After a long investigation and a series of court proceedings that lasted five months, Anderson resident Eddie Dodge was convicted by a jury last week of the Feb. 5, 2019 execution-style murder of 31 year-old Texas resident Hunter Sims in the Eddy Creek area near Weed.
YREKA – After a long investigation and a series of court proceedings that lasted five months, Anderson resident Eddie Dodge was convicted by a jury last week of the Feb. 5, 2019 execution-style murder of 31 year-old Texas resident Hunter Sims in the Eddy Creek area near Weed.
Dodge, age 41, was convicted Thursday of first degree murder with the special circumstance of murder for financial gain and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, said Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus. He was also charged with robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He’ll be sentenced on March 3.
Andrus called the efforts of Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Sergeant James Randall and Detective Jesus Fernandez in the case “nothing short of heroic.”
“The most vital evidence was not easily apparent or routinely found,” Andrus said. “They were creative and determined and never gave up. The assistance from different state agencies was also crucial. It was a tremendous team effort.”
Dodge’s attorney, Michael Borges of Redding, declined to comment.
Sims, the father of a 9 year-old daughter, was a contractor who also helped his mother with the family dry cleaning business, said Andrus.
On Feb. 4, 2019 he flew into Sacramento and drove to Redding in order to make a large marijuana purchase.
“Having already made a local contact, he expected to be able to make the purchase the next day,” said Andrus. “His local contact could not put together such a large purchase, so they had called Dodge, who agreed to secure a seller who could provide sufficient weight and quality of marijuana.”
Sims, described at trial by his mother, Robin as “a gregarious and engaging man with a ready smile who made friends easily,” got together with his contact and Dodge on Feb. 4, approved samples of the marijuana for sale, and the next morning drove to Sacramento and returned with $200,000 in cash for the purchase, Andrus said. Through the investigation it was never determined where the funds came from but the amount was confirmed by Sims’ Redding contact, who testified at trial under a grant of immunity for any marijuana crimes committed in Siskiyou or Shasta County, Andrus added. The Redding contact said he was present on Feb. 5 when the money was counted and repackaged for the transaction.
According to witnesses with knowledge of the transaction details, only Dodge was aware of the identity of the seller he had arranged, though he gave vague identifying details, including that they were of Asian descent and that he had done eight to ten transactions with them previously including about half of them at their home in Siskiyou County, said Andrus.
Dodge and Sims left Dodge’s mother’s home in Shasta Lake City, where they had repackaged the money and viewed the samples, around 9:40 p.m. on Feb 5, said Andrus. Dodge prohibited Sims’ Redding contact from accompanying them.
Dodge and Sims were each driving their own vehicles: Dodge in a white Volkswagen Jetta and Sims in a rented white Nissan Sentra, said Andrus. The money was in the trunk of Dodge’s car. There was no report of Sims being seen alive again.
On Feb. 7, 2019, a utility company employee working in the area of North Old Stage Road and Eddy Creek saw a man’s body approximately 40 feet off of the roadway partially obscured by some trees.
“Officers with the California Highway Patrol and Siskiyou County Sheriff’s deputies responded quickly and secured the scene while investigators arrived to collect evidence and begin the investigation,” said Andrus. “They found that Mr. Sims had been shot four times in the back of the head by a stationary shooter at close range. Four shell casings from a 9mm handgun, tightly grouped, were recovered on the roadway.”
Andrus said investigation revealed a blood trail from the roadside to the tree line, where a fence just inside the tree line had prevented the killer from dragging Sims’ body further.
“It was clear that he had been dragged feet first,” Andrus said. “(Sims) had then been dragged headfirst along the fence line another six feet or so where he was slightly obscured by trees but still visible from the roadway.”
Sims’ rental car was found 187 feet away from the “obvious remnants” of a pool of blood near the shell casings, indicating where Sims had died, across N. Old Stage Road, said Andrus.
There was very little inside the vehicle aside from a few snacks, a watch that Sims’ late father had given him, some paperwork and an overnight bag, said Andrus.
“It was not long before detectives were able to identify Mr. Sims from these materials and the rental car history,” Andrus said.
During the initial search for suspects Detective Sergeant James Randall of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office reached out to local narcotics investigators to ask them to contact local informants to ask for information they may have heard about what may have happened, said Andrus.
One such individual reported receiving a strange call from Dodge the day before in which Dodge sounded “off,” he said. Dodge then visited this person in the Yreka area on Feb. 8, stating that he had been part of a marijuana deal that had gone bad and that he needed an alibi, said Andrus.
This friend, Andrus reported, offered to provide an alibi and they worked out the details. Dodge described to this person having gone to purchase marijuana, taking $150,000 of the money into a house with “a dude from Texas,” then feeling uneasy in the house and leaving the money there while they both went outside. Dodge reportedly told this friend that he saw unknown individuals come around the house and they began shooting at them.
Dodge allegedly told his friend that he had shot back with a 9mm handgun. He told the friend that he was worried about four shell casings by a bridge, gave directions to them, and asked his Yreka contact to collect them for him.
