Former assistant DA may represent murder suspect
A former Tehama County deputy district attorney is considering becoming defense counsel for Quentin Ray Bealer, the 39-year-old Red Bluff man accused of killing 14-year-old Marysa Nichols.
Nichols’ body was found in a creek near Red Bluff High School on Feb. 28.
A surveillance video of the teen walking in the direction of the creek, her typical path home from Red Bluff High School’s Education Outreach Academy, also shows a white male in that vicinity at the same time.
That man was identified as Bealer, a former Willows resident, according to the Red Bluff Police Department.
Attorney Shon Northam served as temporary counsel for Bealer when he appeared in court Wednesday morning for arraignment.
Early in the proceedings, Northam said Bealer would be entering a not guilty plea, and said the defendant waived his rights to a speedy trial.
However, soon after making that statement, and after Northam conferred with Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen in the courtroom, a new hearing for entry of plea was set for 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Northam works as private counsel in Sacramento where he has handled criminal cases, but is currently serving out of the Muto and Muto firm in Red Bluff with Tehama County Child Protective Services cases.
Northam told the court that although he hadn’t decided whether or not to take the case, he would make a special appearance as Bealer’s attorney for Tuesday’s court proceedings.
Northam also disclosed that he knows Red Bluff police Chief Paul Nanfito and that he served in the Tehama County District Attorney’s Office.
He said Bealer understands that history, and does not have any conflict with those facts.
“I wanted that statement on record, to be above board,” Northam said.
He said as a private attorney he has handled other homicide cases.
“The last one was in Sutter County in front of a jury and the charges were dismissed,” he said.
The attorney said that he still needs to weigh the issues involved in the Bealer case, such as the possibility that getting a homicide case to trial can take two to three years, before he makes a decision.
“There is still a lot of discovery that is forthcoming. This is just the beginning,” Northam said.
Judge John Garaventa requested Northam contact the court as soon as he had made a decision.
Bealer also appeared in court Tuesday without an attorney, and said he didn’t understand why he was being charged with the teen’s murder.
“All they have is a picture of me walking, with a kid walking behind me,” he said.
Until Northam served as his counsel, the court was unable to find an attorney to represent the defendant.
Kenneth Miller, the public defender originally assigned to the case on March 6, declined due to a conflict of interest.
So did all of the other public defenders Judge John Garaventa requested, including Ron McIver, Laura Woods, and Diane Martin-Logan.
Nichols was reported missing at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 by her mother, Diane Whitmire, after the girl did not return home from school. She was located two days later.
The preliminary cause of death has been determined to be strangulation, according to the Red Bluff Police Department.
Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen said he filed the murder charge as an open count so his office could proceed on a first-degree theory.
“We are still waiting on the results of forensic evidence from the state Department of Justice before we further refine exactly how to handle this case,” the district attorney said.
The murder charge has a possible prison sentence of 25 years to life.
Bealer is also charged with second-degree commercial burglary, receiving stolen property and possession of drug paraphernalia. Those charges stem from an arrest that took place in December.
An additional count of being under the influence of a controlled substance was added to the list of charges. That count derived from the defendant’s arrest on March 2 at the Red Bluff Police Department.
It was while Bealer was in custody on this last charge that he was arrested for suspicion of Nichols’ murder.
Bealer is being held in the Tehama County Jail without bail. Tehama County sheriff’s Capt. Danny Rabalais said Bealer is being kept in segregation for his own safety.