Results tagged “Ojai Valley” from The Court Reporter

The Trial Of Lee Peyton Continues

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The trial of Lee Peyton, who is representing himself, enters its second week in a case that is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

Peyton's lawyer and court-appointed co-counsel, Victor Salas, said his client offered to plead guilty to the criminal charges and accept a six year sentence.

He has been in jail since January 2010 and has been charged with stealing a credit card and using it at an ATM to withdraw $300.

Two weeks after he stole the credit card, Peyton, 34, was charged with stealing a CD case which was found at a friend's house after a search warrant was served there.

But Judge David Hirsch said his offer is seven years behind bars; the District Attorney's Office said they will accept a guilty plea but Peyton must serve seven years and four months.

In an interview, Salas said he's tried to settle this case five times with Judge Hirsch and the offers have gone from nine years to seven years.

"He wants to go home. So, he'll accept going home even if he has to plea," said Salas.

But nobody is budging on their offers.

Ventura resident and court watcher Mickey Schlein reflects some of the frustration and concern of people who have watched this case.

"You're watching your tax dollars go up in smoke," said  Schlein. "This is so ridiculous."

When asked whether this case was a good use of court resources and time, Gardner replied in an interview: "Justice is always a good use of the court resources."

Adding, "If you want to talk about government waste, you need to talk to this guy (Peyton). Or talk to the victims that have been dragged through the mud by this guy."

The Charges Against Peyton

Peyton, of Ojai, allegedly stole a credit card after burglarizing a vehicle and used the ATM card to withdraw $300 and two weeks later, another vehicle was burglarized and a CD case was stolen.

The use of the ATM card and access to a bank account occurred about an hour after a person's car was broken into in Ojai, according to Salas.

The big question for us is that how in the heck did that happen within an hour, said Salas.

Peyton maintains that he couldn't have broken into the car in Ojai, drove to an ATM in Ventura and accessed the bank account by using  a someone's PIN number.

Peyton is charged with receiving stolen property and identity theft, according to court records.

The Body Language Inside The Jury Box

There are 12 jurors and two alternates in the jury box.

In the court, an additional two Sheriff's deputies have been assigned there - They are posted near the exit doors and there is the deputy who is the court bailiff who is behind the desk.

The jurors' faces throughout the trial have been stamped with frustration, occasionally glares are aimed at the defense and the prosecutor Stuart Gardner. 

One juror in the front row was spent a good deal of time studying the tips of her long, black hair as a witness testified.

The jury body language speaks volumes about those in the jury box: Legs are crossed and recrossed, sometimes bodies are slump in their chairs, arms cross and uncrossed and hands or fists holding up the sides of heads or chins.

Tens of Thousands of Dollars and Court-Appointed Defense Experts

The case against Peyton lingered in the courts for three years, during that time, there have been four prosecutors assigned to this case; Peyton has been represented by seven court-appointed lawyers, including the latest lawyer, Victor Salas.

Peyton has been awarded $7,500 to pay for a private investigator who testified Friday. Also money was given for two defense experts, and Salas said he is getting $150 an hour.

Salas said  the video-recording expert testifies Wednesday and the eyewitness expert takes the stand Thursday.

The trial continues in Courtroom 48.

The Prosecution Has Put Several Witnesses On The Stand

The defense has put six Sheriff's detectives along with three civilian witness including Jennifer Ressler, an investigator with Wells Fargo in Rhode Island. She was flown down to Ventura to testify. She was asked questions about the banks' ATMs, how debit cards, the bank's security system, the inner and outer working of ATMs mechanisms and much, much more.

Ressler was on the stand for several hours and even missed a flight back to Rhode Island because Peyton asked numerous questions.

The bottom line, Ressler, who at the end of her testimony was rotating  what appeared to be a stiff neck, summed it up best about what her involvement in the case.

"The only knowledge I have are three (ATM) photos I pulled," Ressler testified.

During a recess in the trial, Judge Hirsch told Peyton that he's allowed him "wide latitude" in the questioning of Ressler but cautioned Peyton about repeating the same questions.

