As we heard, in the last week of the trial in the state’s case against David Bristow and Danny Stearman, who are being charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder, along with enhancements, there were a whole lot of twists to their stories.
Testifying early last week for the prosecution was the cousin of David Bristow. Paula Davis would tell of an intimate affair between the two. She answered questions about her past run-ins with the law. She appeared nervous as she had to testify against her cousin, David Bristow. She was asked about a conversation she had with him while he was incarcerated down in Kern County, after the alleged attempt on Mark Cullen’s life.
Through a jail call, she said David asked her to clean his truck out. DDA Rob Gorman stated it was to get rid of any evidence, but the defense contended it was to sell the truck. In another recording of their jail call, David was told about a break-in to his truck. Paula stated in one part that she had gotten rid of the video thing…once again, Gorman’s definition of that was she was letting David know she got rid of the GPS system he may have used to stake out the ambush scene for Cullen.
Detective Young would testify to finding several guns at the residence of Danny Stearman, but also that none of them were the gun used to shoot Cullen. He said he did not know for sure if the spots on the guns were rust or dirt, since some of them were pretty old. He said he ran a check to see if any of the guns belonged to Stearman but none of them did – they just belonged to other relatives. He told Defense Attorney Steven Sabbadini that he did not run a check on the serial numbers of the guns either.
Detective Dean Nyland stated they walked along a 100-yard radius of the area surrounding the crime scene and found nothing but things that did not pertain to what they were looking for. He said he and Detective Young used metal detectors to look for either a gun or bullets but found nothing.
A medical assistant from the hospital where Danny Stearman went to see his heart specialist stated that, on the day of October 1, 2012, she noticed no injuries to the body of Stearman. She stated his vitals were pretty normal.
John Houston, the brother-in-law of Stearman, told a story of an abusive Mark Cullen. He said he is the one who actually married Mark and Dina Cullen but, after time, he found out what kind of person Mark was and stated he was a violent man. He said he went to the custody hearings of the couple to support his niece. He was asked to talk about a time when he had been asked by Doyle Stearman, Dina’s father, to come up and stay with Dina while his brother was out of town.
John stated that one of the times Mark came to pick up the children, Mark lunged toward Danny over something said, so he walked up to separate the two. John also talked about going to Mark’s work with Doyle one night when Mark was supposed to be watching his children but instead left them with the brother who was known to have a mental health disorder. DDA Gorman asked him about the alleged incident Mark described in testimony of John and Danny trying to scare him months earlier. Mark said that John wore a stocking over his head and the two had tried to run him off the road. But there were never any confirmations of this story being valid.
Back on the stand more than a few times, was Detective Nyland. Defense would direct questions about the bullets and the gun used to shoot Mark. Sabbadini and Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt would ask about the type of bullets they found in Cullen’s van. The detective said he found a .22 bullet down underneath a lot of articles in the side pocket of the van but did not test it for fingerprints because it was too small.
Detective Jennifer Davis was asked to talk about the interviews taken from Cullen. Cullen had little knowledge while in the hospital of what happened, but would later make several calls to Davis, as he stated his memory got better with time. Davis told Sabbadini that she allowed Cullen to talk so that she could get clearer answers as to the specifics of what happened to him the night of September 30.
Taking the stand for the defense’s case was Dina Stearman Cullen, ex-wife of the alleged victim, Mark Cullen. Dina was asked very few questions by defense. Sabbadini asked about one of the times Cullen had called the cops on her for domestic violence. But she said it was untrue.. She stated that Mark had actually scratched his own face before law enforcement showed up. In another incident, Mark had hit her in the head while she was holding their baby.
Dina stated that Mark would always hit her in the arm because she would turn away from him because she was holding the baby. She stated he had abused her a lot. It was the last incident when he hit her in the head that finally made her leave and never go back. Dina said she was pregnant when he hit her and afterwards the doctor put her on bed rest at Mercy San Juan hospital. Her hearing was impaired from childhood, she stated. Dina said she had not driven in a couple years either. She said she lives with her parents and has since she left Cullen.
Danny Stearman would take the stand last for defense counsel Sabbadini. Danny told a story of a drug deal gone bad. He said he had ran into Cullen earlier in that week in September, before the attack on Cullen, and words were exchanged which made Danny think everything was okay between them. He stated it was at the time that Cullen had asked Stearman to get him some dope. Stearman agreed to meet him near his work before his shift. Danny stated Mark told him not to go to his house but to his work.
