MARIPOSA -- A defendant accused of killing a 60-year-old Greeley Hill man was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter by a Mariposa County jury Thursday.
The jury reached its verdict in the trial of Christopher McCurdy, 20, after more than a week of deliberations.
The trial was also significant because some jurors were pulled from a local post office.
Despite the jury's verdict, the jury found McCurdy not guilty of first degree murder and second degree murder. Those charges could have resulted in a life sentence.
The jury also determined McCurdy was guilty of stealing three firearms and the victim's truck.
Jeffrey Tenenbaum, the defendant's Merced-based attorney, said he was pleased with the jury's verdict -- particularly because McCurdy was cleared of the most serious charges. "My impression of this case has always been that it was a manslaughter case, because he was acting in self- defense," Tenenbaum said.
Tenenbaum argued during the trial that McCurdy and the victim, Lonny Ritter, had gotten into a fight on Dec. 16. After Ritter pulled a gun on McCurdy, Tenenbaum said the two men wrestled for the gun. He said the gun went off, killing Ritter, who was shot in the head. "He feels really bad about everything and the way it ended, because Lonny and him were close friends," Tenenbaum said.
Prosecutors argued that Ritter's death was nothing less than murder.
Deputy District Attorney Kimberly Fletcher, the prosecutor in the case, didn't comment when asked about the verdict itself. Fletcher did, however, thank the jurors for their dedication and sacrifice. "I am tremendously appreciative of the service of the jurors. That's what's remarkable about this case," Fletcher said.
The jurors were selected last month after presiding Judge Dana Walton said hundreds of jury summons were mailed -- but one-third of the people failed to show up.
As a result, he called upon a seldom-used civil code procedure, and sent court bailiffs out to the post office to gather a jury pool. The bailiffs waited in the parking lot and told customers to report to jury duty immediately -- or go to jail.
Ritter was found dead on Dec. 17 by a California Highway Patrol officer who was acting on a tip from Alameda County sheriff's investigators.
The CHP officer went to Ritter's home after Alameda County sheriff's investigators found McCurdy and another man, Kevin Hoke, passed out inside a truck registered to the victim.
Both Hoke and McCurdy are also residents of Greeley Hill.
The Contra Costa Times reported that Alameda County sheriff's investigators saw the men near Livermore, sleeping in the front seat of the truck, a Ford Ranger, with a gun on the truck's floorboard.
Hoke, who was 21 at the time of his arrest, entered into an agreement with prosecutors, pleading no contest to being an accessory and theft charges. He will probably spend no more than four years in prison, Tenenbaum said.
McCurdy faces a maximum sentence of 25 years behind bars. He's scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 7.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.