UKIAH, 4/25/2017 — The seven co-defendants charged in the November 11 killing of Laytonville cannabis farmer Jeffrey Settler pled not guilty in Mendocino County Superior Court on Monday, April 24. This is the first time all seven men have appeared in court at the same time. Most of the suspects went into hiding following the incident, and were located across the country. The final defendant, Gary Blank, was caught in New Jersey on March 10. Fellow defendant Zachary Wuester surrendered in Willits on November 14, and another defendant, Michael Kane, surrendered to border patrol agents near the California-Mexico border on January 19. Kane and Blank are charged with using a knife in the fatal attack on Settler. The preliminary hearing in the case was scheduled for August 14. Deputy District Attorney Joshua Rosenfeld, who is prosecuting the case, said he thought one week was an optimistic estimate for the length of time required for the proceeding.
In a side note during the plea entries, two attorneys stated that their clients had previously been identified by incorrect aliases. In press releases from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, Blank was identified as “Cricket,” and Frederick Gaestel was called “Giggles.” The men had never been known by these names, according to their legal counsel.
Each of the seven men has a separate defense attorney. In order of their arrest, the defendants and their attorneys are: Zachary Wuester, November 14, defended by Patrick Pekin; Gary Fitzgerald, November 25, defended by William Conwell; Abdirahman Said Mohamed, December 7, defended by Eric Rennert of the public defender’s office; Michael Kane, January 19, defended by Ethan Balogh; Frederick Gaestel, February 10, defended by Robert Boyd; Jesse Wells, February 24, defended by Jan Cole-Wilson of the alternate public defender’s office; and Gary Blank, defended by Al Kubanis.
Sarah Reith [email protected]