“A man just naturally can’t take the law into his own hands…. It’s the very conscience of humanity.”  Walter Van Tilburg Clark

By Kay Dean

On April 20th, I was surprised to notice a sign indicating there would be a Town Meeting that evening at the Highland’s Fire Station. I had no idea what this was about initially.  I asked around, heard some rumors, and decided to attend myself to hear what the meeting was about.  The following is a recap of my opinions and impressions.

The meeting began with the announcement by Shawn Mahan, former Storey County Deputy and defeated 2014 Storey County Sheriff candidate, that the meeting was not political.  That Judy Black was murdered; bludgeoned to death.  And the intent of the meeting was to peacefully seek answers thru public discussions.  He also indicated that he would moderate the meeting, unless there were any objections; none were voiced.

As an early question was asked, Shawn directed the question ‘to the expert’ in the back of the room, Sheriff Gerald Antinoro.  The sheriff moved to the front of the room, where he stayed for the duration of the meeting, and replied that that it was an active investigation and he could not answer.  Once more, Shawn referred another question ‘to the expert’.  To me, it seemed like he was using this expert term in a derogatory sense.  How often have we heard a resentful person saying to “ask the expert over there.”  They are being sarcastic, not honest.  Again, just my perception.

Sheriff Antinoro reminded all of us that a person is innocent until proven guilty.  There were several people in the room that appear to not support this basic premise of our legal system.  A woman in front of me repeated that Judy was murdered.  I corrected her and noted that she had died.  The woman emphatically told me that she KNEW that Judy was murdered.  The process of the law doesn’t seem to matter.  Just like in the good old lynching days.  Just saying “I KNOW” doesn’t make it true.

I love the novel “Oxbow Incident” by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, a former VC resident and UNR Journalism instructor.  Check out:

The theme is that law is the very conscience of humanity.

There was a man who early on asked some questions and also made excellent comments regarding the process.  He asked why this was being led by Shawn, who has no official capacity or expertise.  He noted that almost everything he was hearing was political, contrary to Shawn’s opening statement.  He also wondered how any information from this meeting of residents would assist in a resolution of the death.

Dave Greninger provided his unique perspective, as he and his wife are neighbors familiar with  the couple, the house, and also did the clean up after the Sheriff’s Office released the scene and requested their assistance.  Dave immediately pointed out how quick people were to make judgments about a situation with no actual facts.  He described how steep the stairway was with hard edges.  (The stairs do not comply with the current building code.)  How he has heard stories about the blood spatter that did not correspond to what he actually saw.  How physically strong Judy was compared to her spouse.  How devastated Brett Black continues to be.

Dave described how signs defacing his own property are being put up.  How he and his wife received threatening correspondence from another Nevada sheriff on official letterhead.  Anne Langer the Storey County DA was duly notified but to date has taken no action on these threats.

Another attendee noted that there was an open 1987 murder case still under investigation.   It appears that unresolved cases are not that unusual.

Another person spoke of her fear now living here.  And another mentioned that they now locked their doors.  The sheriff added that everyone should always lock their homes.  I myself find this fear hard to understand.  If this death was murder, it hasn’t been repeated in two years.  That alone should provide some comfort level.

At one time, I believe Shawn clarified that he wasn’t accusing Brett Black of murder.  That a third person may have been involved.  I would have thought forensic evidence would have ruled that either in or out by this time.  But it is still an active investigation, and Shawn has no special knowledge.  He also suggested comparing falls on the stairs by previous owners to see if others had died.  I believe he was trying to infer that since the previous owners didn’t die on the stairs, this was a murder.

(As a personal aside, I recently suffered my first seizure.  I have been wondering if this also happened to Judy.  It is violent and disorienting.  And from what I googled, autopsy diagnosis is difficult.  It is not unusual to only suffer one seizure in a lifetime either.)

I personally have a few problems with Shawn’s opening statement.  I did feel that this was a very political meeting, as did several others who expressed the same sentiment.  And I was surprised to hear Shawn open the meeting by stating as a fact that an individual was murdered by being bludgeoned to death.

I understand the autopsy stated that the cause of death was blunt force trauma.  Blunt force trauma could be caused by a car accident, falling down stairs, etc.  Being bludgeoned to death is being physically abused with a heavy object until dead.  There would be similar marks on the body made from the bludgeon.  And there would be the murder weapon, the bludgeon.   None of this has ever been suggested prior to Shawn’s opening statement, that I am aware of.  I had the opportunity to ask him about this, and he admitted that he perhaps spoke too quickly, I believe was his response. 

Since this was an opening statement that Shawn had prepared in advance, not just a response to a question, I am troubled even more.  There is a difference between being bludgeoned to death, which is murder, and blunt force trauma, which can be an accidental death.  A huge difference.  And I believe it was an intentional overreach, to sensationalize a tragic death.

The biggest surprise to me was who was in attendance.  Commissioners Gilman and McGuffy were there, in addition to Joe Hart from Channel 4. 

I had never seen a TV station film a community meeting such as this, elevating it to a news story.  One member of the audience did inquire as to whether Shawn contacted Joe Hart, or vice versa.  Shawn shared that Joe Hart had contacted him.  Why is this unsolved death of such importance to Mr. Hart?  Does he give the same due diligence to all other unsolved deaths in northern Nevada, or just this one?  Enquiring minds are curious about this.  As a resident, I saw the meeting signs that day.  Shawn stated that he contacted all the county officials about the meeting prior to that.  A town hall meeting where the people it is supposed to be about are the last ones to learn of it.  The definition of irony?

I also feel the use of a Town Meeting to rehash a death under investigation was a blatant abuse of the peoples trust.  One of my neighbors was shocked at the subject matter; he had no idea and would not have attended if he had known.  Others present commented during the meeting that this was unlike any Town Meeting in other communities that they had attended.   We are all concerned about our community.  Some of our issues include roads, parking, the park and CC&R’s to name a few.  Besides a brief section at the end of the meeting (where the motor home parked on Cartwright was demanded to be discussed), this meeting seemed to have one purpose only.  To share gossip about the death of one of our residents.

On our chat board, VCH resident Tom Taormina alludes to official reports he has read.  Perhaps he can enlighten the rest of us as to which publicly available documents he has seen that has too many pieces that don’t fit and what these pieces are.  He keeps repeating that he has seen public documents.  Today I contacted both the Sheriff and the District Attorney.  Both offices stated there are NO PUBLIC RECORDS regarding the death of Judy Black.  This is currently an active investigation, as noted by the Sheriff at this meeting.  If any of the residents had information pertinent to this case, I would hope that they would contact the Sheriff directly, and not rely on a community meeting to bring the information to light. There is a difference between FACTS and OPINIONS.  I found many people expressing opinions as facts with no data to support their statement except their belief they were correct.

Someone is dead.  Let Due Process take its course and then see what the outcome is.  Let’s not jump to conclusions without all the facts.  Let’s not politicize this unfortunate event for personal or political gain.   

You can listen to the meeting by clicking HERE. 

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