The charges were dismissed due, in part, to Senate Bill 1437, which was passed by the California State Legislature and signed by the governor in 2019, said Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus.
Murder charges were dropped last week against a woman who allegedly acted as a lookout while her then-husband burglarized the home of 83 year-old Henry Mariani of Weed in 2012. Mariani died of injuries sustained in the altercation that ensued when he woke up and found Darryl Lawrence in his home.
Chellsie Johnson, now 29, was arrested in Redding Jan. 18 on the years-old murder warrant after calling the Redding Police Department to report a child custody dispute.
The charges were dismissed due, in part, to Senate Bill 1437, which was passed by the California State Legislature and signed by the governor in 2019, said Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus. The bill changed the circumstances in which an accomplice can be convicted of felony murder. A felony murder conviction can arise if someone died while a certain felony, such as robbery, was being committed.
Lawrence, was sentenced to 25 years to life for the first degree murder of Mariani in October 2015, Andrus said, on a theory of felony murder. He was 38 at the time of his conviction and had an extensive criminal history, including a prison term for a 2011 Siskiyou County residential burglary.
Mariani’s 2012 murder “was committed during the commission of a felony – in this case residential burglary,” Andrus said. “Though Chellsie Johnson was just an aider and abetter (an accomplice) to the murder and did not participate in the actual killing, Chellsie was charged with murder under a felony murder theory as well.”
Andrus explained that Lawrence and Johnson – who was 21 at the time – burglarized Mariani’s home in March of 2015.
“They ... walked to Mr. Mariani’s home together, had attempted to burglarize his vehicle, and then Darryl went inside the home and Chellsie remained outside as a lookout,” said Andrus.
Lawrence searched the home for cash, bank cards and other valuables, but he woke Mariani during his search. Lawrence proceeded to throw Mariani against a nightstand and strike him with his knee, according to a report in the Siskiyou Daily News when Lawrence pleaded guilty to the murder in 2015.
The attack left Mariani with eight broken ribs, some of which punctured his lung and liver. The cause of death was ruled as blunt force trauma.
Lawrence fled the scene with Mariani’s bank cards, a small amount of money and other items.
A subsequent investigation by the Weed Police Department revealed that Lawrence had been captured by surveillance cameras unsuccessfully attempting to use the bank cards at two separate ATMs. He was able to use the cards to purchase $150 worth of video games through an online service.
Charges were filed against Johnson in 2016 although she was never arrested until Jan. 18, when she was booked into Shasta County Jail in Redding, where she was held on $500,000 bail. She was transported to Siskiyou County, but the charges were dropped against her on Thursday.
Andrus said Johnson’s case fits the Felony Murder Rule scenario envisioned by the legislature when enacting SB 1437.
“She is no longer liable under California law for the killing of Mr. Mariani because she did not have the intent to kill and did not participate in the act resulting in Mr. Mariani’s death,” he explained.
When SB 1437 took effect, those convicted of felony murder could petition the court to be resentenced and argue the circumstances of their involvement in the killing. Since it is retroactive, many convicted killers can file to have this law applied to their cases, and it’s caused “a massive amount of litigation,” Andrus said.
The law “puts the burden on the prosecutors to prove that the convicted killer was the person who did the killing rather than simply acting as an accomplice,” he explained.
Siskiyou County has already litigated such a claim by Jasper Alford, convicted for his part in the July 17, 1978 murder of Yreka Police Department Officer Jesse Joe “Bo” Hittson, who was 27 when he was killed.
“Siskiyou County prosecutors litigated that claim in Placer County, where Alford was convicted,” Andrus said. “That court denied the claim.”