No hearing set for Fairfield man accused of assisting in mother’s suicide

No hearing set for Fairfield man accused of assisting in mother’s suicide

A former Vacaville resident alleged to have assisted in his mother’s suicide late last year appeared briefly Thursday in Solano County Superior Court, where the judge and attorneys agreed once again to delay the setting of a probable cause hearing.

Eric Capitanich, 43, now a resident of Fairfield, was arrested Jan. 6 by Vacaville police after police said the man played a role in aiding his mother’s suicide in the month prior.

Just after 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6, authorities were dispatched to a storage unit in Vacaville along the 200 block of Peabody Road, where they found a deceased 69-year-old woman. The victim had a single gunshot wound to the head, police said in a statement issued in early January. The woman was later identified as Diane Capitanich, a resident of Vacaville.

According to the statement, Vacaville police determined through their investigation that the woman’s son, Eric, played a role in his mother’s suicide.

One month after finding the woman, police arrested Eric Capitanich and he was subsequently booked into Solano County Jail.

At the suspect’s Jan. 10 arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to one count of aiding and abetting suicide. At the time of his arrest, he was booked into Solano County Jail, but following his arraignment, the judge allowed him to be released on his own recognizance.

He’s remained out of police custody since Jan. 10.

During Thursday’s court appearance, the man’s public defender asked to delay the setting of the probable cause hearing because of the significant amount of discovery evidence that needed to be reviewed.

The suspect is now slated to return to court April 20 for further proceedings.

For now, the man remains out of police custody.

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Ex-VPAT employee offered plea deal, hearing delayed

Ex-VPAT employee offered plea deal, hearing delayed

A former Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre employee arrested last year on a child pornography charge may serve up to two years in state prison if he agrees to a plea deal, Thursday’s discussions in Solano County Superior Court revealed.

Donald Wade Jr., 37, was one of two men arrested in July on suspicion of possessing photos and videos of children changing clothes at the local theater. Wade, along with his co-worker, 35-year-old Thomas McPike, were booked into Solano County Jail after a police investigation into the disturbing allegations. During court discussions last year, it was revealed Wade was allegedly in possession of more than 600 images of youth and videos showing children changing at the Vacaville theater. Police believe the photos and videos were taken between 2012-2013.

Both men are facing child pornography possession charges and McPike is facing an additional invasion of privacy charge.

In February, McPike pleaded no contest to the charges he was facing and is now set to be formally sentenced April 3. As part of the plea deal, McPike is expected to serve the low term lid sentence of 16 months in state prison. The man also will be required to register as a sex offender.

If Wade agrees to plead no contest to the felony charge, he could serve the mid term lid sentence of two years, deputy district attorney Mary Nguyen detailed Thursday morning.

The prosecutor also said Wade could be sentenced to as little as probation, depending on the judge’s discretion.

Thursday McPike, despite not being scheduled on the court calendar, sat in the courtroom’s gallery while Wade’s case was heard by the judge.

Wade was originally arrested July 18 and immediately taken into police custody, according to court records. Wade went on to post bail the following day. At his arraignment in August, he was remanded once again and booked into Solano County Jail, where he remained for nearly two weeks before posting bail Aug. 23.

Accepting the plea deal would allow Wade to forego a jury trial. Pending a response to the district attorney’s offer, Wade is now set to return to court in April in preparation for a probable cause hearing set for May.

McPike is set to be formally sentenced April 3.

Prior to their arrests, the men were employed by Venue Tech, a company contracted by the City of Vacaville to manage the local theater.

According to police, an investigation into the allegations began in April 2016.

Wade will return to court April 26 for a readiness conference and again May 15 for a preliminary hearing.

Fairfield sex offender asking for unsupervised release

Fairfield sex offender asking for unsupervised release

The fate of a Fairfield sex offender petitioning the county for his unconditional release from state supervision is likely to be in the hands of a jury in the coming months, following a judge’s probable cause finding Monday morning in Solano County Superior Court.

Fraisure Earl Smith, 52, who’s been labeled a sexually violent predator, has been living as a transient since November 2015 and occupying various motels in Solano County since his release from a state hospital, despite rape and assault convictions dating back to the 1990s. The man was released from Coalinga State Hospital after the Department of State Hospitals approved his petition in 2015 asking for his release.

