PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

A man arrested in connection with a robbery at a Southern Humboldt residence and a subsequent vehicle pursuit and standoff in Northern Mendocino County has been held to answer to six felony charges. He could face two fresh charges when he’s arraigned on information in July.

On Tuesday, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Kaleb Cockrum ordered that Franklin Antonio Molina, a native of El Salvador, be held to answer to one count of kidnapping to commit another crime, one count of first-degree robbery, two counts of false imprisonment by violence, one count of assault likely to produce great bodily injury and one count of kidnapping.

In addition, Molina could face additional charges. According to the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Luke Bernthal, the final decision on what those charges will be made soon.

Molina

“He’ll be charged with kidnap for robbery which is a life top charge (maximum sentence of life in prison) and there will be a firearms enhancement to that which will add an additional 10 years,” Bernthal said following the hearing, who then addressed any further charges related to vehicle theft. “We’ll consider whether we want to do that; I’m not ready to make a decision on that at this time.”

Cockrum’s ruling came after about three and a half hours of testimony from three witnesses called by Bernthal.

The prosecutor called two Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office employees, a patrol deputy and a sergeant who is both a Spanish speaker as well as a trained crisis negotiator and one of the victims named in the complaint, Adam Owen.

Owen’s testimony about what happened on the night of December 21, 2018, revolved around finding two armed men wearing ski masks who had made entry into his residence on a property about an hour from Garberville.

Owen said he at first thought the men were playing a prank but the laughter soon stopped when he realized he was under threat.

“I was sitting on my couch and my daughter was sitting next to me,” Owen testified, saying he initially thought the vehicle he heard pull up outside his residence may be his brother-in-law. “Two men walked in wearing ski masks and big smiles on their faces and I thought it was a joke. Then they raised three or maybe four firearms and pointed them at me and my daughter.”

Bernthal then walked Owen through what happened next. The two armed suspects began yelling at the victims, telling them repeatedly to get down in a mixture of Spanish and English.

“I put my hands up and told my daughter to get on the floor and do what they say,” Owen said.

Owen testified that one suspect who he identified as Molina was “very angry,” that he was “yelling” and that he was “very loud” and “he said something about my brother.” Owen added, “at one point he said the word ‘money’ in a long drawn-out voice.”

The two suspects forced Owen and his daughter to leave the residence and go to a detached garage across the driveway. Before that happened, Owen said, Molina hit him several times in the head with what he believed was a firearm, and they weren’t light blows.

“He hit me very hard,” Owens said, adding he kept repeating “no problem, no problem” to the suspects to show he was complying but the blows continued.

Owen said he opened a safe in the garage that contained firearms including handguns along with $30,000 in cash, items that would never be recovered by investigators.

Once the suspects had emptied the safe in the garage Owen testified they led him and his daughter back into the house and up to a bedroom where he had a second safe. Once again he opened the safe while under duress from the suspects.

“I remember him (the defendant) saying, ‘More, more’,” referring to money, Owen said. The second safe also contained firearms, including a shotgun and a deer rifle along with gold coins. The suspects stole the contents from that safe and then Molina struck Owen again.

“He had me get face down on the floor as he was yelling,” Owen said. “I could hear them putting stuff into a duffel bag and he began hitting me harder. I pretended to be blacked out.”

Owen said the suspects then forced him back down the stairs to the ground floor where he and his daughter were locked into a closet as the suspects fled the scene.

Under cross-examination from defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Casey Russo, Owen was questioned closely about the clothes he saw, how he recognized Molina and how he differentiated Molina from the second suspect — a man who remains free.

Russo pointed out contradictions between the statement Owen gave to a sheriff’s deputy shortly after law enforcement arrived at his residence, what he told lead investigator Jennifer Turner and what he testified to under questioning from Bernthal.

“You were complying with their demands not to look at them, correct?” Russo asked Owen, who responded, “Yes.”

Russo questioned how Owen recognized Molina under a mask and Owen said at one point the mask came up and he saw the bottom half of Molina’s face, a feature he recognized in a mugshot he saw in the days after the incident.

Russo’s line of questioning wasn’t enough, however. Cockrum made his ruling to hold Molina to answer the charges.

Molina appeared in court wearing jail-issued clothing. He was seated at the defense table next to Russo during the proceedings and he was assisted by a Spanish language interpreter Carlos Santana. Molina will be back in court for an arraignment on information on July 2 where Bernthal could introduce new charges, including making criminal threats and vehicle theft. His bail remains set at $250,000.

“We’re still early on in the process,” Bernthal said following the hearing. “We’re moving forward and we view this as a life top case and that’s how it’s been charged.”

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

blog comments powered by Disqus