthenea Carr. He and Jacobs were in the process of handcuffing Carr and her son, Claude when the shooting took place.
Blankship said that Baker had provided six different accounts of the events, from his initial police interview to his testimony at Parthenea Carr’s trial last year.
"At the end of this trial, it will probably be seven," he said.
He added that Claude Carr was in a scuffle with Baker on the staircase and that Jacobs arrived to rescue Baker from a terrible situation he had contributed to, when the tragedy occurred.
Baker’s testimony, which opened the second day of trial, was that he had been dispatched to the loud music call and had asked the complainant Holly Menzies to sign a citizen’s arrest form. However, she wanted to talk to her neighbor first, even though Baker disagreed and decided to call for his supervising sergeant, Gary Leach to assist after Carr said he was violating her 4th amendment rights.
According to Baker, Carr opened her door and yelled at Menzies who ran down the stairs and Baker then grabbed Carr’s wrist to place her under arrest. Then Claude Carr stepped between them and said you can’t arrest my mother. Baker then said he saw Woodruff at the bottom of stairs telling him not to mess with his mother so he called an 11-11 which is emergency backup. When Baker asked Claude Carr if he could talk to his mother as adults, Carr said he did not have a problem with that.
Jacobs arrived and he and Baker walked up the steps and proceeded to handcuff Parthenia and Claude Carr. After Baker decided to assist Jacobs with Claude Carr who he saw as the "bigger threat," he heard a gunshot, he said. He said he saw Woodruff downstairs leaning over the porch rail holding a gun and then pulled out his weapon and fired three shots, before calling 11-99, officer down. Then Leach walked up the stairs to assist Baker who was giving Jacobs CPR.
At what point Leach arrived onscene, played an important role in Blankenship’s cross-examination of Baker. Both Soccio and Judge Christian Thierbach objected several times when Blankenship asked Baker what time Leach had arrived, which later was discovered to be, according to his police report, at the same time as the 11-99 call. Baker said that he and Jacobs were waiting for Leach to arrive, yet both progressed ahead with the arrests up to the shooting.
Blankenship asked why Baker did not back off from the situation with the Carrs to allow a "cooling off period" while considering other options
"We are not trained to retreat or run away from a problem," Baker said.
He said that although he had heard the initial gunshot, he did not see where it came from, except for seeing Woodruff with a gun at the bottom of the stairs.
Baker said that he had submitted a written statement of the incident after being interviewed by Det. Kensinger, and showed it to a lawyer appointed to him after the shooting before turning it in. Initially in his interview with Kesinger, he had mentioned that Jacobs had been dispatched to the scene before Baker had met with Menzies, even though in other testimony, he said that Jacobs had arrived onscene in response to the 11-11 call.
Baker later testified that Blankenship had lied to him the previous day in regards to that statement which he said was taken out of context in the police report. Blankenship asked Baker if he was lying to the jury, which led to objections by both Soccio and Thierbach.
Kesinger testified that he had audio-taped his interview with Baker, but had destroyed the original copy of Baker’s notes on the original transcript after amending them into a new transcript.
Tempers flared during the controversial proceedings.
When Blankenship shook his head in disagreement over a ruling by Thierbach, he was fined $250 in contempt of court.
Blankenship told Thierbach later that he was promoting justice and due process for his client regarding his questions about Baker’s differing version of events.
"It may not be the piece of evidence that wins or loses the case," Blankenship said, "It is my job as an advocate to get every bit of evidence out."
"Don’t argue with me in front of the jury," Thierbach said back.
And after Thierbach dismissed the jurors for recess on Dec. 5, Woodruff alleged that former officer Heath Baker who was sitting in the audience had made a threatening gesture towards him. Thierbach said that the incident would be investigated by the Riverside Sheriff’s Department but allowed Baker to remain in the courtroom.
"This court will not tolerate any intimidating conduct by anyone in the audience," Thierbach said, adding that actions he would take would include expulsion for the duration of the trial, and possibly more severe action.
The trial is expected to last at least six weeks and could include if Woodruff is convicted of first-degree murder with at least one special circumstance, separate phases dealing with whether or not he is mentally retarded and thus ineligible for the death penalty, according to a recent United States Supreme Court decision.

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