MARIN COUNTY ENJOYS the lowest violent
crime rate in the Bay Area, but even our neck
of the woods has its notorious incidents. We
spoke with District Attorney Ed Berberian and
reviewed media reports to compile this recollection of the five biggest cases of recent years:
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Crime July 2009
Conviction July 2011
THE SON OF a successful businessman and convicted killer, James Mitchell
followed his father’s darker footsteps.
Mitchell, one of the heirs to the Mitchell
Brothers porn empire, clubbed his ex-girl-friend to death on her Novato lawn while
their baby daughter cried nearby. It was
their child’s first birthday.
Back in 1991, Mitchell’s father, Jim,
shot his brother and was convicted of
The younger Mitchell was sentenced
to 35 years to life in prison for murder.
MOUNTIES GET MARIN MAN
Crime February 1999
Conviction February 2013
WHEN POLICE RESPONDED to a Corte Madera burglar alarm, suspect Michael Lena pointed a gun at them
and ran. Authorities caught up with Lena
in Canada, where a shootout with Royal
Canadian Mounted Police landed him in
prison for 12 years.
Lena was extradited in 2012 to stand
trial in Marin, where he represented himself, spewed insults at court officials and
generally made a spectacle of himself.
Berberian says he worried Lena might
intimidate the jury, but they stood firm,
finding him guilty of assault with a firearm against police, residential burglary
and possessing a gun as a felon. He is serving a 51-year sentence.
Crime 2001 and before
Conviction December 2002
NEIGHBORS WERE SURPRISED to learn that 13 children had lived in the heavily curtained Marinwood home, because
the property was always quiet. Surprise
turned to shock when the occupants’ dark
deeds and bizarre lifestyle were exposed.
After toddler Ndigo Campisi-Nyah-Wright died of malnutrition, authorities
found that Winnfred Wright had fathered
all the kids with several women, with whom
he lived in a cultlike group that called itself
The Family. The children were whipped and
fed a diet so restrictive that many of them
had bone deformities caused by rickets.
The DA charged Wright and the
mothers with second-degree murder,
manslaughter and felony child endangerment; they ended up all pleading guilty to
the child endangerment charge.
Berberian says the plea deal saved the
weak and traumatized children from having to take the stand.
“[Requiring that testimony] was one
of the things we did not want to do,”
Wright was sentenced to 16 years.
Mary Campbell got 10 years and Deirdre
Hart Wilson seven years and four months.
In 2010, Wright was scheduled for
unsupervised parole, but Berberian successfully convinced state prison officials
to keep him on supervised parole.
SERIAL KILLER REVEALED
Conviction August 2013
DECADES BEFORE HE was caught, he was known as the “Alphabet
Killer,” because his victims had first and
last names starting with the same letter. The identity of the serial killer was
a mystery until 2010, when journals and
photographs describing decades of horrific crimes turned up in the Reno home of
elderly photographer Joseph Naso.
Naso stood trial in Marin, because one
of his victims was found strangled near a
Fairfax road. Prosecutors charged him
with four murders and presented evidence implicating him in two more.
There are probably more victims,
“We believe he killed 10 people, at
least, based on the evidence,” the DA says.
The trial was challenging not only
because of the age of the evidence but
also because Naso represented himself,
“He’s very narcissistic … He did not
make it a pleasant experience for our trial
attorneys,” the district attorney adds.
Nevertheless, prosecutors prevailed,
and Naso received Marin’s first death sentence since 1990. C. K.
A HIT FROM THE INSIDE
Crime September 2008 Conviction April 2013
TONG VAN LE was gunned down in his Novato garage while his wife and children slept in the house.
He was the victim of a hit ordered to prevent him from testifying against a suspect in a
robbery at his San Francisco liquor store. Larry Blay Jr. arranged the execution from jail
with the help of fellow members of a neighborhood gang, Berberian says.
Novato police used Golden Gate Bridge license plate photos, text messages, jail phone
recordings and cellphone tower records to piece together the case.
“There were thousands of pages of text messages that they went through line by line,”
Blay and three conspirators were convicted of murder and given long sentences. Driver
Sean Washington took a plea deal for manslaughter.
Five of the biggest criminal
cases ever in Marin County.