Case Snapshot
Case ID: 7534
Classification: Shooting
Animal: cow
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Tuesday, Feb 28, 2006

County: Humboldt

Disposition: Alleged

Alleged:
» Keyontae Lamar Taylor - Dismissed
» Joaquin Angel Fitzgerald - Dismissed

Case Updates: 6 update(s) available

Two teens who allegedly killed a transient last week have been charged as adults and face life in prison if convicted.

Keyontae Lamar Taylor, 15, and Joaquin Fitzgerald, 16, were arrested Feb 28 after police were led to them by what the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department is calling "outside sources."

Both were in Superior Court before Judge John T. Feeney on March 2 for an arraignment, but the proceeding was postponed until March 7.

Taylor and Fitzgerald apparently had a chance encounter with Tracy Daniel Reynolds, 38, along the railroad tracks between the Elk River Slough rail bridge and the Humboldt Bay Power Plant.

Brenda Godsey of the Sheriff's Department said the two boys drank some of Reynolds' beer, which he was sharing with them, and then they left. They returned a short time later and allegedly killed the man, shooting him in the leg and then through the heart.

"The investigation indicates that the victim was shot first in the leg, the painful character of that wound intended to speed up his cooperation with the robbery," Assistant District Attorney Wes Keat wrote in an e-mail.

Reynolds' body was found on some rocks near Humboldt Bay Friday by a passer-by.

The boys are charged with homicide with a special allegation of the killing happening in the course of a robbery, robbery, torture and animal cruelty.

Keat said the animal cruelty charge stems from the two allegedly shooting cows in the area of the homicide scene, killing one of the animals.

It's unknown where the two boys attended school this year, but yearbooks from McKinleyville High School last year show Taylor on the freshman basketball team. A yearbook from Eureka High School last year listed Fitzgerald as "missing in action."

Godsey said the investigation into the killing is still ongoing. The two will be housed in Humboldt County Juvenile Hall.


Case Updates

Joaquin Angel Fitzgerald stood solemnly in court Tuesday as Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John T. Feeney sentenced him to 15-years-to-life in prison for his involvement in the February murder of Tracy Daniel Reynolds.

Should Fitzgerald, 17, of Fields Landing, be paroled, it will be for life.

In the spectator seating Tuesday sat Fitzgerald's teary-eyed parents and a row of loved ones. Fitzgerald gazed at his supporters occasionally during his sentencing proceedings.

Fitzgerald's case derives from a second-degree murder plea he accepted last month, one day after jury selection was to begin in the trial against him.

Per the plea agreement, all other charges against Fitzgerald were dropped.

Fitzgerald was 16 when he and Keyontae Lamar Taylor, then 15 years old, were arrested in connection with Reynolds' murder less than a week after Reynolds' body was found near the railroad tracks by the Humboldt Hill exit of U.S. Highway 101, at about 1 p.m. Feb. 24.

Fitzgerald was initially charged with committing murder during the commission of a robbery, personal use of a firearm during a robbery and torture and cruelty to an animal.

Taylor was charged with murder during the commission of a robbery, committing robbery while vicariously armed and torture and cruelty to an animal.

The animal torture and cruelty allegations stem from the two boys allegedly shooting at cows, cutting the ear off one, just prior to Reynolds' murder.

The two boys were accused of befriending Reynolds on the railroad tracks, drinking a few beers with him, leaving and then returning with what has been described as a "homemade-looking" .22-caliber rifle.

While back at Reynolds' location, Fitzgerald is said to have pointed the gun at Reynolds and demanded Reynold to give him his money.

When Reynolds did not comply fast enough, Fitzgerald is said to have shot Reynolds in the leg.

At one point, Reynolds reached out and grabbed the barrel of the rifle and a tug-of-war for the gun ensued with Fitzgerald.

Reynolds was ultimately shot in the heart.

Prior to Fitzgerald's October preliminary hearing, Taylor accepted a plea agreement - which included Taylor testifying against Fitzgerald.

