By: Tina Sampay
HSU Alumni (2016)-Journalism/Critical Race & Gender major/minor
Originally posted: Www.SlausonGirl.com
Kyle Zoellner, the suspect accused of stabbing Humboldt State University student David Josiah Lawson to death at an off campus party Easter weekend, was released from Eureka’s jail last Friday, May 5th.
Humboldt County judge Dale Reinholtsen ruled that due to a lack of physical evidence, there was no need to require a trial.
All charges against Zoellner were dropped.
I sat through the preliminary hearings all five days from 9:00 a.m until 5:00 p.m and I have heard all of the witness testimonies and the evidence presented.
It weighs heavy on my mind some of the information that was revealed in court through cross examination and witness testimonies. The fact judge Reinholtsen was still able to make this ruling, is slightly horrific to me.
Zoellner relied heavily upon the rules of the court system within his case. The defense refused to sign a time waiver and Zoellner’s right to a fast and speedy trial meant that he had to have his preliminary hearings within ten days.
According to the testimony of Sergeant Todd Dockweiler who is the lead detective on the case, there is still evidence that has not been processed yet, such as Zoellner’s bloody jeans.
When people read headlines on the coverage of this case within the limited media outlets that we have in the area, they will read about the fingerprint and fibers on the knife found at the scene not matching Zoellner’s.
Many will become immediately convinced that Zoellner has no involvement or knowledge of what happened to Josiah that fatal night.
The more I sat in court and heard the witness testimonies, the more I was convinced that there was no way Zoellner and the girls he was with that night, do not know what happened to Josiah.
During the hearings when things did seem to shift a bit from Zoellner, it all shifted to the girls that were with him that night.
The problem lies in the fact that Zoellner’s girlfriend and her friends were never looked at as suspects, but witnesses rather.
Black lives cannot matter as long as non-black people and their word is held in a higher regard than Black people.
Black lives cannot matter within the realm of white privilege so long as the stereotypes of Blackness allow for others to use Black bodies as scapegoats.
I watched Zoellner’s girlfriend and her friends lie under oath about what happened the night Josiah was stabbed. This was evident under cross examination and their contradicting testimonies.
The only thing all three of the women were consistent upon, was painting young Black men out to be monsters.
The judge couldn't understand logically how Zoellner could have did this because in my opinion, he held the testimonies of Zoellner’s girlfriend and her friends in a higher regard than everyone else’s.
When in reality, these girls should have been looked upon as co-conspirators in Josiah’s murder investigation.
There is no physical evidence, yet I still believe Zoellner and the party he was with had some sort of involvement. Probable cause for trial in my opinion, was definitely there due to the alarming amount of circumstantial evidence revealed in court, which led me to form this opinion.
How does Judge Reinholtsen note in his ruling that the only people who had motive, means and opportunity to murder Josiah, was Zoellner and the girls that he was with yet proceed to release him?
Black Bodies As Scapegoats
Much like police brutality, within the small area of Humboldt County white people have taken to online platforms playing the “reverse racism game.”
They debate over slain Black bodies (in this case Josiah) and show their disdain for Black people and their complete disregard over the circumstances leading to their deaths.
While white people debate online over if racism is real or not, the fact that someone lost their life gets lost in translation.
The mindset of some of some of the locals in the surrounding community are never mentioned by college recruiters and the university's website.
Brothers United, the cultural club for men of color at HSU which Josiah was president of, are mourning the loss of their friend and brother yet find themselves receiving online slander and being labeled a “gang” by locals.
These online attacks of Brothers United are a reocurring theme in America and shows the continued ways that white people and the media aim to justify the murder of Black people by associating them with racial stereotypes.
Josiah was not in a gang.
Why aren't the people of Humboldt County talking about Josiah as the 2nd year college student who overcame extreme adversity to attend college? A young, Black man who left the comforts of his hometown to attend school in a rural and secluded town up north.
Instead, why are they so focused upon attacking Josiah’s character?
The fact that a mother sent her son off to college to better himself and he returned in a casket, should strike a different chord in people but it seems that racism clouds people’s judgement in such a way, that even these facts are disregarded.
The huge problem in this case is that more people need to be looked at as suspects who were with Zoellner. I believe only then, will the truth come out about what really happened to Josiah that night.