Since his release from the hospital, Smith has been supervised by Liberty Health Care, a company contracted by the state to manage sexually violent predators. According to representatives of the contracted agency, Smith is monitored in person by a case manager and a GPS tracking device while living at area motels.

In November, at the one-year mark since his release from the state hospital, Smith and his attorney, James McEntee, asked the court to consider granting him unsupervised release — the purpose of Monday’s hearing.

After hours of testimony Monday morning from representatives of Liberty Health Care who have worked with Smith since his release, Judge Arvid Johnson found there was cause for the case to continue to trial.

During the hearing, the court heard testimony from a clinical forensic psychologist who’s worked with Smith since 2013. The psychologist testified Smith is no longer a danger to the community nor a sexually violent predator — primarily because of various health issues, including cancer, the man has suffered in recent years.

“Mr. Smith, given all the stress in his life, is doing extremely well,” the psychologist testified. “He’s thankful to be alive [and] wants to spend time with his family.”

The court also heard from a community health worker who has worked with the man since September. The health worker testified how she found Smith to be inspiring because of what he’s overcome in life — cancer and incarceration.

On the other side of the spectrum, the court also heard testimony from a case manager with Liberty Health Care, Ben Hoffman, who voiced his opposition to the man’s release from supervision.

“I believe [his unsupervised release] would be a huge mistake,” Hoffman testified.

The witness cited the short time Smith has been out of the state hospital and said he believed it would be difficult for the man to be suddenly released into society with no support.

Monday’s court discussions confirmed Smith receives all his financial and housing support from Liberty Health Care.

According to another witness, Alan Stillman, an executive director at Liberty Healthcare, the average violent predator is supervised by the agency for an average of three to four years before released from supervision.

Stillman went on in his testimony to say, Liberty Healthcare has never recommended unconditional release after just one year of supervision.

“There’s been a lot of progress, but more time on the program is still needed,” Stillman testified.

Another witness who testified on behalf of the district attorney expressed on the stand her concerns about the potential unsupervised release of Smith.

Clinical Director at Liberty Health Care, Cecelia Groman, told the court that while Smith was at the Coalinga State Hospital, he chose not to complete sex offender treatment. When the man’s attorney asked the witness how Smith could be released from the hospital without having completed the treatment, she did not have an answer.

Groman went on to emphasize how she believes Smith is not ready for unsupervised release into the community because he has not completed enough treatment.

“[Smith] needs more treatment time,” Groman said. “He would pose a risk to the community if he was unconditionally discharged.”

In closing arguments, Smith’s attorney went on to emphasize how his client has changed immensely over the years.

“Mr. Smith has changed, clearly he’s changed from what he was when he was at the state hospital.” McEntee said.

The Deputy District Attorney, Mary Nguyen, however, expressed concern and said Smith is still a high risk to the community.

At the close of Monday’s court proceedings, the judge ordered the man to reappear in court June 23 at 8:30 a.m. when a trial date may be set.

Because of scheduling conflicts with Smith’s attorney, the trial will likely not begin until after August.

Smith remains out custody living in Solano County motels.

If granted unsupervised release, Smith intends to live with his family in Texas, his attorney said Monday in court.

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With that said, please find my most recent published articles (Yes, every article!) on my new online portfolio on Muck Rack. Visit this link to check it out!

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DUI charge dropped for man who tested positive for caffeine

The Reporter: DUI charges dropped for man who tested positive for caffeine

In a statement late Wednesday, the Solano County District Attorney’s office announced the dismissal of a DUI charge against a Fairfield man who tested positive for driving under the influence of caffeine — not alcohol.

Joseph Schwab, 36, of Fairfield, was pulled over in August 2015 by an Alcohol Beverage Control Officer after the officer spotted the man driving “erratically” and weaving through lanes on northbound Interstate 680 near Gold Hill Road. When Schwab was pulled over, the officer noticed the man had dilated pupils and appeared “amped up,” the District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Wednesday.

The man was then given multiple field sobriety tests by the officer and because of the results, the officer believed the man was too impaired to be driving.

