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Court Reporter's Notebook

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Murder For Hire Trial Underway at Ventura County Superior Cour

Pacoima businessman Barry Carlisi wanted Tom MacAllister dead. So,  Carlisi hired his pal who lived in a bus housed in an industrial space owned by Carlisi.

Carlisi even met with his friend and now hit man Ruben Szerlip twice at an IHop at Agoura Hills in June 2010 to discuss how to kidnap and kill MacAllister - Carlisi wanted MacAllister  kidnapped , his body dismembered and cut into five pieces, the body parts frozen, put into a freezer that would be weighed down with chains and dumped in the ocean.

What Carlisi didn't know was that Szerlip  was wearing a wire during those IHop meetings.

He had a change of heart about killing MacAllister. He called the District Attorney's Office using a fictitious name and was put through to an investigator who referred the case to the Ventura County Sheriff's detectives who launched an investigation.

That's what prosecutor Anne Spillner told jurors Tuesday during opening statements in Carlisi's trial in Courtroom 25.

The 65-year-old Szerlip who is in witness relocation program was given immunity in exchange for testifying against Carlisi, according to prosecutors.

Law Enforcement Search Carlisi's Property for Evidence

The 57-year-old Carlisi, who is not in custody, is on trial for conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to kidnap, solicitation to commit murder and possession of marijuana for sale.

Sheriff's detectives executing search warrants on Carlisi's home in Bell City and vehicle to gather evidence for the conspiracy charges found a marijuana grow farm inside Carlisi's Bell City house.

Spillner told jurors that Carlisi bragged that he has been growing marijuana for 20 years.

"The defendant said he makes a lot of money on this. It can be hard work but it is worth it," Spillner said Carlisi is heard saying.

They also found other things including a freezer, plastic sheeting, nylon stockings, an ice pick, gloves, photos of MacAllister's house and firearms. 

Also found was a so-called "Oh, Yeah" file with a photo of MacAllister's sister, e-mails from MacAllister, a Sap weapon, pepper spray and a receipt for a GPS tracking device that can be put underneath a vehicle to track it.

There was also a list of all the places where MacAllister shops, visits or banks along with his sister's address.

Spillner said Carlisi wanted MacAllister dead because he was going to a very "bitter and vicious" divorce and child custody dispute with Shannon Carlisi who is Carlisi's niece.

MacAllister testified Tuesday.

Carlisi Has Hired Three Attorneys to Represent Him at His Trial

For his part, Carlisi has hired three lawyers to represent him - two from  Los Angeles  John Hobson and Michael Levinsohn and one from New York City, Jennifer  Lee Barringer.

Hobson  told the juror this case is about "sex, lies and deception," saying that Szerlip had a "hidden agenda" and it wasn't to help MacAllister.  Hobson said Szerlip was having a "secret sexual relationship;" with Carlisi's wife.

Detectives immediately focused on Carlisi during the investigation and never bothered to look at Szerlip story, said Hobson.

"The evidence will show that this is a one sided investigation that has a two-sided crime," Hobson said.

He described Szerlip as a "government agent" who has been put on a witness relocation program and has been given $30,000 for helping law enforcement.

Hobson said Szerlip has convictions for theft and domestic violence and his agreement of immunity with prosecutors doesn't require him to be truthful or to tell the complete story.

Szerlip was well-coached and prepared when he was working with law enforcement, Hobson said.

He said Szerlip was pushing Carlisi to get the crimes done.

Adding that his client sat with his brother Wayne Carlisi  and told him that he feared Szerlip.

 

The Marijuana Grow Farm Charge

Carlisi's other attorney Levinsohn told jurors during opening statements that Carlisi was growing medical marijuana for medical purposes.  Levinsohn said Carlisi and his associate are qualified medical patients who use marijuana and grow their own marijuana,  Levinsoh

Levinsohn said Carlisi has never made any profit from growing marijuana and the defense will put an expert on the stand to testify about marijuana grow farms and medical marijuana laws.

The Victim Takes the Stand

MacAllister took the stand and testified about his marriage to Shannon Carlisi who was the granddaughter of Frank Carlisi. He and his wife Mary raised Shannon Carlisi.

Frank Carlisi is the father of Barry Carlisi, said MacAllister. He said Shannon Carlisi had two children by a previous marriage. He said he and Shannon Carlisi had a baby girl in December 2001.

MacAllister described his marriage to Shannon Carlisi and said they were separated and filed for divorce in 2005. He said the divorce was one of the "worst" he had ever experienced and said he had been married one other time.

MacAllister said he had a good relationship with Frank Carlisi up until the divorce and the fight for assets and custody of the couple's child began. He said Frank Carlisi , who is now deceased, was upset that he was never told about the divorce before it was filed.

He said Frank and Mary Carlisi helped the couple move from Oceanside to West Hills and gave them more than $500,000 as a down payment for a home at West Hills so Shannon Carlisi would be closer to her family.

MacAllister  told jurors that Shannon Carlisi took his prized comic book collection that he began when he was a 9-year-old child.  He said he was stuck with two mortgage payments on the Oceanside and West Hills houses because the Carlisis refuse to sign the legal papers so the houses can be sold.

MacAllister ended up losing the houses to foreclosures and later, Frank Carlisi bid on the foreclosed West Hills house.