Per Taylor's plea agreement, all adult charges were dropped and he was placed back in the juvenile court system.

As previously reported in The Eureka Reporter, Taylor was then charged with accessory after the fact and animal cruelty charges. If convicted of those charges, Taylor could face a maximum prison sentence of three years and eight months in a California Youth Authority facility.

During Tuesday's sentencing, Fitzgerald's attorney Neal Sanders told Feeney the killing was accidental.

Sanders said although Fitzgerald was engaging in "stupid, outrageous, criminal" acts, Fitzgerald did not know the actions would lead to Reynolds' being killed.

Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Allan Dollison described Fitzgerald's case as a tragedy.

"There is no other way to describe it," Dollison said. "It's a tragedy for Reynolds' family; a tragedy for Reynolds (who was) celebrating his birthday and died on his birthday because of the actions of the defendant; and this is a tragedy for the defendant's family."

In court, Dollison said he would not describe Reynolds' killing as accidental, due to Fitzgerald "intentionally" shooting Reynolds in the leg during the robbery.

"(Reynolds) complied and handed over $2," Dollison said. "(But) the defendant didn't walk away. ... The defendant had the option, the opportunity to walk away (and if he would have,) he wouldn't be sitting here in these circumstances.

"This was not just a simple accident. ... (This) was not involuntary manslaughter. This was murder."

When Feeney asked Fitzgerald if there was any reason he should not be sentenced, Fitzgerald whispered, "no."

Feeney said to Fitzgerald, "Only you and (Taylor) know what happened (specifically) to Mr. Reynolds" in February.

"You are fortunate to have significant support of family and friends," Feeney said. "I hope you take advantage of the programs offered at the California Department of Corrections.

"... Good luck to you, sir."

Fitzgerald will most likely begin serving his sentence in a CDC facility for juveniles until he turns 18, Dollison said in court.
Source: The Eureka Reporter - Jan 10, 2007
Update posted on Jan 11, 2007 - 1:27AM 
The 16-year-old who was held to answer to four felony adult charges, including murder, entered not guilty pleas in Superior Court Tuesday.

Joaquin Fitzgerald Jr. was held to answer to murder, second degree robbery, torture and animal cruelty after his preliminary hearing Oct. 6.

He was scheduled next to be in court Nov. 14 for a trial confirmation hearing.

Fitzgerald allegedly shot and killed Tracy Daniel Reynolds along the railroad tracks between the Elk River Slough rail bridge and the Humboldt Bay Power Plant sometime around Feb. 24.

Keyontae Lamar Taylor, 16, was originally also charged along with Fitzgerald, but all adult charges were dropped by the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office when Taylor agreed to testify against Fitzgerald at the preliminary hearing.

Taylor's testimony revealed the two boy were walking down the tracks when they met Reynolds for the second time that day. Taylor stopped to have a cigarette with Reynolds when Fitzgerald allegedly picked up a rifle and demanded everything from Reynolds' pockets.

Fitzgerald first shot Reynolds in the shin before taking about $2 and cigarettes from Reynolds, according to Taylor.

It was then that Reynolds grabbed the barrel of the rifle and the two had a "tug of war" over the gun. It went off and hit Reynolds in the chest, Taylor said.
Source: Times-Standard - Oct 18, 2006
Update posted on Oct 23, 2006 - 8:24AM 
Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Detective Steve Quenell's time on the witness stand was brief Thursday during the preliminary hearing of Joaquin Angel Fitzgerald, 16, of Fields Landing.

Fitzgerald is charged with murdering Tracy Daniel Reynolds, 38, of Eureka, in February during the commission of a robbery, with a special allegation of the personal use of a firearm during a robbery, as well as torture and cruelty to an animal.

Fitzgerald has pleaded not guilty to all these charges, his attorney Neal Sanders said.

Quenell barely had time to speak of his initial meeting with Fitzgerald before Sanders halted court proceedings for the day when he turned in a document that Judge Dale Reinholtsen will go over to determine whether Fitzgerald's statements to investigators will be admissible in court.

