VOICES: Mother of Homicide Victim Writes to Attorney General
The following is a letter written to the Attorney General of California, Kamala Harris by Dorothy Ulrich’s mother. The letter is published with permission from the author.
By SHIRLEY ORTEGA
November 9, 2012
Dear Ms. Harris:
I am the mother of Dorothy Ulrich. On September 27, 2012, my daughter was brutally murdered in her home in Hoopa, California by suspect (allegedly) Jason Warren. After killing my daughter, he allegedly stole a vehicle that she had borrowed and drove to Eureka where he allegedly ran down three joggers killing one of them, Suzanne Seemann, a professor at California State University Humboldt.
Jason Warren was arrested due to his failure to appear for sentencing in the above-referenced matter (CR1201517-unrelated crime) but has not been formally charged for killing my daughter or Ms. Seemann. However, I have been informed that charges are forthcoming and the evidence against Warren is overwhelming.
As you can imagine, I have been doing a great deal of research to determine how Warren could have been out of custody given his violent criminal history and pending a case for another violent crime which he pleaded guilty. Following is what I have learned by searching court records, talking to District Attorney Paul Gallegos, the lead police investigator, and the local newspaper. There were many mistakes made and as a result, two women were killed, two other women were seriously injured, and communities were jeopardized.
On March 28, 2012, the Hoopa Valley Tribal Police arrested Warren for violations of California Penal Code § 211- Robbery, Penal Code § 245- Assault with Deadly Weapon or Instrument, and Penal Code § 417- Brandishing a Deadly Weapon. At the time of his arrest, Warren was on parole. The tribal police notified Warren’s parole officer who in turn notified the district attorney of Warren’s parole terms. Warren’s parole officer stated that while Warren was on parole he gave a verifiable address, later gave another address, and then Warren was homeless.
Warren entered into a plea deal wherein he would plead guilty to violations of Penal Code §§ 245 and 29800 (a), being a felon in possession of a firearm-one prior conviction, section 12021(e)- unlawful firearm activity and he admitted that he suffers one prior serious or violent felony to wit Sections 664/187 (a) attempted murder, 215 (a)- car jacking, and Section 245 (a) (1)- force with a deadly weapon/not firearm likely to produce great bodily injury. Apparently, Warren agreed that if he was granted a Cruz waiver and abided by all conditions of the Cruz waiver, the violation of Penal Code § 245 (a) (1) would be vacated. The Cruz waiver was granted by the Judge after asking the prosecutor if he had any objections and the prosecutor said “no objections.” If Warren didn’t abide by the conditions of the Cruz waiver Penal Code § 245 (a) (1) would remain and he would be sentenced to the upper term of four years on that offense, plus an additional eight months consecutive for the felon in possession of a firearm. That, four years eight months would be doubled, making it a prison commitment of nine years, four months.
Warren was released for two weeks on his own recognizance with out a verifiable address and according to his parole officer he was homeless. The Tribal Police were not notified of his release. The victim was not notified of any plea dealings or of Warren’s release.
When I learned of his prior case I was shocked to learn that Warren, a violent felon, was released on his own recognizance with no verifiable address, and told to return to court in two weeks so he may be sent to prison for four years. I have found no indication that Warren’s victim was notified of his release as required by Marcy’s Law and the Victim’s Bill of Rights.
When I asked District Attorney Gallegos for the reason Warren was trusted to return for sentencing I learned that no notes were kept by the Deputy District Attorney Zack Curtis who prosecuted this case. Mr. Curtis stated that he was not able to remember what rationale, if any, was offered by the defense for seeking the release prior to sentencing. In a phone interview, Mr. Curtis was quoted as saying, “It was something that came up on the eve of trial, so it was very much in the heat of battle.” When asked if he could review the file for his notes, he stated, “This isn’t like a transactional practice where you throw down everything in writing. You can’t do that in criminal law. The caseload is too huge. You have to make snap judgments, and you do things as you go along.” He went on to say that, [for the prosecution] “just looking at it analytically, the decision was within the bounds of reason. It was what I would call a reasonable decision.” However, when Mr. Curtis discussed the fact that Warren failed to return to court on September 7, 2012, for sentencing, he said, “I took a chance on him and it failed.”
Scorched by the attention that followed the killing of my daughter and Mrs. Seemann, and the serious injuries to the two other women who were jogging with Mrs. Seemann, the Humboldt County District Attorney has begun opposing every single request for release under a Cruz waiver. I understand that the temporary stance, which could last a few weeks, is aimed at giving prosecutors time to decide whether to set new standards for acquiescing to such releases.
Understandably, Mr. Curtis is shaken by the events that followed his acquiescence in Warren’s release and the killings of two innocent women. However, I am “shaken,” and I am sure the victims and their families are “shaken” by the fact that my daughter is dead, a mother of two young children is dead, and two other women are seriously injured and the only reason is due to the fact that this violent criminal was released on his “promise” to return to court for sentencing when he knew he would be immediately taken into custody to serve four years in prison. Although a bench warrant was issued when he surprisingly failed to appear, there was no address for Warren; he was homeless. When I inquired further of the propriety of the deputy district attorney’s actions, District Attorney Gallegos said, “I’ve told [DDA Curtis], ‘You did not kill these people.’” He went on to say, “I can’t find fault with Zack. … I don’t find fault with his decision-making process.”
Of course, Zack Curtis wasn’t the final decision maker. Judge Timothy Cissna was the judge that issued the order. It seems now that everyone involved in Warren’s case have closed ranks and refuse to offer any further explanation to me, the other victims and their families, or the citizens of Humboldt County.
Ms. Harris, what is wrong with these people? This man is and was at the time of his plea agreement, a violent criminal. The District Attorney’s office knew that Warren had a violent criminal history because they added charges for his past violent crimes; the judge knew of the violent criminal history because he had the complaint in the court’s file. Why on Earth would any prosecutor or judge even consider giving this violent repeat offender a Cruz waiver especially when they knew he was homeless and they would not know where to find him should he not appear in court?
Is the District Attorney’s office so overwhelmed with cases they are not able to keeps case notes? Are the judges failing to look at the case file or the complaint containing the special allegations before they agree to release a violent repeat offender, on his own recognizance and his “promise” to return to court so he can be taken into custody for a four- year prison term? Where is the logic in that? What about Marcy’s Law and the Victim’s Bill of Rights? Why is there no remedy for violations of Marcy’s Law? Why wasn’t the parole officer contacted and consulted prior to releasing Warren? Why wasn’t the victim notified of Warren’s release? Why did no one inquire about Warren’s address prior to his release? I hope that with this travesty of justice, guidelines and policies will be changed, or GOD HELP US ALL!!!
I do not know what you can do. I only know that you are the top prosecutor in the State of California. I hope and pray that you can help to keep this from happening again.