Also he said Frank Carlisi filed a frivolous lawsuit against him in 2007, and it resulted in him using all his money for legal fees. He said he got his sister Linda who is a lawyer to give him free legal representation and in the end, he was representing himself.

In May 2010, MacAllister said he got a  $16,000 for legal fees because of the malicious lawsuit they filed.  He said he also got $42,000 in June 2010 to settle the divorce that included compensation for the comic books, a 1963 Buick and tools.

"Did you have to declare bankruptcy as a result of this divorce?" Spillner asked.

"Yes," he replied.

Under cross examination, MacAllister denied posting up fliers in February 2009 that stated, in part, "Frank Carlisi is dead."

 

 

The Court Reporter's Notebook

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Hells Angel Sentenced to 90 Days in Jail for Misdemeanor Assault with a Baseball Bat

 

A member of the Hells Angels was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years probation for misdemeanor assault this afternoon stemming from an incident that happened earlier this year in Ojai.


Ventura County Superior Court Judge Nancy Ayers reduced a felony assault charge to a misdemeanor against Archie Schaffer after commenting that the facts in the case "appeared quite muddled."


The judge also noted the 39-year-old  Schaffer, of Ojai, had a minimal criminal record.


In an interview, prosecutor Tate McCallister declined to comment on the details surrounding the incident which occurred on Feb. 14.

Court documents indicate that Shaffer allegedly used a bat on a female victim.


In court, McCallister opposed the reduction of the felony to a misdemeanor. But he agreed to dismiss other two other felony counts against Schaffer - vandalism over $400 and that he was under the influence of a controlled substance.


Schaffer's lawyer Anthony Zinnanti  also declined to give details about the crime, saying only that he believes this case was completely blown out of proportion because it involved the Hells Angels.


He said the decision was fair given the facts and circumstances.


Zinnanti declined to say whether Schaffer was still the president of the Santa Barbara Hells Angels.


Schaffer also declined to comment.


Zinnanti said his client was arrested several days after the incident. Schaffer, who owns a business,  declined to comment after the sentencing. He will report to jail on Nov. 26 to serve his sentence.


In September 2009, Shaffer was found not guilty of brandishing a weapon and reckless driving, felony crimes.  The judge dismissed a remaining felony.  Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on two other counts.


The following month, the judge blocked an effort by prosecutors to retry the counts where a verdict wasn't reached.

 

 

Satnam Singh's Lawyer Asked Judge to Reconsider a Preliminary Hearing Ruling Made by Another Judge.

Defense Attorney David Lehr filed a 995 motion which in the California Penal Code means asking a judge to dismiss one or more counts of a criminal complaint.

Lehr appeared today in a pre-trial hearing of his client Satnam Singh before Judge Bruce Young.

Singh, 50, is accused of hitting and killing bicyclist Nick Haverland last year in Ventura.

He is charged with second-degree murder, felony drunken driving, felony hit-and-run and misdemeanor hit-and-run. He also is charged with two counts of inflicting great bodily injury.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Defense lawyers filed 995 motions when they believe a judge or grand jury incorrectly held their client to answer to charges.

Most of the time, a 995 motion is filed after a preliminary hearing, which is a mini-trial where a judge determines if there is sufficient evidence to hold a defendant for trial.

The legal standard at a preliminary hearing is if there is probable cause to hold someone for trial. This is a much lower legal standard in criminal court than beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lehr said his client was intoxicated, sat in his vehicle for 20 minutes after the crash and wouldn't get out when ordered to do so by police who finally had to use a K-9 to get Singh to comply with their orders.

The judge noted that Lehr was arguing under the "implied malice" theory of second-degree murder.

Basically, Lehr is saying that the second-degree murder charges with implied malice haven't been legally met. 

Basically, the law states that implied malice means committing an act with a "wanton disregard" to human life or an act where there is a high degree of probability that death will result or a "conscious disregard" to human life.

Lehr said his client was intoxicated, sat in his vehicle for 20 minutes after the crash and wouldn't get out when ordered to do so by police who finally had to use a K-9 to get Singh to comply with their orders.

Prosecutor Richard Simon countered: "If he was so unconscious, how did he find his way home?"


 DA Investigator Cautions Parents of Victim Allegedly Murdered by Satnam Singh

District Attorney Investigator Adam Witkins politely cautioned the   parents of Nick Haverland who sat in the front row before today's pre-trial hearing that there were autopsy and crime photographs that they don't want to see.

In an interview, Susan and Jim Haverland said they understood what Mr. Witkins had told them  and will leave the courtroom when they know these images will be shown.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Bruce Young has to decide which  autopsy photographs have probative value and will be admitted during Singh's trial, sorting out what photos might be prejudicial  and could inflame the passions of  the jury, denying Singh a fair trial.

Usually, prosecutors trying murder cases will explain and caution the relatives and friends of victims that it is best that they aren't in court when these images of their loved ones go up on the screen.

As a journalist, I have sat through more than 100 murder trials in nearly 20 years of court reporting. I've covered federal and state courts during that time.  Like clockwork, as soon as the autopsy photos are shown in a trial, sometimes, and understandably so, I have seen the victims' family or friends of the victims burst out crying, storm out of the courtroom and  a few times, they have screamed at defendants.

 Most of the time, family and friends will just quietly sit in court and weep and sob, comforting one another. Heads bowed and eyes avoiding these images.

I can only imagine the hurt.

 

 

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 rhernandez@vcstar.com.