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Retired judge recounts experiences
When retired Superior Court Judge Roy MacFarland started practicing law in Willows in the late 1950s, he wasn't particularly eager to mark his place in history.
Now, more than a half century later, one of Glenn County's most charismatic and respected judges can joke about not even being welcomed in the town's legal community.
There were plenty a lawyers around in those days like Carroll F. Byrd, John L. "Jack" Feeney, Ben Thomas, Milt Hogle, Clyde Latimer and Charles "Jack" Frost.
None were eager for an upstart young attorney whose family had a prominent place in Glenn County politics for 75 years.
"I was about as welcomed as the plague," said MacFarland, who spoke Sunday at the Willows Museum's annual meeting. "Of course, I didn't know it at the time."
When MacFarland graduated from Santa Clara University, he had other job offers, including working for the district attorney in San Diego or as a tax attorney with the state treasurer's office.
He didn't take them.
Instead, MacFarland had been summoned to Willows by his uncle, attorney Duard Geis, who insisted MacFarland work for him in his firm.
Geis was a peculiar man, described MacFarland, who had also pushed him into law school.
After all, it was a family tradition.
MacFarland's grandfather was Ben F. Geis, a Germantown (Artois) attorney who was instrumental in the fight for the withdrawal of the northern portion of Colusi County.
"The German community did not get along well with the southerners in Colusa County," MacFarland said. "That was one of the reasons for the split."
The vast area split in to Glenn and Colusa counties, with the northernmost portion going into Tehama County.
After Glenn County's formation, Ben F. Geis served as the first district attorney.
He served two terms before being defeated by Harry McGowan in a bitter election.
Geis had come to California in the 1850s as a pugilist — a boxer who fought with his bare fists.
He studied the law in Sacramento.
"In those days, one only needed to read the law to become a lawyer," MacFarland said.
The elder Geis married Margaret Hoy, a widow of Grand Island (Grimes) in Colusa County.
She was instrumental in forming the Willows Improvement Club, a forerunner of the Monday Afternoon Club at the turn of the 19th century.
She was also involved in the formation of the first library and reading room in Willows.
Their son, Duard Geis, followed in his father's footsteps and Duard encouraged MacFarland — his sister Catherine's son — to do the same.
At the time, MacFarland had given little thought to any career after high school.
"All I cared about then was girls and cars," MacFarland said. "What did I know about the law?"
Although MacFarland didn't consider himself a good student in the beginning, he buckled down to the task and attended his first year of law school simultaneously with his last year of undergraduate work.
His only option, had he failed in school, was the front lines of the Korean War.
"If I had to go to war, I decided I would rather be the one giving the orders rather than the one holding the gun," he said.
He left Santa Clara University to serve as an artillery officer in the US Army, but was dismissed after two years to return to law school.
After he graduated, MacFarland entered the legal practice with his uncle in Willows, who also pushed him into public law.
In 1968, MacFarland found himself in the Glenn County District Attorney's Office, assistant to Fred Meckfessel, whom he believes was Glenn County's best district attorney.
In 1974, MacFarland and Meckfessel prosecuted John Wayne Card in the brutal slaying of Willows veterinarian Dr. Clayton Griffiths and his 13-year-old adopted daughter.
Card's kidnapping and murder of Clayton Griffiths' wife was tried in Butte County.
MacFarland was appointed to the Superior Court in 1976.
One of the most notorious cases MacFarland presided over was the triple-murder trial of Clarence Ray Allen, who was convicted for his role as master conspirator in the 1980 shooting deaths of Bryan Schletewitz, 27, Josephine Rocha, 17, and Douglas White, 18, at Fran's Market in Fresno.
"In a way, it was a horrible experience," MacFarland said. "It was a very high profile case."
Allen had multiple violent felony conviction when he came to McFarland's courtroom on a change of venue.
"He was in prison for murder when he arranged with a man named Billy Ray Hamilton to kill all the witnesses in his case," MacFarland said. "That is pretty cunning. He was a dangerous man."
MacFarland said Allen was a charismatic, intelligent, dangerous criminal mastermind, who was "in tight" with the Hell's Angels, who often appeared in his court.
The trial lasted 23 days and 58 witnesses were called to testify.
"Security was very tight," he said.
Ultimately, the jury convicted Allen of triple murder and conspiracy to murder eight witnesses, and returned a unanimous verdict of death.
MacFarland originally sentenced Allen to the three consecutive death sentences, and for him to be executed on May 22, 1987.
After decades in the appeal process, MacFarland took the bench from retirement in 2005 to confirm Allen's death sentence.
Allen was not in court.
He was executed at the age of 76 by lethal injection on Jan. 17, 2006, at San Quentin State Prison.
Although MacFarland called Allen a ruthless killer, he was not the only murderer in McFarland's court.
William "Bill" Tidwell of Richvale was eventually convicted in a Contra Costa court for the murder of an Orland couple in 1972, after the case was moved due to pretrial publicity.
"He was the only man I was ever afraid of in court," said MacFarland, who oversaw the initial proceedings.
MacFarland said the couple were found in their home with their throats cut "ear to ear."
"It was a gruesome thing," MacFarland said.
Tidwell, and his brother Robert Tidwell, were previously on death row for a 1967 triple murder, but their sentenced were overturned and they were granted a new trial.
They were acquitted in the 1967 case.
Robert Tidwell was also charged in the Orland murder, but the charges were dropped.
William Tidwell was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Although MacFarland retired from the bench in 1997, he was immediately asked by the Judicial Council to hear "three strikes" cases.
He also filled in on the bench when needed in Glenn and surrounding counties.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.