Round Valley and the murder charges against "Bear" Lincoln
The Albion Monitor has provided comprehensive coverage of the "Bear" Lincoln case, starting with our in-depth hypertext feature in September, 1995. For additional articles visit the Monitor archives, where you can find many references to Lincoln and developments in the case.
Eugene Allon "Bear" Lincoln, a Wailaki Indian, was charged with first degree murder in the death
of Deputy George Robert "Bob" Davis. Under the "provocative act theory," he
was also charged with murder in the death of his best friend, Leonard "Acorn"
Peters, who was shot and killed by Deputy Davis, allegedly in response to gunfire from Lincoln. The prosecution sought the death penalty because of the special circumstances of murder of
a peace officer, multiple murder, and alleged lying in wait.
On September 23, 1997, the all-white jury, aquitted "Bear" Lincoln on the four major counts against him, and after two years behind bars, Lincoln walked out of Mendocino County Jail to the excited cheers of supporters, free on $50,000 bail.
On the four major counts against Lincoln (first degree murder, second degree murder, attempted 1st degree murder, attempted 2nd degree murder) the jury found NOT GUILTY. The jury deadlocked 10-2 on manslaughter charges.
Events took place on April 14, 1995 on the remote Round Valley Indian Reservation 145 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Lincoln and Peters, residents of the reservation in northeastern Mendocino County, were walking at night on a remote dirt road. Both men carried rifles because they expected a revenge attack. Peters' brother had killed another Indian man, Gene Britton, only a few hours before, and there had been threats of retaliation against Peters and Lincoln family members.
Deputy Davis and Deputy Dennis Miller were in a patrol car at a point where the dirt road topped the ridge under a canopy of small oaks and other trees. They were watching for the suspect in the Britton homicide, whom they believed to be armed and dangerous.
According to Lincoln, he was walking about 25 ft. behind Peters as they approached the ridgetop around a curve in the road. Suddenly, with no visible or audible warning, there was a barrage of gunfire and Peters fell to the ground. Lincoln believed he was under fire from Brittons, but could not see anyone. He fired several wild shots while running forward, then jumped over a drop-off. He ran down a trail some distance, thinking he was being chased and would be killed.
After about four minutes, when no one came after him, he made his way back to the road out of concern for his friend. Emerging about 70 ft downhill from the crest of the ridge, the deputies saw him and fired. He shot his single remaining bullet toward the still-unseen gunmen and fled to his mother's home, where he warned her and other relatives, "They'll come kill all you guys. You've got to get away."
Deputy Miller tells a very different story. He says that he and Davis had just arrived at the ridgetop and backed their car off the road. Davis alerted Miller that someone was coming. Both deputies got out, and Davis shined a flashlight on a man carrying a rifle, and said, "Sheriff's Department, drop the gun," three times. The man shouldered the rifle and fired a shot, and both deputies opened fire with pistols. The man went down and it was quiet.
After a few minutes they heard sounds in the brush and thought someone might be preparing to attack them from behind. They decided to take cover in a clump of small oaks across the road . Davis wanted to check the fallen man to make sure he wasn't playing 'possum. As Davis bent over the body, Miller saw motion down the road and fired a burst of full-automatic fire from an M-16 assault rifle. Almost simultaneously he fell over an embankment, rolled on his shoulder, and came back up. Davis had been shot in the head. He saw more movement down the road and fired another burst.
The prosecution contends that it was a bright moonlit night, and that the
deputies' marked patrol vehicle was parked in an open area where it could
be seen. Therefore the two Indians knew they were dealing with law
officers. Miller says Davis identified himself as a sheriff's officer, and
fired only after the suspect fired. The prosecution says Lincoln
could have fled after Peters was shot, but instead decided to sneak around
behind the officers and shoot them from hiding, and that he shot Davis with the intent to kill him, knowing that
he was a police officer.
Lincoln has admitted he was at the scene and witnessed the shooting of Peters. He immediately returned fire, but didn't see who he was shooting at, firing randomly in self-defense in the direction of the shots. When he returned to the road and fired his last bullet, it was unknown if it hit anyone. It was dark.
Afterwards he hid out for four months knowing he was blamed for killing a sheriff's officer and because he believed he would be shot on sight if he tried to surrender to law enforcement. He turn himself in August 1995 at the office of famed San Francisco defense attorney J. Tony Serra.
Insisting that Lincoln fired only in self-defense, his legal team contends he is not guilty of murder, even if his bullet did kill Davis.
There is no proof that any of Lincoln's bullets hit Davis, and it could be a case of "friendly fire" in which he was killed by one of Deputy Miller's bullets as he sprayed fully automatic M-16 fire and fell down. The single bullet that killed Davis fragmented into mere flecks of metal, some of which were recovered from his brain during autopsy.
The Lincoln team's theory is that the two deputies opened fire from ambush when they thought they saw the armed killer wanted for the Britton murder walking up the road. After killing him they realized their act of murder had been witnessed by someone, and decided to kill the eyewitness. After Miller accidentally shot the other officer instead, he concocted his whole story to blame everything on an Indian.
Miller changed his initial story after tests proved Peters' gun had not been fired at all that night. He now claimed remembering seeing two men on the road, but lost sight of the second man. The prosecutor could thus argue that since Peters had not fired, and Miller says he saw a muzzle blast, that it must have been Lincoln who fired first, making him guilty of provoking the return fire which killed Peters. This is why Lincoln is charged with the second degree murder of Peters.
Even though it was the deputies who were waiting in the dark off the road for their suspect, the prosecution charges Lincoln with lying in wait, on the theory that he hid himself and attacked the officers instead of running away after the first gunfire. Davis suffered a graze wound to his hand at some time. The prosecution theorizes that the wound occurred during the first round of gunfire, making it possible to charge Lincoln with attempted murder for that wound, as well as actual murder in the second round of gunfire.
After an arduous jury selection process lasting three months with nearly 4,000 persons summoned for jury duty, the trial began July 29 before an all-white jury. The prosecutor used peremptory challenges to eliminate three Indians and two other persons of color.
Judge John J. Golden has imposed a total gag order barring any information or comment from lawyers or the defendant to the public or media. He has forbidden photography, television and audio recording or broadcasting of the trial. He has ordered transcripts of the trial to be available for public reading in the court clerk's office, but no copies can be made.
There are unresolved charges of jury tampering by a sheriff's deputy during the selection process. There have been attempts by individuals to influence jurors outside the courthouse and to get certain ones removed from the jury.
Some of the facts in controversy are:
Ultimately, the most important decision the jury had to make is whether to believe Dennis Miller or Bear Lincoln.
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