By Deb Murphy
Four months after a jury couldn’t reach consensus on assault charges against Raymond Bencoma, the District Attorney’s office started over again with a new jury.
The case went to the jury today, Sept. 5.
Bencoma faced multiple charges stemming from an incident in late August 2016 when he allegedly aimed a 45 caliber semi-automatic weapon at four law enforcement officers and was shot by an Inyo County Sheriff’s deputy.
The jury in the first trial found him guilty of possession of a gun and ammunition by a felon but hung on the four assault on law enforcement charges.
Defense attorney Josh Hillemeier started his opening statement last Thursday admitting to that fact. “Did he point a gun at the officer?” he said. “You bet.” What Assistant District Attorney Dee Shepherd has to prove is Bencome knew the men approaching his mobile on Winuba at 3 a.m. were police officers.
Hillemeier also conceded Bencoma named the officer who shot him, Deputy Reuben Bradley, during a taped jail house phone call. Then he went on to list discrepancies between other statements on that tape and testimony of the four officers on the scene.
Shepherd’s opening statement was a preview of testimony given by California Highway Patrol officer Grant Swain and Bishop Police Department Officer Brian Hohenstein.
Bradley went to an address on Tibec in response to a prowler call, asking Hohenstein for back up. No prowler was found, but a young woman at the scene was detained, released then returned to report domestic abuse by Bencoma at his Winuba home.
The officers called for CHP back-up. Bradley set the tactic of approaching the home in stealth mode. Hohenstein went to the BPD headquarters, returning with a non-lethal shotgun that deployed bean bags and a body camera that remained off until after the shooting.
The three patrol cars went to the residence with their lights off, the officers went up a long driveway with only Hohenstein holding a dimmed flashlight. They deflected a barking dog with, presumably, a taser then pepper spray. The focus was a partially opened slider on the mobile. The officers saw motion from near an adjacent shed, turned the flashlight in that direction and saw Bencoma with a weapon in his right hand aimed at them. Bradley fired.
In his cross, Hillemeier emphasized the lack of lighting at the scene and questioned the stealth approach and the fact the officers did not identify themselves. Shepherd asked Swain if not announcing their presence was out of the ordinary. Swain said it was not.
Inyo Sheriff’s crime scene tech, Christian Ray was questioned extensively by Shepherd on photos taken at the scene, distances between the shed and the area where Bencoma fell as well as whether vehicles in front of the property on Winuba were visible past a front house and foliage.
Ray said, yes, vehicles were visible from the mobile home at different angles “because their headlights were on.” In his re-cross, Hillemeier made sure the jury heard that statement repeated.