Dodge reportedly went on to tell his friend that he had gotten into his car and fled, assuming that Sims had done the same behind him.
Andrus said Dodge’s Yreka contact “was immediately skeptical of the story and noted ‘gray areas’ involving how Sims may have died” and “immediately reported this information to law enforcement.”
That same day, Andrus noted, information was received that Dodge was traveling north to Oregon with members of his family. At the request of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, Dodge was detained in Southern Oregon where Siskiyou County detectives interviewed him.
“Rather than hear details of the shootout, Dodge gave the alibi he had created the day before,” said Andrus, and within an hour the Yreka contact was interviewed by Sgt. Jeremy Potter of the Yreka Police Department. Finding out that this alibi was false, Siskiyou County detectives arrested Dodge for murder, Andrus said.
The next day detectives located Sims’ Redding contact who had brought Dodge into the deal, Andrus said.
“This person had been frantically looking for Sims for days after Dodge reported the aborted drug deal and gave investigators detailed information about the preceding days’ events,” said Andrus. “This information included that after Dodge and Sims had driven north on Feb. 5 that Sims began calling his contact asking if Dodge knew where he was going because he seemed lost. The last call had ended around 11:13 p.m. At 11:22 pm residents of the North Old Stage area near Eddy Creek Bridge heard four semiautomatic gunshots coming from the area where Sims body was found a day and a half later.”
Andrus said the Redding contact filled in details for investigators from the previous several days, reporting that after they had lost contact with Sims on Feb. 5, Dodge had called at 11:55 p.m. saying that the deal had gone bad and that they needed to meet. They met in person in Shasta Lake City at 1:30 a.m., said Andrus.
The contact noted that Dodge was wearing different clothing than he had four hours earlier when leaving to drive north, Andrus said.
During that meeting Dodge gave the contact a large amount of cash, which wasn’t counted but was believed to be between $40,000 and $50,000.
“Dodge was very vague about where Sims was, could not adequately describe where they had been, and reminded his contact not to talk to the cops,” Andrus reported.
“Sims’ Redding contact continuously tried to contact Sims by phone,” said Andrus. “Cell phone records later showed that Dodge never tried to call Sims even once.”
The next morning on Feb. 6 the Redding contact had driven to the Mt. Shasta area looking for Sims, “hoping that he was stuck in the snow somewhere,” said Andrus. “They called Dodge on the way up asking for directions, but Dodge was not helpful,” said Andrus.
Later that same day after returning to Redding, Sims’ Redding contact asked Dodge to drive with them to try to find Sims, said Sims.
“Dodge made a show of trying to remember which exit he had taken – checking every exit from south Siskiyou County all the way to the Collier Rest Area north of Yreka before turning around and going back south,” said Andrus. “They eventually took the Abrams Lake exit and went west toward N. Old Stage Road and Dodge confirmed that this was the right road. He described that they would need to go down that road 10 or 15 minutes and described the house where the drug deal had supposedly gone bad,” said Andrus.
At that point, Dodge is said to have pulled over, turned around and said that they would have to come back on another day, Andrus said.
“The Redding contact vehemently disagreed and wanted to go forward, but Dodge turned around and drove them all back to Shasta County,” said Andrus. “The next day Dodge would not take the Redding contact’s calls and they were never in contact again. If they would have continued north on Old Stage Road they would have driven right to where Sims’ rental car was still parked, with Sims body still laying in the trees across the street.”
Andrus said Sims’ Redding contact drove again to the Mt. Shasta area the next day, Feb. 7, with a friend. They took the Abrams Lake exit and went west onto N. Old Stage. They continued down that road looking for the house with the description they had been given.
“They found no house matching that description anywhere along the route but just before they got to the Eddy Creek Bridge they were stopped at a law enforcement road block where Hunter Sims’ body had been found that very morning,” said Andrus. “They were soon allowed to pass, as the crime scene was cleared. They drove back to Redding.
Andrus said investigation revealed the next day Dodge created the false alibi, went north to Oregon, and was arrested.
Forensic and cellular investigation
The trial was initially scheduled for June of 2019 when Dodge declined to waive speedy trial rights, said Andrus. With the forensic and digital aspect of the investigation incomplete, he dismissed the case immediately refiled charges – a permissible procedural step that can be done at least once in felony cases – and the case was set for trial on Sept. 9, 2019.
Between June and September of 2019 the Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services laboratory in Redding swabbed several areas of Sims’ body that may have come into contact with his killer and extracted DNA from those swabs.
Most swabs contained mixtures of very small amounts of the DNA of several individuals, which is expected on the outside of a person’s clothing, Andrus explained. Of the mixtures the lab was able to analyze there was no evidence of Dodge’s DNA. However, the mixture from Sims’ pant leg, the area most likely to have had prolonged contact by the killer as they dragged him 40 feet from the roadway, could not be analyzed because it contained a mixture of up to five DNA contributors – too large a number for current DOJ policy to do the testing, said Andrus.
