HomeTop StoriesCalifornia 'Code of Silence' prison officer seeks conviction, other charges dismissed

California ‘Code of Silence’ prison officer seeks conviction, other charges dismissed

A California prison officer who was convicted last week of lying to a federal grand jury about another guard’s assault on a later-deceased inmate is asking a judge to quash her perjury conviction as well as four other charges on which the jury has not ruled.

Brenda Villa, 32, of North Highlands, was convicted of perjury last Monday in a trial targeting the “code of silence” among guards in California prisons.

A jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on one count of conspiracy to forge documents and three counts of forgery of documents resulting from a September 15, 2016 assault at California State Prison, Sacramento, on Ronnie Price, a 65-year-old inmate.

Now her attorney is asking senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb to drop all charges, arguing that Shubb should exercise his “independent judgment” and set aside her conviction.

“In this case, much of the government’s evidence was undisputed, except that the defendant, Brenda Villa, denied being a knowing participant in a ‘Code of Silence’ designed to cover up another correctional officer’s tragic, indefensible use of force,” her attorney, Eric Hintz, wrote in a motion filed Sunday. “Unfortunately for the government, its case was largely dependent on the testimony of witnesses who themselves engaged in criminal behavior and the court has rightly instructed the jury to exercise caution in considering the testimony of these witnesses.

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“The government took the better part of seven years to bring this case to court and was allowed to bring its case without any objection from the defendant. Defendant is now seeking the Court’s assistance to end this case by finding that the jury’s verdict with respect to Count 5 was not supported by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt and further finding that the same lack of evidence for Counts 1 through 4.”

Prosecutors would not say after the verdict whether they would seek a second trial on the counts on which the jury was deadlocked, but Hintz wrote in his motion that he received an email from them at 2:45 p.m. Friday that they intended to enter a new trial.

Shubb scheduled a hearing Monday afternoon on the case, which has already seen two other New Folsom prison guards sentenced to prison in the attack on Price and the subsequent cover-up.

Security guard Arturo Pacheco was accused of pulling Price’s legs out from under him while his hands were handcuffed behind his back. Price fell face first to the concrete floor and died two days later at UC Davis Medical Center.

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Pacheco pleaded guilty last July to two counts of deprivation of rights under the statute and two counts of falsifying documents. He was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison.

Ashley Aurich, Pacheco’s partner during the escort, pleaded guilty to falsifying records in a federal investigation in January 2021 and testified at the trial. She was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Villa was not present during the attack, but was a new correctional sergeant who was later charged with orchestrating a cover-up among guards.

She faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for perjury.

Hintz also asks Shubb to relieve him as Villa’s attorney and replace him with a federal defender, as she has used up her legal defense funds from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

“I was retained by Brenda Villa in October 2020 on the understanding that her legal defense would be paid for by the CCPOA Legal Defense Fund subject to the contractual limits of that coverage,” Hintz wrote in a separate motion. “In the months leading up to the jury trial in this case, I was informed that the limits of Brenda Villa’s legal defense coverage were in danger of being exhausted.

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“Instead of dealing with this matter on the eve of trial, I have chosen to continue the trial without involving my client or the opposing attorney or the court about this situation. In the week after the jury was dismissed in this case, while the government was still deciding whether to request a second trial, I informed counsel that I may not be able to continue my representation of Brenda Villa in the event of a second jury trial, as I probably would not be compensated for the same.

He added that he and Villa “agree that in the event that the government seeks a second trial, new counsel will be appointed at the government’s expense for its continued representation.”

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