Sanders said the decision to use the statements will be based on how Fitzgerald's Miranda Rights were read to him.

Reinholtsen is scheduled to announce his decision this morning.

Most of Thursday's proceedings consisted of Keyontae Lamar Taylor, 16, of Eureka, being on the witness stand, testifying for the prosecution against his former co-defendant.

Taylor, who initially was being tried as an adult, had been charged with murder during the commission of a robbery, committing robbery while vicariously armed and torture and cruelty to an animal.

Because of their ages, the two teens were not eligible for the death penalty, but faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.

However, just recently, Taylor accepted a plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office that takes him out of adult court and places him back in the juvenile court system.

Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Stacey Eads, who is prosecuting the case, said "condition to (Taylor's) continued cooperation" with the DA's Office, Taylor's new charges are "accessory after the fact and animal cruelty."

If convicted, in juvenile court, of his new charges, Taylor faces a maximum of three years and eight months in a California Youth Authority facility, Eads said.

Fitzgerald still faces life in prison should he be convicted of his charges.

Taylor reiterated much of what he described in court Wednesday. However, there were variations in Taylor's testimony about what happened the day Reynolds was shot near the railroad tracks by the Humboldt Hill exit off U.S. Highway 101.

Fitzgerald, known by his family and friends as "Jay-Jay," sat next to Sanders at the attorneys' table, as his former friend testified.

Sanders asked Taylor if he and Fitzgerald - both of whom, Taylor testified, had walked from Eureka to Fields Landing and back to get a .22-caliber rifle to sell - had a good time that day.

"(We were) not having a good time, but we were doing what we were doing ... yeah," Taylor answered.

Sanders asked if there was anything bothersome about that day to Taylor.

Taylor responded, "The long walk."

Yes, Taylor told Sanders, he was carrying the rifle from Fields Landing to a point between Fitzgerald's home and the place where Reynolds had been - Taylor previously testified that he and Fitzgerald had met Reynolds while on their way to Fields Landing.

At one point, the two teens saw cows and, Taylor said, both he and Fitzgerald each shot one.

Taylor said, Fitzgerald then "kept saying no one would believe" they shot the cows.

Sanders asked Taylor if it was his idea for Fitzgerald to cut off an ear as proof.

Taylor responded, "I was joking around (because) I wanted him to shut up."

So, Sanders asked, "You were joking around when you told him to cut off an ear, and you were joking when you handed him the knife?"

Yes, Taylor said to both questions.

Sanders asked why Taylor didn't tell Fitzgerald he was just joking prior to Fitzgerald reaching the dead cow.

"He didn't give me time," Taylor said. "He was already running down (the path)."

Taylor said that he and Fitzgerald then continued their walk back to Eureka on railroad tracks, Taylor still holding the gun. At one point, Fitzgerald stepped off the tracks and walked on the rocks, about four to five feet to the side and behind Taylor, Taylor said.

Sanders then drilled Taylor with questions that led to the two teens meeting back up with Reynolds along their pathway back to Eureka.

"You didn't expect the taking of this person's property? It wasn't discussed between you and Joaquin prior to (reaching Reynolds)?" Sanders asked.

Taylor said no to both questions.

Taylor said he loaded the gun before reaching the cows and said he did not see it get loaded after that.

Taylor said when the two arrived to where Reynolds had previously been seen sitting on a rock, drinking beer, it was dark.

"We walked down toward him when we realized he was (still) there," Taylor said.

Joaquin was still behind him, when Taylor said he walked about 20 to 25 feet from the tracks to where he sat on a log next - "about an arm's length away" - to where Reynolds was sitting and laid the gun to his left.

Taylor asked Reynolds for a cigarette and took one from a pack that "was laying there."

"Right after I leaned back from getting a cigarette, Joaquin was in front of us with the rifle," Taylor said. "I was lighting (the cigarette) when I seen Joaquin."