“However, the technology had progressed sufficiently that a program called STRmix could interpret such a mixture at a lab that had done the laborious validations studies for such mixtures,” said Andrus.
The DOJ lab analyst assisted Andrus in locating an accredited laboratory in Florida, DNA Labs International, which could interpret the five person mixture.
The work was delayed almost a week when Broward County, Florida prepared for Hurricane Dorian, said Andrus.
Jury selection began on Sept. 9, 2019. On Sept. 11, DLI issued a report stating that the mixture from Sims’ pant leg had been analyzed and compared to his DNA profile and Dodge’s.
“They reported that the profile obtained from the DNA extract was approximately 580 trillion times more probable if the sample had originated from the victim, Dodge and three unknown persons than if it originated from Sims and four unknown persons,” Andrus said. “They also noted that 63% of the DNA mixture was contributed by the victim and 30% by Dodge. The other three contributors represented a total of only 7% of the mixture. This constituted ‘extremely strong support’ that Dodge’s DNA was in that mixture – their highest level of support that can be given.”
Jury selection continued as the scientific evidence was analyzed, said Andrus, and a jury was selected.
“After Judge William Davis ruled that the DNA evidence was admissible in court, the defendant moved to continue the trial four weeks and the jury was discharged,” Andrus said.
“Jury selection began anew on Oct. 31, 2019 and continued beyond the Thanksgiving holiday. A jury was finally sworn on Dec. 3, 2019,” Andrus said.
At trial evidence was presented that, though Dodge had made Sims and his contact wait on Feb. 5 until the supposed seller was ready to meet, Dodge had received no phone calls or texts that could have been about such a subject in the hours before leaving to drive north with Sims, Andrus said.
“Furthermore, after Sims was killed at 11:22 p.m. the cell phone tower contact information was consistent with Sims’ cell phone being in Dodge’s possession as he then returned south to Shasta County,” said Andrus. “Shortly after Dodge received a call while in the Lakehead area, Sims’ cell phone received its last contact and then was turned off or destroyed – never again to connect to a cell tower anywhere.”
Early in the investigation the cellular telephone evidence had been at a dead end until Siskiyou County detectives requested the assistance of the Violent Crime Investigative Support Section of California DOJ in Sacramento.
Detective Jesus Fernandez “worked tirelessly to compile and analyze cell phone records and downloads,” said Andrus. “He then forwarded the information to VCISS, whose analyst was able to identify previously unknown phone numbers of interest. It turned out that both Dodge, and Sims’ Redding contact, had been using ‘burner phones’” – pay-as-you-go phones used only for these transactions and difficult to trace because they had no accurate buyer or user information, said Andrus.
“Once these numbers were identified and records received, calls were cross-matched with known phone numbers and known calls to identify who had been in possession of these phones,” said Andrus. “VCISS issued a second report incorporating these numbers, which revealed detailed information, including transmission and cell tower data, about Dodge’s movements on Feb. 4, 5 and 6 which strongly corroborated witness statements and detective theories.”
This vast amount of information was presented to the jury between Dec. 3, 2019 and Jan. 10, 2020, on which day both the prosecution and defense had rested.
The jury began deliberation on the afternoon of Jan. 15 and returned a verdict before 11 a.m. on Jan. 16, Andrus noted.
“The missing $150,000 has never been recovered,” said Andrus. “However, after receiving the envelope of remaining cash from Dodge after he returned to Shasta Lake City after killing Sims, Sims’ Redding contact made a call to Sims’ mother and made arrangements to send the money to her.
The money was sent through a contact of Sims’ who was involved in his marijuana transactions, Andrus explained. “Incredibly, a courier met Hunter Sims’ mother several days later in a restaurant parking lot in her hometown in Texas and handed her $25,000 in cash, noting that some individuals had taken a ‘cut’ as the money made its way to her. She immediately used those funds for funeral expenses as she prepared to bury her son.”
Andrus acknowledged the “tremendous resources used to investigate the case, the remarkable cooperation between numerous agencies, and dedication of investigators.”
“It was also obvious that the court had apportioned an extraordinary amount of resources,” said Andrus. “We selected two outstanding juries of Siskiyou County citizens ... This prolonged schedule certainly wasn’t convenient for them but my office is very grateful to the jurors willing to sacrifice and do the hard work of carrying justice forward.”
Andrus added that Sims’ mother attended the entire trial, testifying as the first witness and then staying to listen the known details of how her son’s life ended.
“She was overwhelmed with gratitude after the guilty verdict,” Andrus said. “I could hear her weeping behind me as the verdicts were read. Sgt. Randall and I couldn’t wait to get back there and share the moment with her.”
“Sims expressed her amazement that California investigators ... would spend so much time and effort to bring her son’s killer to justice, even though he was here to buy marijuana.
“We had to continuously reassure her that his life is worth it and what is important is seeing justice done,” said Andrus.
“Sims bemoaned that the defendant did not value her son’s life and took him from his ... daughter,” Andrus added. The Saturday after he was killed, Sims was going to accompany his daughter to a daddy/daughter dance. She found out the day before that her father had been killed.