Danny said he knew David Bristow, his friend from Bakersfield, could get the drugs. He said he had driven home from Dina’s parents’ house on September 29 and then came up to help move Bristow’s son to Yuba City on the 30th. Danny says the two went out to the road nearest Mark Cullen’s work to meet him with the meth.
He said he sat in Bristow’s truck as he watched what he said looked like a firecracker, and heard a pop. He said he got out to go see what was going on and found Bristow wrestling on the ground with Cullen. Danny stated that Bristow told him “get the dope,” so he got it out of the van. He said Bristow told him that Mark pulled a gun on him inside the van. He said Cullen wanted the dope but did not have the money. Bristow tried to leave as Mark pulled the gun out. It was after that the wrestling over the gun happened. Danny said it must have gone off as they fought over it.
I missed some of Stearman’s testimony but when I returned, Stearman was still testifying. DDA Gorman, under cross, would dig deep into Stearman’s story about what happened that night. He asked Stearman why he was carrying a large sum of money in an envelope in the amount of $2,000.
Stearman said, “I was going to paint the car I bought and fix some things on it.” Gorman asked why he would drive all the way back the same day when something so traumatic happened. He replied, “Just wanted to get home, I was tired and I had a doctor’s appointment.”
Gorman stated loudly to Stearman something about being a murderer, lashing back at him, Stearman yelled, “F–you, F–asshole!” Gorman yelling, “Your honor I want that noted..”
After lengthy testimony of defendant Danny Stearman, it was soon time for the long day of closing arguments.
Deputy District Attorney Rob Gorman would begin with what was called the “red jury panel,” in the morning. He started out by stating through a Power Point presentation why this case was not a “drug deal gone bad.” He stated Danny Stearman and David Bristow conspired to kill Cullen. He said to take a look at the phone records, the mapped area of where they took place. He stated that the two cased out Cullen’s workplace area, where they would ambush and kill him.
He said to look at the receipt of the hotel where they stayed, and waited until dark to drive back to do the job. He showed the credit card receipt and reminded them of the testimony of Winterset, about how Danny had asked him to use the card because he needed an alibi. He pointed out that the some of the witnesses were good friends of the two defendants, but yet still told the truth about what they had heard.
He said, “Stearman is the one who sent Bristow down the river with his own testimony.” Gorman said, “Even if you do not know which defendant did what, you still have to know by all the evidence that Cullen was shot, stabbed, run over and left to die on the side of the road, but miraculously his friend called from work and Cullen was able to tell him what happened.” He stated, “It doesn’t matter who shot him, who stabbed him, it matters that both of them took part in the attempt to kill Cullen.”
He stated, “I don’t want to sound derogatory, but Mark Cullen is somewhat of a simpleton, just a guy who works at a vegetable plant and who spends most of his time taking care of his son from a previous relationship, and who may not have had the time to think about getting all the details of things as he was running for his life that night.”
He said the Stearman family had it in for him and John Houston, Dina’s uncle, did not go to the custody hearing to support her but rather to intimidate poor Cullen. He said “You do not sell drugs to people you hate!” He stated, “Listen to those jail calls, listen to what Bristow tells his cousin about cleaning the truck and what he told his son about keeping their mouths shut.”
He said John Winterset told the truth on the stand to the Grand Jury because he felt obligated to tell the truth, and that they should look at the statement he gave about Stearman stating, “We were like monsters,” and Bristow telling him, “He wouldn’t get out of the way, I stuck him deep but the sob wouldn’t die, the sob lived.”
He said even though they were best friends for years, Winterset still told the truth to the Grand Jury. He stated Detective Nyland worked tirelessly on this case and even gave Stearman the opportunity to tell him the truth but Stearman never told a story about a drug deal gone bad until 14 months later when it was time to go to trial.
He showed the picture of a bloodied Cullen as the paramedics tended to him. He said, “They thought they had killed him but miraculously, Cullen stood up and it was then they tried to run him over and you can take a look at the van and see Cullen’s blood on it where they hit him and he hit the windshield.”
He said to look at all the photos, listen to all the jail calls and read over the testimony of all the witnesses and you will have no other conclusion but to find these two guilty of attempted murder!