Fitzgerald told Reynolds, "give me everything you have," Taylor said.

When Reynolds did nothing, Taylor said, Fitzgerald fired a shot up in the air and left to the ocean.

Fitzgerald made the demand again, Taylor testified, and, again, Reynolds did not respond.

After that, Taylor said, Fitzgerald shot toward Reynold's leg.

Taylor said Reynolds did not "move at all" after the shot.

"Joaquin says give me everything you got again and the guy starts taking everything out of his pockets," Taylor said.

When Fitzgerald initially shot Reynolds in the leg, Taylor said he began to walk away. When Taylor said he looked back "for a second," he saw Fitzgerald pointing the gun at Reynolds' hands.

Sanders then began questioning Taylor on conflicting testimony, to initial interviews with investigators, about at what time Reynolds begged for his life - whether it was before a struggle for the gun or after.

Also, Sanders asked Taylor if it was true that he told police that Fitzgerald told him, after the shooting, that he didn't think he hit Reynolds.

"I didn't know it, but it had to have (happened because) the gun was pointed at (Reynolds') chest when the gun went off and the guy (clutched) his chest)," Taylor said. "I don't recall saying that, but, like you said, my memory was fresher (back then), so ... ."

Sanders asked Taylor if the lack of the gun's trigger guard and Reynold's "violent pull of the gun" is what made Taylor believe "Joaquin's hand slipped and the trigger went off."

"Yeah, that's my belief," Taylor said. "I don't know (for sure), but that's my belief."

On their way back to a motel in Eureka, Taylor said - which differed from his previous testimony - that the two teens talked about covering up what had occurred by burning their clothes and getting rid of the gun.

Sanders again drilled Taylor about "lying to police."

Taylor said, "I don't believe I lied to them, but I believe I told them something different."

"Why?" Sanders asked.

Taylor replied, "I don't have any explanation to that."

"Isn't it true you lied to police; aren't you lying about that issue; wasn't it decided that was going to be your gun; wasn't it your idea to rob people with that gun?" Sanders asked.

Taylor said no to all.

"Isn't it true you lied to police?" Sanders asked again.

Taylor said, yes.

"Just like you're lying to us now?" Sanders asked.

No, Taylor replied.

"Isn't it true your plea agreement stipulates you have to stick to the story you told police?" Sanders asked.

Yes, Taylor said.

"But you lied?" Sanders asked.

Taylor said, "I don't know."

When Sanders said it was interesting that Taylor is now saying he didn't initially go to police because Fitzgerald threatened him, Sanders read from transcripts of an interview Taylor had with police.

In it, Sanders read, Taylor told officers he was "putting on a front ... like I did this and that ... like I was hard," which is why he didn't go to police.

After hearing all the evidence/testimony presented during Fitzgerald's preliminary hearing, Reinholtsen will determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a trial.

Fitzgerald's court proceedings are scheduled to continue today at 8:30 a.m. in the Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka.
Source: The Eureka Reporter - Oct 6, 20066
Update posted on Oct 8, 2006 - 4:12PM 
Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney granted Taylor's attorney Humboldt County Conflict Counselor Marek Reavis' motion for a protective order on the case.

Eureka-based attorney Andy Truitt, who is representing Fitzgerald, and Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Stacy Eads, who is prosecuting the case, said they both supported a protective order.

Feeney asked Reavis to draft a copy of the order and have Truitt and Eads agree to it before bringing it back in front of the court.

Per the order, witnesses, attorneys and court personnel would not be allowed to comment on the case outside of open court.
Feeney said if Reavis had not asked for the order he would have suggested it.

"I too was getting concerned about the publicity surrounding this case," he said.

Fitzgerald, 16, and Taylor, 15, were arrested in connection with the homicide of Tracy Daniel Reynolds less than a week after he was found dead near the railroad tracks by the Humboldt Hill exit of U.S. Highway 101 at approximately 1 p.m. on Feb. 24.

