A California prison guard convicted of perjury last July in a “Code of Silence” cover up case after an inmate’s death will face a second trial in December on four other charges, a judge in Sacramento ruled Thursday.
Former corrections Sgt. Brenda Villa will face re-trial Dec. 12 on one count of conspiracy to commit falsification of records and three counts of falsification of records, charges a jury failed to reach unanimous verdicts on in her first trial last summer.
The jury found her guilty at the time of lying to a federal grand jury during a probe of the death of 65-year-old inmate Ronnie Price at California State Prison-Sacramento, also known as New Folsom.
Her attorneys had asked Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb to acquit her of all charges in the case, with Villa’s trial attorney, Eric Hintz, asking the judge after the verdict to exercise his “independent judgment” and set aside her conviction.
But after a hearing Thursday morning Shubb denied the motion, saying, “The court does not second-guess the jury’s decision.”
Villa’s federal defender, Jerome Price, argued that when Villa testified to the grand jury months after the inmate’s Sept. 15, 2016, death she gave her best recollection of events from that day.
The incident began as inmate Ronnie Price was being escorted through the prison with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Price was being escorted by guards Arturo Pacheco, Ashley Aurich and Arturo Luna when Price stopped walking and Pacheco grabbed his legs and pulled them out backward, causing Price to fall face-first onto the concrete, where his dentures fell out and he began bleeding.
He died two days later from a pulmonary embolism at UC Davis Medical Center.
Luna had been involved in a separate use-of-force incident with Pacheco a week before, court papers say, and prosecutors accused Villa of telling one guard to edit Luna’s presence out of his report on the incident.
Villa was not present for the attack but later was charged with lying to the grand jury about whether Luna was present when she responded to the scene.
Attorney Jerome Price argued Thursday that Villa was in an alarming situation and there was no reason for her to remember specifically that Luna had been present.
“Why would Luna even come to her mind?” Price asked. “There are a number of people there.
“There’s no evidence that he did anything relevant that would have triggered her awareness of his presence.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Rosanne Rust, who won the perjury conviction in July along with fellow prosecutor Michael Anderson, argued that Villa was in a small confined area where Ronnie Price was attacked and would have known who was present.
“Her job is to know who’s there,” Rust said.
Villa still faces sentencing on the perjury conviction, which could net her up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Shubb agreed to postpone sentencing on that count until after Villa is re-tried on the other four charges.
She will be the third California prison guard to face sentencing in the case.