"Behind a locked courtroom door?" What's up with that?
DA says plea deal a possibility in murder retrial
The retrial of two of three people convicted 15 years ago in the brutal slaying of Fortuna resident Mary Kesser may be over before it begins.
Following days of speculation within the law enforcement community, Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos confirmed late Tuesday that a plea deal is possible in the first-degree murder case of Richard Craig Kesser and Jennifer Gayle Leahy.
In response to an e-mail question about a possible negotiated settlement, Gallegos stated, “Are there proposals out there? Yes. Have we reached an agreement? No. Is it possible that we will? Yes.”
Richard Kesser and Leahy were convicted in 1992 of hiring Stephen Duane Chiara to kill Mary Kesser, Richard’s estranged wife, a charge that included special allegations of murder for financial gain and lying in wait.
Mary Kesser, 30 years old and the mother of a then-4-year-old boy, was found two nights before Thanksgiving 1991 in her N Street home stabbed 34 times in her head, chest, back, abdomen and hands, according to court documents.
Chiara was quickly arrested, and within days police followed a trail of clues back to Richard Kesser and Leahy in what investigators called a murder-for-hire plot.
Attorneys for the two argued that Chiara was hired to blow up Mary Kesser’s car, not to kill her.
All three were convicted in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole — but the case, originally tried by former Deputy DA Worth Dikeman, was overturned on appeal in September, after a higher court found that he had made “blatant race-based strikes” of three American Indians from the approximately 140-member jury pool.
Within days of the appellate ruling, Dikeman, who twice campaigned against Gallegos for DA, was fired from his position. He subsequently called the reversal the “biggest disappointment” of his career.
Jury selection for the retrial began in July, and pretrial motions continued Tuesday behind a locked courtroom door.
Gallegos stated later, “There are, like in all cases, constant discussions involving possible dispositions. … (W)e always strive to be reasonable, open-minded and receptive to appropriate pretrial dispositions. That means we always strive to listen to proposals and fairly consider them.”
Kesser’s family, who met with the DA Tuesday, declined to comment.
Why would you plea bargain a proven winnable case? And what's with the locked courtroom door? Is that common?
God, this is a great time to be a criminal in Humboldt County. Murderer, Rapist, Child Molester, Drunk Driver, Drug Dealer, whatever...
In the TS - Homicide retrial now looking to start Thursday
The retrial of a man suspected of hiring a hitman to kill his estranged wife in 1991 has been postponed a few more days.
Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos said Tuesday that the homicide retrial of Richard Craig Kesser now looks like it will start Thursday.
Last week, Gallegos said he believed the trial would start Monday.
Kesser and his girlfriend, Jennifer Gayle Leahy, allegedly hired Duane Chiara to kill Mary Kesser, reportedly for her life insurance money.
The young mother was killed in her N Street home in Fortuna.
She was stabbed multiple times with what was believed to be a machete-type of blade.
Chiara was arrested a day later when he was found hiding in a closet. A sawed-off shotgun was found nearby. The other two defendants were arrested after a month.
Retrials were granted to Kesser and Leahy by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based on the actions of a former deputy district attorney. The court found he rejected potential jurors “on the basis of their race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.”
It is unclear if Leahy and Kesser will be tried together.
9th Circuit Opinion - KESSER v CAMBRA No. 02-15475, D.C. No. CV-96-03452-PJH, OPINION *Decided and filed together with the companion case of Leahy v. Farmon, No. 01-17467, (pdf file) No. 01-17467, (9th Cir. 2006) (unpublished disposition).