Following the man’s arrest, Schwab was administered two blood test, which showed negative results for “standard drugs,” but positive for caffeine. The tests, however, did not account for all drugs and substances, the District Attorney’s Office said.

In a statement released Tuesday by the District Attorney’s Office, the agency announced they would be continuing with the case against Schwab despite the blood test results. Just 24 hours later though, the agency said they’d be dropping the DUI charge against the man — a sudden move that has no explanation, the man’s attorney Stacy Barrett said Thursday.

“After recent discussions with the experts from forensic laboratories, (experts) opined that it was, ‘highly likely the defendant was under the influence of a drug,’” The District Attorney’s statement noted. “After further consideration, without a confirmatory test of the specific drug in the defendant’s system that impaired his ability to drive, we do not believe we can prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The agency also said that at the time the case was initially filed, they believed the defendant to be under the influence of a variety of substances, including a depressant and a stimulant.

Though because tests did not show the man to be under the influence of a drug, the DUI charge will not be further prosecuted.

The man’s attorney believes what happened to Schwab should be troubling to community members.

“I think that other drivers should be concerned about how law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office handled this case,” Barrett said. She noted that her client was pulled over by an unmarked car — another concern to drivers, she said.

In addition to local media, Schwab’s case has garnered national and international media coverage — something that may have influenced the dismissal, Barrett said.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” she said.

Schwab and his attorney will appear next at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 3 in Solano County Superior Court in Judge Carlos Gutierrez’ courtroom for a formal dismissal hearing. Despite the DUI charge being dismissed, Schwab is still facing a reckless driving charge — which Barrett hopes will dropped at the next court date. If the charge is not dropped, the court will continue with a trial on Jan. 11 for the single reckless driving charge

According to court records, Schwab and his attorney had been working to dismiss the DUI charge in the weeks leading up to the dismissal. A motion to dismiss was filed Dec. 16 by Barrett because of an alleged violation of the man’s right to a speedy trial. One week later, the District Attorney filed a motion in opposition of the dismissal request — just five days before the charges would be formally dropped. For now, Schwab is just relieved to have the DUI charge dismissed, his attorney said.

“It was clear to me that [the District Attorney] didn’t have sufficient evidence,” Barrett said.

Vacaville gang member to stand trial on vandalism charges

The Reporter: Vacaville gang member to stand trial on vandalism charges

A Solano County Superior Court judge found probable cause Wednesday to move forward with a trial for a Vacaville man and gang member facing a series of felony vandalism charges.

The suspect, Iseah Garza, 18, is a known member of a local criminal street gang and the vandalism — that occurred in September — served to benefit the man’s gang, a witness testified Wednesday.

During a two-day probable cause hearing, the court heard testimony from Vacaville police officers, who looked into the allegations that Garza and one other man had smashed cars with baseball bats on the evening of Sept. 28 in Vacaville.

Vacaville Police Officer and gang expert, James Criste, detailed on the stand his familiarity with Garza and his gang affiliations. Criste testified that the car-smashing served to benefit the Garza’s gang, the Norteno criminal street gang. The cars that were allegedly vandalized were parked at a rival gang-affiliated house, the officer said.

According to another Vacaville police officer’s testimony, a witness of the incident told the officer that she saw two men smashing cars with baseball bats on the night of the Sept. 28. The woman then told the officer that she ran away from the scene but saw another car arrive at the scene and later heard gun shots.

Following testimony from the investigating officers, the judge found there was enough evidence for Garza to stand trial.

The suspect will next appear in Solano County Superior Court at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 9 for a held to answer arraignment, where a tentative trial date may be set.

Garza is not new to the legal system.

In July, the 18-year-old was detained by police after a vehicle pursuit, where the man was suspected of driving a stolen vehicle at speeds more than 50 mph on Vacaville city streets.

In addition to two felony vandalism charges, Garza also is facing charges of assault with a firearm, probation violation and possession of a stolen vehicle.

He remains in Solano County Jail and held on no bail.

Courts cases in 2016 cover animal abuse, release of sexual predator

The Reporter: Courts cases in 2016 cover animal abuse, release of sexual predator

Solano County courtrooms were busy this year with no shortage of criminal cases.

As 2016 comes to an end, there are some more memorable case that took place in Solano County Superior Court.

