Hagins verdict: innocent of biggies; guilty of lessers

by Thom Nadeau of Notable Trials A Yuba County jury found Marcus Charles Hagins innocent Tuesday on two of the five crimes he was accuse...

by Thom Nadeau
of Notable Trials

A Yuba County jury found Marcus Charles Hagins innocent Tuesday on two of the five crimes he was accused of in a 2009 home incursion and bondage incident in Plumas Lake.

He was found guilty of three related lesser charges.

This mixed verdict was particularly noteworthy. Sacramento defense attorney Michael G. Bowman had declined to call any witness or mount any defense other than his closing argument – a dicey strategy seldom dared by any defense attorney, no matter how seasoned.

Instead of spending his life in prison, the 19-year-old Elverta man is now looking at doing as little as four to five years, with credit for one year already served awaiting trial.

Advisors familiar with the ins-and-outs of sentencing terminology said that, with luck, the kid could do even less.

Hagins’ precise prison term depends on how Judge Kathleen O’Connor interprets the sometimes obscure sentencing rules when she hands down the formal sentence 9 a.m. June 28.

The courtroom drama...

O’Connor read the verdicts aloud at 3:47 p.m., formally querying the jurors after each one, “Is this your verdict?”

Each time the jurors assented in one joined voice: “Yes!”

In turn, Judge O’Connor echoed the official words that trace back to the Magna Carta: “So say them all!”

The packed audience was dominated by friends and relatives of the 20-year-old girl victim. They greeted the final verdicts with displays of emotion that ranged from loud crying to blank-faced silence.

They had clearly hoped for a stiffer verdict for Hagins, judging by the way they chatted and joked among themselves during courtroom breaks.

The defendant’s father, Mark Hagins, sat quietly through the reading. No huzzahs from him; no smiles; not even a nod or two for what was probably the fairest outcome the Hagins boy might reasonably expected in this strange and sordid case.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Dupré-Tokos sat stolidly through the reading.

Defense attorney Bowman was also laconic, occasionally muttering hasty explanations of what it all meant into his client’s ear.

The charges enumerated

Had Hagins been found guilty of the main charge, count one – “Rape in concert while armed” – it would have meant life in prison for him. It was padded with a special allegation that could have added five more years to that term.

Conviction on count two – “Burglary in 1st degree with special allegation of violent felony” would have added an unspecified number of additional years.

But Hagins was convicted of lesser versions of three accompanying charges: count three, “Assault with a Deadly Weapon with Great Bodily Injury (by) Force;” a lesser version of count four, “Threat to terrorize;” and count 5, “False imprisonment.”

News that a verdict had been reached came out less than two hours after the jury began deliberating. That seemed a bad sign for the defendant.

Courthouse lore has it that swift verdicts are usually stern.

But then the complications came. Everyone who rushed to the courthouse to hear the verdict had to wait. And wait.

When the jury of nine-women and three men finally came out of the jury room, they departed wordlessly for lunch.

They would be back at 1:30 p.m., the escort bailiff explained.

Verdict forms: voluminous, mystifying

Upon their return, they remained sequestered. Clearly some hitch had developed.

Word came out that the jurors wanted Judge O’Connor to clarify some of the verbiage in the lengthy verdict form.

Lengthy? How lengthy?

After getting the jurors’ questions and plowing through a fat stack of papers, the judge announced her clarifications for instructions given on pages “65, 66, 67 and 68.”

At page 68 the jury instructions were still dealing with count two? Based on appearances, the jury packet looked to reach perhaps 150 or 200 pages, total. No wonder the jury was having a tough go of it.

The jury came in. The judge told them they were not filling out the verdict forms correctly. They were failing to indicate that they had found the defendant innocent of the maximum charge before they signed the forms indicating they had found him guilty of certain lesser charges.

The jury went out. They attended to the details the judge had mentioned.

Then they returned for the formal reading – the reading that so disappointed the victim’s friends and apparently mystified the prosecution.

Reporter’s observations

This reporter’s educated guess on how it was the jurors reached the verdicts they did was that the prosecutor had simply over-charged the crimes, filing the most punitive possible charges and demanding maximum punishment on everything.

This may have been done to satisfy the victim’s family’s thirst for revenge, but clearly it did not sit well with the jurors. The crime the victim suffered was sinister and tacky, to be sure. But, looked at in the cold light of the following morning, no blood was spilled and nothing was stolen or broken.

Moreover, the whole incident was over in 15 minutes. Law enforcement entertained only one possible suspect and had him in hand within hours. His arrest was only delayed because the investigators were waiting for the technical evidence results to come back from the state Department of Justice lab.

True, these may be minor points to someone who has suffered the fear, anxiety and humiliation that a crime as awful as this brings.

But, as Casey Stengel once said, “You go with what you got.”

Wrapping up

Dupré-Tokos was not immediately available for comment.

Bowman spoke briefly. He declined to expand on the exhilaration he must have felt when the verdict was read. All he would say was he understood why the jury reached the verdicts they did.

More courthouse lore: Wise lawyers consider it bad luck to crow before the judge hands down the final sentence. It would be like taunting the Devil.

Bowman was then approached by a woman juror who had hung back as her fellow juror members left.

She shook Bowman’s hand and, judging by the smiles and general comments they exchanged, she appeared to be congratulating Bowman and explaining why she and the others had found the prosecution’s most severe claims unwarranted.

On the courthouse plaza outside, I asked the defendant’s father if he would care to comment on the verdict.

No, he wouldn’t, he said. He had read some my trial stories and felt “they weren’t that favorable” to him.

Well, that’s the trouble with truth. It is seldom found only on one side.

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