 "We've gone over this ground multiple times," said the judge who has been extremely patient with Peyton.

Peyton then asked the judge for an asthma inhaler that he claims the Sheriff's deputies aren't giving him after his prescription ran out. He said he rarely uses the inhaler but the fumes in the courtroom were bothering him.

The judge ordered that the jail get an inhaler for Peyton.

In an interview, Schlein said: "I feel so sorry for Judge Hirsch."

Overwhelming Evidence Against Peyton

Prosecutor Gardner told jurors during opening statements in the trial that there will be overwhelming evidence that Peyton committed both crimes.

The three photos lifted from the ATM's security camera show it was Peyton who used the stolen ATM.

The victim of the stolen card said the suspect could have read her ATM's PIN because she wrote it in her address book in the W section (Wells Fargo). She said her address book was missing along with her purse.

Gardner told jurors that the owner of the second vehicle couldn't  identify the man who quickly took off after he broke into his car. But the victim gave a description of Peyton's  "very distinguishable truck," Gardner said.

Also there are text messages from Peyton to an "associate" that discuss robberies, said Gardner.

Defense Criticizes the DA's Case and Sheriff's Deputies' Investigation

Salas said there is no DNA or fingerprint evidence against Peyton. There was a rash of car burglaries during this time in Ojai and pressure to solve who was involved; Peyton has never charged with burglary.

"Witnesses said different things at different times," Salas told jurors.

The video expert will dispute the accuracy of the three photos, which are grainy and show a hooded suspect, said Salas, adding that this is the only evidence the prosecution has against Peyton.

In addition, there were three other banks before Wells Fargo, which are Chase, Pacific Oaks and CitiBank, where the suspect tried to access the ATMs after the burglary, Salas said.

There were no photos or security camera videos obtained from these other banks, according to Salas.

He said there were five search warrants served in five different places including  the residence of Ben Kennedy. Kennedy had stolen items including purses in his house.

The text message are worthless because deputies allege that Peyton used Kennedy's phone to send them, according to Salas.

Kennedy was also arrested and told deputies that the CD case in his home belonged to Peyton, said Salas.

The deputy in charge of the investigation never went back to the place where car burglary took place, and was shown one photo of one truck to the victim of the second car burglary at the remote Hot Springs in the Ojai Valley. He said the place was dark at the time that burglary were committed.

Prosecutors Wanted To Send Peyton To Prison For Life

Initially, the District Attorney's Office wanted to put Peyton who has two robbery convictions  behind bars for the rest of his life under the three-strikes law, said Salas.

During opening statements, Gardner told jurors that Peyton has been convicted in 1999 of illegally possessing someone's credit card.  Also in 2003, Peyton broke into and stole a CD case from a vehicle.

But Proposition 36 changed the Three Strikes Law and was approved by voters in November. It revises the three strikes to impose a life sentence only when the new felony conviction is serious or violent.

Prosecutors have argued in court that Peyton is filing frivolous legal pleadings, including one request that he be given taxpayer money to pay for a suit to wear in court during his trial, a request that was denied.

Peyton Fights Back With Legal Motions  

Peyton has fought back in court, writing and filing about 50 legal motions, and some of the legal papers have made their way to the state appeals court and the California Supreme Court.

Salas said he is very impressed by Peyton's legal writing skills and grasp of the law. Salas said Peyton did a lot of his legal homework in jail and his citing of caseload to beef up his arguments is worth noting by experienced lawyers.

 Peyton, who has Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntarily movements and vocalizations called tics, hasn't helped his legal cause by launching personal attacks against judges and prosecutors.

During the trial, his courtroom behavior is sometimes  disruptive and childish. He refused to participate in his trial when it started and then, changing his mind.

He has fired Salas and rehired him, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by Schlein.

"He fired Salas three times," said Schlein in an interview. "The next time you look and they are sitting close to one another again."

"All of this is just a show," said Schlein.


The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at