Just three days before Christmas last year, a young woman was arrested on Travis Air Force Base after an 18-month-old toddler died while under her care. Since her arrest, 25-year-old Gina Nicole Bailey, has appeared in Judge Peter B. Foor’s courtroom numerous times. After lengthy courtroom discussions, multiple hearings and a year spent in jail, the woman’s fate will lie in the hands of a jury in February when the trial begins. Bailey is suspected of shaking the young child and dropping him, ultimately causing his death.

MALL ATTACK

For the City of Fairfield, a popular department store turned into a crime scene in February when a woman was beaten in the parking lot of Macy’s at the Solano Town Center. The suspect in the brutal attack, William D. King, 20, with his attorney by his side, has shuffled in and out of courtrooms and the county jail in the months leading up to next year’s probable cause hearing.

In dispute of the judge’s rulings and at the defense attorney’s request, the case reached the desks of California Court of Appeals officials, in hopes of delaying court proceedings. In November, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of King’s defense team and the man’s probable cause hearing was postponed until the end of January — three months after the original October date.

THEATRE EMPLOYEES FIRED

As the summer season neared its end, disturbing allegations surfaced in July against two former Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre employees, leading to criminal charges that have yet to be detailed in a formal probable cause hearing.

The new year may bring a plea deal for one of the two men, Thomas McPike, 35, who’s facing child pornography and invasion of privacy charges. The other suspect, Donald Wade Jr., 36, has a hearing set for March, where court officials and observers may learn more details on the case that caused concern for community members and city officials alike. Both men have court dates set in February and March.

REAL ESTATE FRAUD

A case that almost concluded in September with a Vacaville man being placed in handcuffs and taken into custody after a guilty verdict by a jury is set to continue in March with a potential new trial.

Richard D. Lamphere, 53, was found guilty by a group of Solano County jurors on multiple real estate fraud and embezzlement-related charges after he swindled two men out of a large sum of money during the course of a decade.

With the impending guilty verdict, the man’s sentencing has since been pushed out until March, when Lamphere may seek an appeal that could lead to a new trial. Equipped with new attorneys, the new year may hold a new fate for the Vacaville man.

ANIMAL ABUSE

A case that captivated national and international audiences alike came to a close in October, when dog-tosser Brandi Chin, of Fairfield, was sentenced to jail time after accepting a plea deal on a felony animal abuse charge. Chin, 31, pleaded no contest to the abuse charge in September, avoiding a trial. The ordeal began in December 2015 when a video surfaced showing a woman, identified as Chin, throwing a dog by the collar toward her boyfriend during an argument. The dog, Benny, then rolled multiple times on the pavement, the video showed. Because of previous time served, the woman remains out of police custody.

SEXUAL PREDATOR RELEASED

The past year brought uncertainty for Solano County residents and former state hospital inmate and convicted sex offender, Fraisure Earl Smith, 52. With an appeal that led to the man’s release in Nov. 2015 from the Coalinga State Hospital and a future filled with instability, communities across the state expressed concern this year regarding the man’s placement in state-provided housing despite his convictions and label as a violent predator. More than one year has gone by since his release from custody and the man still lacks permanent housing and is taking up residency at motels in the local area. Smith will appear next in court in January for a hearing, where the court, the community and Smith may get resolution.

WIFE HELD TO ANSWER

Another twisted case concerning alleged domestic violence and the stabbing death of a woman’s husband at the hand’s of her son is expected to continue in the coming months with a trial. Carissa Aldrich, 39, is facing an involuntary manslaughter charge in connection to her husband’s death, where the woman’s son is alleged to have stabbed the man with a knife during a physical altercation between the man and woman. The trial, originally slated to begin in November, was postponed until the end of January.

ACQUITTAL

A trial filled with emotional testimony from witnesses, including the defendant, ended in November with an acquittal for Vallejo resident Michael David Wilson, who was facing a murder charge in the death of 57-year-old Lillie Mae Christiansen. The prosecution’s argument and witness testimony during the two-week long trial was not enough to convince a Solano County jury of Wilson’s guilt in the woman’s death. The past year brought an end to the case that spanned two years and because of the acquittal, Wilson is now a free man.