LAKEPORT, Calif. – The prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments on Friday in the trial of a Lakeport man accused of the fatal 2007 stabbing of a neighbor who he wrongly believed was a child molester.
Ivan Garcia Oliver, 34, has been on trial since last month for the Nov. 20, 2007, stabbing death of 67-year-old Michael Dodele.
Oliver is charged with first-degree murder, burglary, elder abuse and several special allegations for use of a weapon, crimes against an elder and using Megan's Law information in the commission of a crime.
Oliver is alleged to have stabbed Dodele more than 65 times at his trailer at Western Hills Mobile Home Park after finding out several days earlier that Dodele was listed on the Megan's Law sex offender registration Web site.
Dodele was not a convicted child molester, as Oliver believed, but was on the Web site for raping an adult female in Sonoma County in 1987.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff and defense attorney Stephen Carter would present very different portrayals of Oliver in their final statements to the jury.
Hinchcliff asserted that Oliver had “butchered” Dodele after spending days trying to wrangle a posse of neighbors to have him removed from the park.
Carter, as he had done throughout the trial, maintained that Oliver had acted in self-defense because he was attacked by Dodele. Oliver had said on the stand Wednesday that he had asked Dodele if he had touched his young son and Dodele attacked him with a knife, which he wrested away from him in a struggle that ended with Dodele's death.
In his two hours of closing arguments on Friday morning, Hinchcliff went over the evidence, explained the charges and legal principles behind them.
He said he had to make sure everything was covered. “A case like this is extremely serious,” he said. “Somebody died a very brutal death.”
He suggested that Oliver's motive was his incorrect belief that Dodele was a child molester, and explained that the homicide would only have been justifiable had Oliver been in imminent danger from an attack by Dodele. Hinchcliff dismissed Oliver’s story that Dodele had tried to stab him as a fabrication.
“When you stab somebody 65 times in vital areas, that's a specific intent to kill,” Hinchcliff said. “That's very clear.”
Hinchcliff also recalled Oliver's statement to detectives during a jail interview days after the stabbing about going to Dodele's with “murder on my mind.”
“That would be extremely strong evidence that there was deliberation and premeditation,” he said.
He called Oliver's version of going to Dodele's home to pick up painting equipment “a pretty far fetched scenario and absolutely unbelievable.”
Hinchcliff pointed out changes in Oliver's story about his concerns over Dodele – including accusations that Dodele had attempted to touch Oliver's then-4-year-old son.
Oliver also had made spontaneous statements to detectives indicating he had killed Dodele. He told detectives that he had “brought it to Dodele's attention” that touching his son was wrong. “Yeah, he brought it to his attention 65 times,” said Hinchcliff.
He said Oliver told detectives that the black knife used to kill Dodele was his. He said Oliver's girlfriend, Cathleen Ferran, also had told detectives that he had a black knife with a clip, although when she was on the stand she couldn't specifically identify the knife as his.
As to Dodele's criminal history, “I am in no way trying to defend what he did,” said Hinchcliff. “My business is prosecuting people like that.”
However, he said he didn't want Carter to use Dodele's history as a red herring to throw the jury off track.
Oliver didn't know Dodele's history, said Hinchcliff. “He knew nothing about that. He just thought he was a child molester.”
Hinchcliff alleged that Oliver stabbed Dodele with such force that it fractured a vertebra and several ribs. Dodele had defensive wounds on his arms.
With a 38-year age difference between them, Hinchcliff said it was extremely unlikely that Dodele would have attacked the younger man. Dodele had a folded pocket knife in his pocket with no blood on it, recovered from his clothing the day of his autopsy.
Oliver never told detectives it was self defense, said Hinchcliff. “Why? Because it never happened.”
Hinchcliff said the theme of the story was Oliver's hatred for sex offenders. “He acted as the judge, jury and executioner, and he literally butchered him. He was like a shark in a feeding frenzy.”
The law doesn't abide vigilantism, because innocent people get killed, said Hinchcliff. He said Oliver had other options that he didn't choose.
A deadly confrontation
Carter, in his closing arguments, disputed that his introduction of Dodele's criminal history was a red herring as Hinchcliff had suggested to the jury earlier in the day.