In regards to the judge's ruling to dismiss the charges against Zoellner, I was left with many questions from five days of witness testimonies that for now remain unanswered but are important to note:
Who exactly stabbed Josiah between Kyle, his girlfriend Lila, her friend Naiya (who testified she supplied cocaine to her friends that night), Casey and Angelica? Did one of them wipe off the knife? Is the knife recovered from the scene the knife that Josiah was stabbed with?
Why was Zoellner’s car allowed to leave the scene driven by Angelica’s mother who was called to the scene after the stabbing? Why was Zoellner's car not entered into evidence?
What ever happened to Angelica Mcfarlane who was with Lila and Zoellner at the party? How come her and her mother were never called to testify in court?
Why did Zoellner’s girlfriend feel the need to lie under oath when she said that she never touched Zoellner's knife bag that he uses for his job as a chef?
Lila’s friend Casey Gleaton testified that Lila grabbed the bag of knives from Kyle’s car (that the police let be driven from the crime scene) after she arrived home from the hospital the next morning where Zoellner was before he was taken to jail.
According to Gleaton, Lila opened the bag and said something about the number of knives and that one was missing.
Casey testified that she heard Lila say multiple times that she hoped Lawson died. Why did Lila want Josiah to die so bad?
Lila testified in court that she never said this.
Arcata police officer Jacob Mckenzie, who has only been on the force for nine months, was the first cop to arrive at Josiah's body and testified that he only grabbed one glove before exiting his patrol vehicle.
He also could not remember if he wore a glove when collecting the knife found at the crime scene.
This leads one to wonder:
Was the crime scene properly secured and assessed?
Was the evidence collected properly?
Media coverage of Josiah’s murder glosses over the fact that Josiah’s girlfriend was jumped by Lila and her friend Naiya after she confronted them about pepper spraying her, Josiah and the people they were with.
A previous fight happened minutes before between them all.
In the incidents leading up to the first fight, Lila and her friends approached Josiah, his girlfriend and the two brothers they were with inquiring about Lila's missing phone as Josiah and his friends exited the party.
The first fight ends with pepper-spray being sprayed by Naiya or Angelica. Josiah, his girlfriend and his friends then begin making their way down the driveway to the street where the car is parked.
Josiah's girlfriend testified in court that she began to have a panic attack and ran back up the driveway. She believed the girls had threw some drugs in her face "because they looked like coke-heads."
Media coverage focused heavily upon the testimony of Perris Wright who said that Josiah's girlfriend was "doing what she always did" and he thought nothing of it when her saw her arguing with Lila and her friends.
When Ren approaches the girls, she is immediately attacked. While she is being jumped by these two girls in the second fight, Josiah who had been maced, is making his way up the driveway to find her.
What happened next, only the people who were outside at the time know.
Casey Gleaton, Kyle Zoellner and Angelica McFarlane are unaccounted for during this moment.
Josiah’s girlfriend was left with severe bite marks on her breast due to Zoellner’s girlfriend biting her like some sort of savage animal.
The fact that this was never mentioned by the prosecution in their closing arguments or never touched on in the judge's ruling baffles me.
Josiah's girlfriend Ren, was also the victim of a vicious attack.
Understanding this, puts a lot into perspective about what may have happened that night.
When asked about fighting Josiah's girlfriend in court, Lila testified that they had a hair pulling match for five minutes. Naiya then joined and helped Lila pull Ren's hair for another five minutes before they all agreed to let go.
The fact that Lila tried to paint the fight between her and Josiah's girlfriend as a simple "hair pulling match" shows that Lila was trying to hide something in her testimony.
Arcata Police Officer Krystle Arminio testified that she talked to Ren at the hospital and took pictures of her injuries.
There are so many complexities in this case but I do understand that this is an open investigation and although Zoellner was released, there is still a possibility that him and his accomplices could be re-arrested if new evidence was introduced or a witness comes forward.
What are the chances of this really happening however?
History has shown us time and time again that white men are rarely sought after and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law when it comes to the killing of Black bodies--from the police, to civilians like George Zimmerman.
What happened to Josiah is heartbreaking. Beyond his murder, the judge deciding to free Zoellner and thinking more about the best interest of a group of tweaked out locals, over a college student with a promising future, is beyond me.
Humboldt County is no place for students of color because they will have no one within real positions of power who are working towards their best interest.
**Kyle Zoellner's girlfriend Lila Ortega and her friend Naiya Wilkins on the night of Lawson's murder taken by a HSU student who was at the party.
**Photographs of injuries provided by Josiah's girlfriend Ren.