One of two defendants implicated in the 2008 robbery and shooting death of a San Francisco man in Southern Humboldt pleaded not guilty to federal charges on Thursday, Sept. 5.
Meanwhile, the Humboldt County district attorney's office has dismissed murder charges against Ryan Carroll, age 29, and Robert Lee, age 27, to make way for their federal prosecutions. Almost five years after authorities found 35-year-old Reetpaul Rana's remains in a wooded area of Dyerville Loop Road, Carroll and Lee made their initial appearances in Eureka's federal courthouse on Wednesday, Sept. 4 before being transported to the San Francisco Bay Area that afternoon.
Carroll appeared in San Francisco's federal courthouse Thursday morning and pleaded not guilty to charges of robbery, using a firearm in the commission of a murder, conspiracy, destruction of evidence and using fire in the commission of a felony. Represented by San Francisco attorney Severa Keith, Carroll potentially faces the death penalty if convicted of all charges.
Lee also appeared in San Francisco's federal courthouse Thursday, Sept. 5, but did not enter pleas in the case because he has not yet been appointed an attorney. The federal public defender's office declared on Thursday that it had a conflict in representing Lee, and the court is contacting a Criminal Justice Act panel to appoint someone to defend Lee in the case, according to court documents.
If convicted on charges of conspiracy, destruction of evidence, using a firearm in the commission of a felony, accessory after the fact and possession of marijuana for sale, Lee faces more than 60 years in federal prison.
Rana - who graduated from Oregon's Reed College with a degree in psychology and later earned a master's in journalism from New York University - was found Sept. 13, 2008, dead of multiple gunshot wounds, with his three-legged dog, Rosa, waiting nearby. Rana's burned out blue 1996 Saab sedan was found near Big Lagoon, about 100 miles north of the dirt road were his body was recovered.
Local authorities who investigated the case allege that Rana - whom they say was a “marijuana broker” - arranged to purchase a large quantity of marijuana from Carroll and Lee, who he didn't normally deal with.
Carroll and Lee planned to rob Rana of thousands of dollars in cash but wound up killing him for unknown reasons, according to police. Federal prosecutors have identified Carroll as having fired the shots that killed Rana, though court documents in the state case indicated Rana may have been shot simultaneously from different directions.
Humboldt County district attorney Paul Gallegos said he's very grateful that, in this time of scarce resources, the federal government has agreed to take on prosecuting Carroll, who is from Washington, and Lee, who is known by many as “Roots” and is from Vermont. The case is an appropriate one for federal prosecution, Gallegos said, because the people involved all came to Humboldt County from out of the area to participate in some aspect of the marijuana trade.
”It seemed a case that was perfect for the U.S. attorney's office to send a message to the region that you don't do this or the feds will get involved,” he said. “It's not a local, homegrown murder, so to speak, it's a byproduct of people coming here to do their business.”
Gallegos said he's worked closely with the office of Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, since the case's inception, all the while with the idea the federal government would take on the prosecution. The case worked its way through the state courts for a couple of years, Gallegos said, as federal and local investigators worked to get federal prosecutors exactly what they would need to support their case.
In addition to sending a strong message to deter the type of violence alleged in Carroll and Lee's case, Gallegos said the federal prosecution also takes a murder case off his office's plate, freeing up man-hours and resources for other local prosecutions.
”Melinda Haag has been an outstanding resource for us,” he said. “She's been a great partner and colleague, and has reached out to assist whenever she could. She has a region and I have a county, yet she's reached out with her office to assist us time and time again with resources and prosecutions.”
In March, the U.S. attorney's office indicted Mikal Wilde for allegedly shooting and killing Mario Roberto Juarez-Madrid and wounding another man at the scene of Wilde's marijuana growing operation in Kneeland. After Wilde's indictment, numerous local law enforcement officials said it was the first time in decades they could remember the federal government taking on a Humboldt County murder case.
Carroll and Lee are due back in court Sept. 13.
1. Ryan Carroll
2. Robert Lee