He said Dodele's four convictions for rape and two convictions for attempted rape in the 1970s and 1980s were important because Dodele had used a knife to intimidate and threaten his victims.
“The importance of Michael Dodele's prior sex offenses is not the suggestion that somehow he deserved to die because he was a multiply convicted rapist,” said Carter. “That's not the point. That would be a vigilantism argument, which is not what you're going to hear from me today.”
Oliver loved his son and was worried after a person in a car had stopped near the park and attempted to beckon his child to the vehicle before speeding off. A week before that, Oliver claimed his son had told him about being touched by an “old man.”
When Oliver took his concerns about the car incident to park manager Lacey Kou, she suggested they use the Megan's Law Web site to look up sex offenders in the area. Dodele came up on the listing, and Kou told Oliver that Dodele was a child molester.
Carter questioned why Dodele's address came up wrong on the Megan's Law Web site, and why he had applied for his rental agreement under the last name of Salta, his last name at birth, telling the park manager that his driver's license had burned up in a fire.
“There is a concealment going on here,” said Carter.
Carter said Oliver was suspicious of law enforcement, and that suspicion was justified due to their attitude toward him from the beginning, noting they didn't believe his story, had made up their minds that he was the suspect and tried to put words in his mouth.
When Oliver went to Dodele's trailer that day, it wasn't to attack him, said Carter, but to retrieve some painting equipment. He said Oliver didn't know he was walking into the home of a convicted rapist who had used a knife to threaten his victims.
It was Dodele who pulled the knife, Carter said. “The proof is not there that that is Ivan Oliver's knife.”
The fight happened “in the blink of an eye,” Carter said, quoting Oliver's description. “He did get the better of Mr. Dodele.”
He said Dodele's wounds were consistent with Oliver's description of having stabbed blindly while grappling with Dodele. “There was just a ton of swinging going on.”
And, afterwards, “Mr. Oliver does not do wise things,” said Carter, because Oliver didn't think anyone would believe him. So he attempted to clean up his blood from Dodele’s home using bleach.
If it was a well-planned attack, where was the exit plan, Carter asked. “The things he did were more panicked afterthoughts,” lacking the necessary deliberation ahead of time, he argued
Carter said Oliver was brave to have testified in the case. While Oliver hadn't trusted law enforcement, “Ivan puts his trust in you,” Carter told the jury.
In his rebuttal, Hinchcliff said the jury needed to consider Oliver's credibility.
Hinchcliff asserted that detectives had given him numerous opportunities to tell his story, and questioned if it made any sense that Oliver would have kept an alleged molestation of his young son to himself rather than telling his girlfriend or law enforcement.
The allegations that Dodele touched Oliver's son were “all made up,” said Hinchcliff. He pointed to Oliver's bizarre behavior in the days before Dodele's stabbing – including driving on the freeway at night with the vehicle's lights off and beating up a neighbor.
He challenged Carter's statement that Oliver was brave on the stand. “There's nothing brave about it. He's trying to save himself.”
As to allegations that investigators put words in Oliver's mouth, Hinchcliff urged the jury to go back and look at the interview transcripts, noting that detectives were only repeating things Oliver had said first.
In order to find Oliver guilty of anything less than first-degree murder, “You first have to agree that the story Mr. Oliver told you on the witness stand is true,” Hinchcliff said. “Most of the stuff that came out his mouth wasn't very honest.”
He said Oliver had tried to mislead law enforcement from the beginning, when Deputy Tom Andrews rolled up on the scene and Oliver directed him to the opposite end of the park.
Hinchcliff said it should be very clear that Oliver had formed the intent to kill, and he asked the jury to return a guilty verdict.
“I'm asking you not to compromise your verdict,” Hinchcliff said. “I'm asking you not to give him a break. I'm asking you not to feel sorry for him due to the criminal history of the person he killed.”
Hinchcliff asked the jury to do the right thing and find Oliver guilty of murder.
The jury was excused shortly after 3:30 p.m. Judge Arthur Mann directed the jury to return at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, at which time they will receive jury instructions and then begin deliberations.
Before releasing them, Mann reminded the jurors, “Don't make up your mind about the case.”
Email Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org .