Putting on his closing first was Richard Van Zandt, Deputy Public Defender representing defendant Danny Stearman. He began telling the jurors that the story of what happened that night had changed and the truth never changes.
He said the great thing about a trial is you get to examine the witnesses. He said Cullen stated that he had been punched but why would you have to punch someone if you brought a gun? He stated, “I agree with Gorman, listen to the jail calls and listen to the demeanor of Bristow, he told Paula to call the cops when his truck had been broken into.”
Van Zandt stated the $3,000 talked about was what Bristow was selling his truck for. He said the witnesses were contaminated. The three thousand was the amount he told Paula that he wanted for his truck.
He said both Cullen’s and Winterset’s testimony were contaminated. He said during the conversations between Winterset and Bristow, they were under the influence of meth. He said Winterset read the article in the paper about Danny being arrested but still never told Detective Nyland about the statements made by Bristow.
Van Zandt stated, “You cannot be a reliable witness, if your story changes. A jail call is not accurate to the state of mind. Bristow used his own cell phone, ID and truck, this was a plan that all hell broke loose. You are going to determine Bristow’s self-defense.” He stated, “You pull a gun in a drug deal and this could happen but it does not lay out enough evidence to prove conspiracy.”
He said Cullen had abused his pregnant wife and harassed the Stearman family. He said Stearman has no record and had no motive to kill Cullen. He said Cullen changed his story several times and they were not mere consistencies, but lies.
He said, “Detective Nyland changed his story about the gun, from it being a semi-automatic handgun that left a casing, once fired, to a revolver – once he found no casing from a .22 semi-automatic at the scene.”
Sabbadini began with, ” I appreciate you all being here and I want to make this as clear as I can, self-defense only applies if you believe this has nothing to do with a meth deal gone bad.
“Police are biased, and yes, Mr. Gorman is correct, I am going to tell you a few things about Cullen that you will have to decide on.,” stated Sabbadini. He states, “Mark Cullen wants you to believe he is the victim. He wants you to believe he is just this wonderful respectful guy. He wants you to believe he was not convicted, he lied about not using meth.” The Stearman family, he said, has been blasted by Gorman.
He stated, “I didn’t want to put Dina on the stand, but had to and it was uncomfortable. He states, “The Stearman family wanted to help this guy but he showed his true colors, don’t let him bamboozle you, he lies, bottom line, Cullen is not telling the truth.” He said, “And you all saw her and why she does not drive?”
Sabbadini stated, “He has been convicted of hit and run, domestic violence, driving with no license and he lied to the Stearmans about leaving his own children with his brother while he went to work, knowing his brother had a mental health disorder.”
He said Cullen lied about who the other guy was that night, first telling he couldn’t recall, to a Hispanic male and then to John Houston. “I mean come on!” Sabbadini stated. Sabbadini said, “Look at what he tells the speech pathologist at UCD med center. He told her he identifies with Hannibal Lecter, a serial killer? and she suggests he be examined.”
“On October 9, he said he did not recall being shot, but recalls it when showed photos by Detective Davis.” Sabbadini said, “Then he recalls being punched by Stearman, yet there is no blood of Stearman or Bristow’s in the van; you cannot trust his story, it has no credibility.”
He said, “Cullen never writes in his journal about any incident with the Stearman family and never writes about the threat from John Houston and Danny earlier and how John had a stocking over his head? This is a man who calls cops over everything and yet he does not call to tell them about this threat? Come on!” Sabbadini says. “It’s hogwash,” he states. “He calls police all the time?”
He said that Detective Nyland testified to finding bullets in Cullen’s van and yet he said Cullen told him he owned no guns when testifying before the Grand Jury. “We know Cullen had guns,” said Sabbadini.
He stated, “John Winterset felt he was going to be arrested if he did not comply with Detective Nyland. He researched what accessory to a crime entailed.” He said, “Danny and Cullen were drug buddies, but Danny is not proud of it.”
He said the window of Cullen’s van appeared to be hit by a bullet, backing up the story told by Stearman about Cullen’s and Bristow’s struggle over the gun and it going off. Windows appear to be hit by a bullet, and the evidence shows that Cullen could have had a gun.
Concluding, Sabbadini stated, “I ask you to look at all the evidence and read over testimony and agree, you do have work ahead of you, I submit that you come back with a verdict of not guilty on these charges.”
Both jury panels went out to deliberate on Friday, late afternoon.