Two men and three juveniles will not face possible life sentences for their alleged roles in a July home invasion robbery in Templeton after a judge on Wednesday ruled there wasn’t probable cause to accept aggravated kidnapping charges.
The defendants will head to trial, however, on a host of other violent charges that could send them to state prison for decades.
Donovan James Alvord, 19; Albert Charles Heinicke Jr., 18; Levi Cody Mattson and Wyatt Douglas Warnars, both 17; and Marshal Ryan Kaplan, 16, faced 62 felony charges including aggravated kidnapping, first-degree residential burglary, home invasion robbery, criminal threats, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with a firearm and unlawfully taking a vehicle.
The three teens are being tried as adults in the case.
On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge John Trice dismissed the aggravated kidnapping charges and upheld the rest. If the defendants are convicted, the kidnapping charges alone would have carried maximum life sentences. They will now face at least 48 charges depending on how the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office’s proceeds.
The DA’s Office has a couple of options. In place of the kidnapping charges, it could file felony false imprisonment charges — each carrying a maximum three-year sentence — or it could refile the original charges.
During an unusual three-day preliminary hearing that began last Wednesday, Trice heard testimony from various law enforcement officers as well as several young adults who were at the house party at the time of the robbery.
Witnesses testified that in the early-morning hours of July 20, about 20 teens and young adults were attending a party at a home on the 4700 block of See Ranch Lane. About 3 a.m., a 911 caller said about five men entered a house wearing bandanas and hoodies, firing gunshots in the air and rounding up attendees to steal cellphones, wallets and car keys.
Three suspects were arrested after deputies stopped them in an alleged victim’s BMW on Highway 46. A handgun also was recovered from the car. Two others were later arrested.
According to party attendee Tobin Shea, the masked men — at least two of whom were carrying firearms — barged into the house, rounded up the occupants from various rooms and forced them to lie facedown in the backyard while items were seized, he testified. At least two, including Shea, were physically assaulted.
During the hearing last week, Alvord’s attorney, Chris Casciola, filed a motion to dismiss the 14 aggravated kidnapping charges against his client, arguing that the victims in the case were not kidnapped but rather moved to the backyard during the commission of the robbery. The other defendants joined in that motion.
The law states that aggravated kidnapping, as opposed to simple kidnapping or false imprisonment, is committed if the movement of the victim is beyond that merely incidental to the commission of the crime and also increases the risk of harm to the victim. Casciola argued that the gathering of robbery victims in one location decreased the risk of harm.
Deputy District Attorney Lindsey Bittner filed an opposition to the motion, arguing the movement was not incidental to the robbery because some victims were robbed inside the house before being taken outside. It further increased harm to the victims, she argued, because of the victims’ increased fear of danger, which she said satisfied the statutory requirement.
On Wednesday, Trice heard oral arguments by the defense attorneys and Bittner.
Casciola opened with an analogy of police officers conducting searches of a home. In those cases, he argued, occupants are rounded up so that “someone doesn’t spring out of a bathroom or a closet and suddenly an officer is in imminent danger.”
“This was, I think we can all agree, a robbery,” Casciola said. “I don’t believe that there’s any evidence that that movement exposed anybody to greater risk than they were (in) inside where shots were being fired.”
He added: “Very seldom do robbery victims stay in one spot.”
Jim Royer, representing Kaplan, argued the defendants wanted to take valuables from all the victims, and moving them outside was “much less dangerous than having people running around.”
“Tough guys in bedrooms get shot — that’s how it works,” added Kirk Endres, who is representing Heinicke.
Bittner countered that the victims had no control over being moved at gunpoint.
“In this case, Tobin Shea was moved to the backyard, where he was pistol-whipped,” she argued. “Shots had already been fired, so (the victims) knew at least one of the guns worked damn well.”
She added: “The fact that these guys were sloppy and foolish and ... not organized, you don’t get a get-out-of-jail-free card for that.”
Despite his ruling on the kidnapping charges, Trice reiterated the seriousness of the allegations, calling the crime a “well-orchestrated robbery.”
“This is one of the most serious cases I’ve ever seen in this county,” Trice said.
The DA’s Office is expected to amend charges in the coming weeks, and the defendants are due back in court Nov. 2.