Fitzgerald is charged with committing murder during the commission of a robbery, personal use of a firearm during a robbery, torture and cruelty to an animal.

Taylor is charged with murder during the commission of a robbery, committing robbery while vicariously armed, torture and cruelty to an animal.

The two boys are accused of befriending Reynolds, 38, on the railroad tracks, drinking a few beers with him and then leaving and returning with a gun and robbing and killing Reynolds.

Reynolds' body was discovered by a passerby who alerted Humboldt County Sheriff's deputies.

"The investigation indicated that the victim was shot first in the leg. The painful character of that wound (was) intended to speed up his cooperation with the robbery," Humboldt County Assistant District Attorney Wes Keat said.

The complaints of torture and animal cruelty stem from incidents that allegedly happened prior to Reynolds' killing, he said. Keat said the boys allegedly shot at cows in the area, killing one.
Although the two boys are juveniles, the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office is charging them as adults.

"The complaint(s) (were) filed in 'adult' court under the provisions of Proposition 21, which allows for such prosecution of certain of the worst violent crimes committed by juvenile offenders," Keat said.

If convicted, Taylor and Fitzgerald could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The teenagers are scheduled to be back in court April 4 at 2 p.m.
Source: The Eureka Reporter - March 15, 2006
Update posted on Mar 15, 2006 - 11:10PM 
The search warrant affidavit for the home of Joaquin Fitzgerald Jr. indicates the teen became a homicide suspect when the mother of a friend called detectives after her son told her "J.J. shot the 'bum.'"

Fitzgerald, 16, and Keyontae Lamar Taylor, 15, are accused of killing Tracy Daniel Reynolds sometime around Feb. 22. They are being charged as adults with homicide, robbery, animal abuse and torture.

Reynolds reportedly had $2 and change on him. He was shot twice, once in the shin and once in the heart.

Reynolds' body was found along the railroad tracks between the Elk River Slough rail bridge and the Humboldt Bay Power Plant by a passer-by Feb. 24.

A copy of the search warrant filled out by Detective Ben Nord stated a woman called him Feb. 28 stating her stepson, a 12-year-old, heard from a 13-year-old friend, who is also a friend of Fitzgerald, that Fitzgerald shot Reynolds.

"J.J. was shooting ducks with a .22-caliber rifle that did not have a trigger guard when he came across a 'bum,'" Nord recounted the conversation in the affidavit. "The 'bum' tried grabbing the rifle and when he did, J.J. accidentally shot him in the chest because there was a round in the chamber. J.J. panicked and left the scene."

The warrant was served the same day and the search warrant inventory included a Mountain Dew with holes, an Axe Body Spray can with holes, shoes, socks, a jacket and a sweatshirt.

Once hearing the name, Nord checked it out on the department's computer.

"There were several cases regarding J.J. being violent," Nord wrote. "In one case, J.J. shot another juvenile with either a paintball gun or pellet gun in the hand. In addition, J.J. is known to use drugs according to his probation officer and had failed a recent drug test. J.J. is on formal probation and has a violent history."

The paperwork also describes the scene where the body was found.

"I could see a person laying in a fetal position with the face down," Nord wrote. "The deceased person was wearing a blue sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head. He was also wearing blue jeans and a cloth-type of shoe. In addition, there was a large amount of Steel Reserve beer cans piled near the decedent's feet."

Fitzgerald was in court Thursday because the attorney assigned to him Tuesday declared a conflict of interest and a new attorney was assigned.

The Sheriff's Department said there was no search warrant served on Taylor.

Also Thursday, Joaquin Fitzgerald Sr. shared school certificates and awards his son earned over the years. The awards included a graduation certificate from the Humboldt County Drug Court, a Presidential Physical Fitness Award and certificates for reading achievements in elementary school.

"He's a good kid," Fitzgerald Sr. said.

Both boys are scheduled to be in court Tuesday.

The killing of Tracy Daniel Reynolds and the arrests of two local teenagers on suspicion of last month's shooting, shocked the community. In the passing weeks, a more complete picture of the victim and the suspects has begun to develop.

