Jury selection begins for car-chase murder trial
Gregory Chad Wallin-Reed admitted firing an assault weapon at a car full of young Susanville men near Antelope Lake two years ago.
Next month a jury will decide if he had a right to do it.
Wallin-Reed is set to stand trial on eight felony counts, including murder, for the July 2, 2011, shooting.
One of the bullets struck 20-year-old Rory McGuire in the head. McGuire, who was driving the car chased by Wallin-Reed, died two days later. Two passengers suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds.
Jury selection process began Monday, Aug. 19, for the murder trial that has attracted national media attention.
Opening arguments are expected to begin Sept. 3 in Plumas County Superior Court in Quincy. The trial could last as long as a month.
Wallin-Reed, 38, of Reno, who fired the fatal shot after an 8-mile car chase, has no previous criminal record. He claims he was returning gunfire that was coming from the fleeing vehicle after he caught the men stealing solar lights from his property.
The Susanville men said they didn’t have a gun. And investigators didn’t find one at or near the scene. Instead, the men claimed they were waving a white shirt out of the car window in hopes that Wallin-Reed would stop shooting.
Wallin-Reed’s Reno-based attorneys, John Ohlson and Richard Young, said they will prove Wallin-Reed believed he was being shot at.
“That is our defense,” Ohlson said. “We have some strong expert testimony.”
Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister said he will prove the men in the car were unarmed and running for their lives.
He said the men were guilty of taking three solar lights from Wallin-Reed’s property, but not of shooting a gun at their pursuer.
Hollister said the trial could hinge on proving that the fleeing men were unarmed.
“If (the jury) acquits (Wallin-Reed), he walks out of the courthouse,” Hollister said. “And the jury is going to get instructions where that is an option for them.”
According to information provided for the investigation, Wallin-Reed began chasing the six men late on the evening of Saturday, July 2, 2011. He said he saw the men stealing solar lights from his residence along the Janesville Grade, about 9 miles from Antelope Lake.
The men fled in a car driven by McGuire and headed in the direction of the lake, where they were reportedly camping with friends.
Wallin-Reed followed them in a pickup. The men said Wallin-Reed was shooting at them while closely pursuing their car for about 7 miles.
McGuire eventually entered a gravel road. He reportedly made a spinning U-turn and returned in the direction of Wallin-Reed’s truck in an attempt to escape.
That is when Wallin-Reed reportedly fired several AR-15 rounds at the passing car, striking McGuire in the head and hand.
Two passengers in the car, Justin Smyth (who was 20 at the time), and Robert Osornio, 19, suffered gunshot wounds to their lower legs.
Its driver critically wounded, the car drifted off the side of the road and stopped in a meadow.
The men told investigators Wallin-Reed got out of his truck and approached them, carrying the assault weapon.
The three uninjured passengers — John Chanley, 20; Richard Chanley, 19; and Cesar Gonzalez, 20 — quickly got out of the car and fled.
The injured men said Wallin-Reed spoke to them before getting back in his truck and leaving the scene.
Wallin-Reed reportedly drove home before calling 911.
At 11:29 p.m., Plumas County sheriff’s dispatchers received a call from Wallin-Reed, who reported that he had shot someone on top of the Janesville grade. The log entry stated, “He thinks he shot the driver.”
Wallin-Reed told the dispatcher that the suspects were armed. He agreed to drive to the dam at Antelope Lake to meet with deputies.
At 11:52 a person called 911 to report two of the victims had arrived at Long Point campground on Antelope Lake.
The 911 call log stated the vehicle containing the injured men was located on Forest City Road, between Long Point and Lone Rock.
McGuire was airlifted to Reno.
Smyth was flown to Enloe hospital in Chico where he was treated for a bullet wound in his calf.
Osornio was transported to Plumas District Hospital in Quincy with a bullet lodged in his lower leg.
Wallin-Reed was arrested July 3. The charges were upgraded to murder July 4 after McGuire died at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno.
According to investigators, Wallin-Reed was in possession of a .380 handgun and an AR-15 assault weapon during the chase.
In addition to murder, Wallin-Reed is charged with shooting at an occupied vehicle, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of an assault weapon.
The trial will be one of the biggest in Plumas County in recent memory.
About 1,500 summonses were mailed to prospective jurors. Normally, the county sends out about 250 for a jury trial.
Potential jurors began filling out questionnaires Monday, Aug. 19. The court expects a jury to be seated no later than Thursday, Aug. 29.
Superior Court Judge Ira Kaufman will oversee the proceedings.
Despite the notoriety of the case, neither the defense nor the prosecution considered moving the trial outside Plumas County.
“The defense doesn’t want a change of venue,” District Attorney Hollister said. “In fact, I think if they got to pick a venue, this would be the venue they would choose. They want to be in a conservative, gun-friendly county … and we have that.”
Wallin-Reed’s attorney, Ohlson, said, “I would like them to just keep an open mind.”
Both sides said they have an extensive list of potential witnesses. Ohlson said he didn’t expect Wallin-Reed to take the stand.
At least two national television networks — National Geographic and NBC — have been preparing reports on the case.
A National Geographic crew, which was filming with game wardens for its Wild Justice program, was the first to arrive at the scene of the shooting.
After a request from Hollister, National Geographic executives agreed to delay airing the segment until after the trial.
A production crew from Dateline NBC, including reporter Keith Morrison, has been in Plumas County researching the case and shooting video footage for the past several weeks. The research included an interview with Wallin-Reed at the Plumas County jail.
NBC secured permission from the court to have a camera in the courtroom for the duration of the trial.
That decision didn’t sit well with Hollister. He said putting cameras in the courtroom “doesn’t further justice.”
“It brings out the worst in everyone. It just does,” Hollister said. “You put a camera in the courtroom, and then witnesses put on a show and people start showing up because they want to be on TV. It adds an additional layer of challenges to an already difficult job for everybody — for the judge, the clerk, the court reporter, the attorneys, the witnesses … What we do is difficult enough.”
Despite his objections to the coverage, Hollister said NBC has been sensitive to many of his concerns.
“I think they have been excellent so far,” Hollister said. “They have been very accommodating to certain demands I’ve had about when things can and can’t happen.”
NBC decided to cover the Wallin-Reed trial after the Dateline crew covered an earlier case tried by Ohlson in January.
“I didn’t think they would be interested in this case,” Ohlson said. “Because ... I mean, we know who did it (the shooting).”
But Ohlson said NBC was interested because of the social issues involved. The trial also comes on the heels of the nationally publicized George Zimmerman trial in Florida. In July, Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder in the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s defense was that he feared for his life.
“So with all the issues in this (Wallin-Reed) case — stand your ground, self defense, First Amendment rights — it has taken on a life of its own,” Ohlson said.
Wallin-Reed has been in the Plumas County jail since his July 3, 2011, arrest.
When asked to confirm reports that Wallin-Reed is a former Army Ranger, Ohlson said, “I believe he has had Army Ranger training.”
Ohlson said Wallin-Reed has had “a couple of illnesses and has lost a lot of weight.” He didn’t provide details about his client’s illnesses.