The following is a press release issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office:
After a Mendocino County Superior Court jury acquitted him of murder and, instead, found him guilty of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter, the trial defendant Wednesday withdrew his second plea of not guilty of causing the death of the victim by reason of insanity.
Defendant Drew Anderson Price, age 40, of Ukiah, was found guilty Wednesday afternoon of involuntary manslaughter in the March 2022 death of then 55-year-old Deborah Garner-Flicker in her Gobbi Street apartment.
Under the California Penal Code 192(b), involuntary manslaughter refers to the unintentional killing of another person while committing a crime that is not in itself a dangerous felony that might result in death.
While the murder charge was still on the table and pending, the defendant had entered dual pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. When such dual pleas are entered, the court is required to conduct a bifurcated trial and the issues of guilt and sanity are separately tried with the guilt phase going first.
Had the defendant not withdrawn his insanity plea Wednesday upon hearing that he had been acquitted of murder, the jury would have remained empaneled to next determine the insanity phase — whether the defendant was not guilty of involuntary manslaughter by reason of insanity.
As legal background, a successful insanity plea relieves the defendant of all criminal responsibility. If the verdict is returned in the insanity phase of a jury trial that the defendant was insane at the time the offense was committed, the court, unless it appears that the sanity of the defendant has been fully recovered, is required to direct that the defendant be committed to the State Department of State Hospitals or any other appropriate treatment facility for the care and treatment of persons with mental health disorders. The court may also order an “insane” defendant be released on outpatient status for treatment in the local community.
A felony conviction for involuntary manslaughter carries a “prison” sentence of up to four years in Realignment County Prison (the Low Gap jail facility versus state prison) and fines of up to $10,000.
Given that the law currently affords day-for-day pre-sentence credits for most defendants convicted of felonies, it is expected that defendant Price has less than four months left to serve in the county jail even if sentenced to the maximum term (four years) authorized by law for involuntary manslaughter.
If sentenced to something less than the maximum term, defendant Price will be deemed time-served and ordered to be immediately released from custody.
The Ukiah Police Department is the law enforcement agency that investigated what medical first responders thought were suspicious circumstances. Based on the external injuries of the victim, the police call-out quickly evolved into an unlawful homicide investigation.
The prosecutor who presented the People’s evidence to the jury was Supervising Deputy District Attorney Luke Oakley.
Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Victoria Shanahan presided over what was not a controversy-free trial. The prosecutor had objected to giving the jury the verdict option of involuntary manslaughter, arguing that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support that reduced theory of culpability.
Both trial attorneys were also critical of and voiced objections to Judge Shanahan’s undisclosed interactions with the jury while the jury was deliberating, party objections that were being entered into the record while the jury was outside the courtroom in the hallway waiting to be allowed in to announce its verdicts.
The defendant’s sentencing hearing is now scheduled for January 10, 2024 at 9 o’clock in the morning in Department B of the Ukiah Courthouse.