Salter found guilty of murder

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

Jeremy Dale Salter, 40, was found guilty of murder in the first degree by a jury in Bakersfield on May 14. The victim, John Harley Evans of Inyokern, had been reported missing on April 6, 2011. Salter was arrested April 8, 2011, and has been in custody in lieu of $1-million bail. Evans’ remains were found April 28, 2011, and had to be identified through dental records.

Salter chose to act as his own attorney. The court records show a series of trial dates being set and re-set, and a mysterious medical evaluation for unspecified causes.

David Wilson, deputy district attorney for Kern County, led the prosecution for this trial. “Essentially, after I had presented my evidence, he decided to put on a mental defense. It was incredibly late in the game to try to throw that into the mix,” said Wilson.

He said a psychologist had been appointed to review Salter’s mental state, and a hearing was held. “But she said she had no diagnosis, and was not ever likely to have a diagnosis,” said Wilson. “Apparently he wanted her to talk about some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder kind of thing, but she didn’t have an opinion to offer. She seemed to be very uncomfortable, from what I could tell.”

According to the Penal Code, both prosecution and defense have to provide good cause for why witnesses, experts, etc. are needed, and they have to do it 30 days before the trial. Both sides have to provide discovery and evidence to the other, again 30 days before the trial. This is so both sides have a chance to review the evidence and consult with experts or get their own experts. Since Salter introduced the mental defense halfway through the trial, the prosecution did not have an opportunity to ask questions of witnesses and experts.

Because Salter attempted to introduce discovery that was late and couldn’t prove why it was relevant, the psychologist’s testimony was excluded.

“He really didn’t have much to go on,” said Wilson. “He had options if he wanted to use them, but he either didn’t know about them or chose not to use them. I talked to several jurors after the trial, and their opinion was that he made a mistake by trying to represent himself. He didn’t know what questions to ask.”

Wilson described Salter’s opening statement to the jury as characterizing the slaying as tragic but unavoidable because of self-defense, but then never presented any evidence to support the claim of self-defense. “There has to be some evidence to support the claims,” said Wilson.

The jury was out for only about 40 minutes, which is very rapid.

“This was my first time in 10 years in a trial with a defendant representing himself. They warned him about the pitfalls,” said Wilson. He cited a case, “Feretta versus California,” which, under the Sixth Amendment, spells out that the defendants’ right to counsel includes the right to defend themselves.

“Defendants are advised that everyone thinks this is a bad idea, because they will be held to the same standards as a trained attorney,” said Wilson. “You can’t complain on appeal if you are the victim of ineffective counsel. He knew this going into it.”

On May 12 Wilson rested his case right before noon. When court reconvened after the lunch break, Salter asked for an attorney at 1:30 p.m., stating that he was overwhelmed. “It was much too late,” said Wilson. “He had been trying to delay the trial for a month before we started. A lot of the delays were due to this.”

Salter is scheduled for sentencing on June 12 at 8:30 a.m. in Bakersfield’s Metro Division Court. He continues to be held at Lerdo in Bakersfield.

Story First Published: 2014-05-21