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Trial begins for slain CHP officer

Jurors hear testimony in Woodland courtroom after two-year delay
By: Luke Gianni Woodland Daily Democrat
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The trial of Roseville resident Brendt Anthony Volarvich, 22, began in Woodland last week for the murder of CHP officer Andy Stevens. It has been more than two years since Stevens, also from Roseville, was gunned down and prosecutors quickly elected to pursue the heaviest punishment available against Volarvich, who, if convicted, could find his end at the tip of a needle. Alleged co-conspirator Gregory Zielesch, 50, who is not facing the death penalty, will be looking at a life term in prison should the jury find him guilty of the charges against him. And then there's Lindsey Montgomery. It was Montgomery, 21, who helped Volarvich after the shooting by exchanging her license plates with those on his car, according to grand jury testimony. She was given a second chance at life, after having agreed to testify against the two men. She was sentenced to probation and was let go for time-served. Montgomery will be back, however, as one of the prosecution's main witnesses, as she was during the grand jury proceedings. The trial is expected to last months and will certainly draw hundreds of law enforcement, reporters and area residents to the courthouse, all of whom have followed the case intensely. As the trial began Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig opened the case with the prosecution's take on the evidence to be presented. This is not a whodunnit case, Reisig said, referring to the fact that Volarvich admitted to killing Stevens. Reisig said Volarvich committed first-degree murder by killing Stevens, and Zielesch was guilty of conspiracy and murder because he commissioned the original crime that ultimately led to the shooting. Volarvich's attorney Fred Dawson said his client did kill Andy Stevens but it wasn't first- degree murder. Dawson said his client was a habitual meth user and suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, all of which affected the frontal lobe or executive function of his brain. The cross-wiring of ADHD and methamphetamine use impaired Volarvich's ability to make proper judgments, Dawson said. It is not an excuse for this tragedy, Dawson said. It's an explanation that the law requires. Dawson, although admitting his client murdered Stevens, said the evidence will show that his state-of-mind does not support first-degree murder. There is more than one kind of murder, Dawson said. The kind that's called first-degree, pre-meditated murder, the evidence does not support. During the first two days of testimony several witnesses were called including Bobby Jo Hernandez, who witnessed the shooting from across the street atop the tractor he was on that day. Hernandez testified he was doing yard work on a nearby property as a contractor. He said he turned off his tractor when he witnessed a CHP truck pull over two vehicles. Hernandez then said he saw Stevens approach Volarvich's car as he waved off the other car and leaned against Volarvich's driver side door. He said, ˜Hi ya' doing today,' Hernandez said. I hear a slight ˜fine', then a gunshot and the officer's head went backward. Hernandez said he then saw Volarvich's car take off at a high speed while he ran to Steven's aid. Witness Pamela Wallace, the driver of the Ford Explorer that was pulled over along with Volarvich and was eventually waved off by Stevens, said she saw Volarvich shoot Stevens from her rearview mirror right before she sped away in fear. She later returned to the scene a few minutes later. I was afraid he was going to shoot me, Wallace said. When asked who she saw fire the shot, she pointed to Volarvich. The next witness called was Candice Huckins, who was operating a horse-riding school across the street. Huckins testified she saw Stevens go down after the shot but could not identify Volarvich in the courtroom. Neither could Virginia Schwarzgruber, who lives in the house along County Road 96 where the cars were pulled over. But she did see Stevens go down after a pop sound and immediately called 911. Testimony will continue this week in the Yolo County Superior Court.