The following are the words and thoughts of friends and family members as they express their feelings about Reynolds and the two boys beyond the court case just beginning to unfold.

Reynolds' sister Terri Helman said her brother was taking medication for schizophrenia and was not a violent person. After the teens' arraignment, she said Reynolds had a home in Marysville, but enjoyed coming to Humboldt County. He always shared whatever he had with everybody, Helman said.

"He loved the area and the people," she said.

Dionne Palmer, a friend of suspect Keyontae Lamar Taylor, 15, while waiting near the jail parking garage earlier this week to catch a glimpse of her friend as he was transported back to juvenile hall: "He's a warm-hearted young man and this is not in his character at all."

A 15-year-old Eureka High School student and friend of suspect Joaquin "J.J" Fitzgerald Jr., describes him as being like an older brother in a letter written to the court.

"I want everyone to know what a great 16-year-old Joaquin is!" she said. "He has a wonderful family. He is a kind and loving son and a fun and loving brother to his two younger brothers and kid sister."

Shawna Morales, a tutor with the Indian Action Council, wrote in a letter to the court that she has worked with Joaquin and his family since 2001.

"I know their children to be raised as very kind and caring individuals," she wrote. "Joaquin Jr. (J.J.) is liked by everyone who knows him; teachers, students and myself included."
Source: Eureka Times Standard - March 10, 2006
Update posted on Mar 12, 2006 - 5:57PM 
Family and friends of Joaquin J. Fitzgerald and Keyontae Lamar Taylor packed the courtroom in the Humboldt County Courthouse Tuesday afternoon during the arraignment of the two juveniles accused of murder. Three family members of the alleged victim, Tracy Daniel Reynolds, were also in court.

Through his attorney, Humboldt County Conflict Counselor Kevin Robinson, Fitzgerald, 16, pleaded not guilty to committing murder during the commission of a robbery, personal use of a firearm during a robbery, torture and cruelty to an animal.

Through his attorney, Humboldt County Conflict Counselor Marek Reavis, Taylor, 15, pleaded not guilty to murder during the commission of a robbery, committing robbery while vicariously armed, torture and cruelty to an animal.

The Humboldt County Public Defender's Office was previously assigned to represent Fitzgerald, but because of an unspecified conflict, Robinson was assigned to the case. After a sidebar with Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney, Robinson spoke to Fitzgerald before entering the pleas.

The two boys are accused of befriending Reynolds, 38, on the railroad tracks near the Humboldt Hill exit of U.S. Highway 101, leaving and returning with a gun and robbing and killing Reynolds. Reynolds' body was discovered Feb. 24, 2006 by a passerby who alerted Humboldt County sheriff's deputies, who arrived on scene at approximately 1 p.m. that day. "The investigation indicated that the victim was shot first in the leg. The painful character of that wound (was) intended to speed up his cooperation with the robbery," Humboldt County Assistant District Attorney Wes Keat said. The complaints of torture and animal cruelty stem from incidents that allegedly happened prior to Reynolds' killing, he said. Keat said the boys allegedly shot at cows in the area, killing one.

Misty McCrary, Reynolds' niece, said it was painful for her family to watch the two boys being arraigned. "The hardest thing is they just didn't look remorseful," she said. But, McCrary said, looks can be deceiving and the boys may have been putting on a "front."

Although the two boys are juveniles, the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office is charging them as adults. "The complaint(s) (were) filed in 'adult' court under the provisions of Proposition 21, which allows for such prosecution of certain of the worst violent crimes committed by juvenile offenders," Keat said. If convicted, Taylor and Fitzgerald could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Both teenagers waived time for their preliminary hearings and are scheduled to be back in court on March 14, 2006 at 2 p.m. in the Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka for a pretrial hearing and a confirmation of counsel for Fitzgerald.
Source: Eureka Reporter - March 8, 2006
Update posted on Mar 12, 2006 - 11:55AM 

References

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