Booking photo of Derek Steven McCormack [Picture provided by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office]
The following is a press release issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office:
With his jury trial scheduled to commence this coming Monday, defendant Derek Steven McCormack, age 30, of Covelo, chose Thursday afternoon to forego that trial.
Instead, defendant McCormack requested and was granted permission to withdraw his previously-entered not guilty plea and, in its place, he entered a no contest plea to having committed an arson of an inhabited residence, a felony.
Save for being different words, a “no contest” plea to a felony charge is the same as a guilty plea for all purposes.
The defendant also admitted as true a sentencing enhancement that the arson he committed on August 5, 2019 at the Potter Valley family residence of a former girlfriend was committed during a fire state of emergency, as had been declared by the Governor.
The defendant was referred to the Adult Probation Department for a background study and the preparation of a sentencing recommendation.
A sentencing hearing is now scheduled for October 22, 2020 at 9 o’clock in the morning in Department A of the Ukiah courthouse. Any person interested in this defendant or the underlying facts of this case is welcome to attend that hearing. Wearing a mask and social distancing will be required.
The defendant was informed during the change of plea proceedings that he will be ineligible for a grant probation absent a judicial finding of unusual circumstances and a further finding that granting the defendant probation will best serve the interests of justice.
If such findings are made, the defendant could be placed on formal supervised probation for up to 60 months. As a term of formal probation, the defendant could be ordered to serve up to one year in the county jail. He will also be required to register for life as an arson offender. This conviction constitutes a Strike under the Three Strikes law.
If unusual circumstances are not found, the defendant must be denied probation and sentenced to state prison. The presumptive state prison term is 7 years. However, if the court deems the underlying facts and circumstances to be aggravated, the aggravated state prison term is 9 years. If the court deems the underlying facts and circumstances to be mitigated, the mitigated state prison term is 5 years.
The investigating law enforcement agencies were the fire investigators from CALFIRE and the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and the District Attorney’s own investigators. Special thanks are also extended to the People’s retained expert witness, Christopher J. Watt, for his specialized geological analysis
The prosecutor handling this matter is District Attorney David Eyster.
Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Keith Faulder accepted the defendant’s change of plea just before 5 o’clock Thursday afternoon and will preside over the sentencing hearing in October.
Pending sentencing, the defendant remains at liberty on posted bail of $250,000, with stay away and no contacts conditions as terms of that bail.