The courtroom only had a few people sitting behind the prosecutor’s table, while the entire side of the courtroom behind Fritz Erhardt was filled. They had all come to support the Coloma man known for taking part in historical reenactments and teaching people — children included — about Marshall Gold Discovery State Park. Many had sent letters commending his character and decrying the accusations that he had molested his granddaughter. But a jury of 12 had already decided he was guilty, and the audience was there to witness his sentencing hearing on July 23.
The hearing began with Erhardt’s attorney, Eric Schlueter, making a motion for a new trial. He noted that he had not received any written opposition from deputy district attorney Jamie Verwayen. She handed Schlueter a copy and the question of whether to trail the hearing a few minutes or continue it came up. Verwayen objected to a continuance, citing that Schlueter had repeatedly filed last-minute documents over the course of the trial, but she had not required any continuances because of it.
After a short recess for Schlueter to read, the attorneys went with Judge Daniel B. Proud into his chambers. About 15 minutes later, they emerged. Schlueter argued that witnesses had been excluded, but the judge had “excluded them as lay opinions.”
Trying a different tack, Schlueter noted that there had not been any “shrink shopping” in the case. Instead, a court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Daniel Edwards, had reviewed Erhardt’s case. “I requested a second opinion,” Schlueter said. “The first (doctor) could not reach an opinion. A second was requested to analyze my client. The court declined to authorize a second doctor to prove he is not a pedophile.”
After arguing over whether a second doctor should have been utilized and whether other witnesses should have been used, Proud ultimately said, “There are no grounds for a new trial.” The sentencing hearing continued.
The judge noted he had received a petition signed by 28 individuals, many in the audience, and an additional 38 letters from others, some also in attendance, “many professing his innocence,” Proud said. He noted the probation report called for 20 years in state prison, but Erhardt had a low probability of reoffending. He had also received a letter handwritten by Erhardt, but as the District Attorney’s office had not received a copy, declined to read it as it would be ex parte communication. Schlueter provided a copy to Verwayen, and both prosecutor and judge took a few minutes to read the letter.
Schlueter then argued that the audience had a right to speak, which the judge allowed, so long as what they said was not in the letters they wrote. Three of the four had sent in letters.
Jerry Mormon was first. Mormon, who works in the tour industry and owned his own tour company for 20 years, said he had known Erhardt for about the same amount of time. He said that “never, ever” in 20 years could anything Erhardt had done have been “interpreted as inappropriate with children or anybody. He’s an outstanding citizen … in programs in the Coloma community.” He said that Erhardt is of “the highest integrity” and that when children wanted photographs with Erhardt in his mountain man costume, “he always said, ‘Check with the parents, check with the teachers.’” He recommended probation or public service for Erhardt.
Next was Dennis Amaral. Amaral, who also volunteers at the state park, said that the park sees 70,000 children a year, or about 700,000 over 10 years. “Not one time,” he said, had he seen anything that could be construed as inappropriate “in any way, shape or form.” After multiple objections to Amaral’s speech, he concluded that a harsh sentence against Erhardt would mean, “More caution and less interaction with our own children.”
Darry Kreuzberg next took to the podium. He said he was dressed in a suit and tie not only to respect the court, but to respect Erhardt. The Vietnam veteran who taught inmates and was a volunteer firefighter said that “Fritz stood naked in front of 12 peers. The DA did a good job … attaching (Erhardt) to this particular crime. Kudos to the DA,” he said, saying Verwayen was skilled in a he said-she said case and that she had turned what was said into fact “without a shred of evidence.” Kreuzberg, who testified during the trial, said he was “badgered by the DA” during his testimony, and that she had “very artfully turned around what I said. She made me look like a liar and called me a liar.” He noted the Sheriff’s Department had not confiscated Erhardt’s computer, searched for child pornography or found any DNA samples. “If there’s not DNA, there’s no case,” he said. He said Erhardt’s “career is gone,” and wondered, “What happened to innocent until proven guilty?”
Two other supporters took to the stand, both professing the innocence of Erhardt, one saying she would let him look after her daughter.
A crime of opportunity
Schlueter then went over the details of the crime, saying that it was a crime of opportunity, but Erhardt had not made the opportunity; Erhardt had no criminal history; Dr. Edward’s conclusion was based on the conviction at hand; he would only be a danger in the presence of female minors; he is amiable to therapy; using his granddaughter’s hand to masturbate himself is a minor act compared to many sex crimes; he has been a model citizen of the community since 1985; he had a rating of negative three for reoffending; and this was simply a period of aberrant behavior. He asked for five years of probation, of which he argued Erhardt was eligible for, and counseling as required.
Verwayen argued that it was a “substantial sexual” act under the definition of the law. She argued against probation, as Erhardt had not followed a restraining order. She said he was not eligible. She said, “Unless he is on an island by himself,” it would be impossible to keep him out of the presence of female minors. She noted that although he was found guilty, Erhardt claimed he was a “victim of a conspiracy.” Philip Garrido also had a similar score for reoffending, she said.
“It took depravity and planning,” Verwayen said. “He snuck downstairs in the middle of the night, when no one was around.” As a member of the family, his granddaughter “looked up to him.” He had progressed through sexual acts, she said, over a period of five years, starting when the granddaughter was 7 years old. The letter he wrote, she said, was a “thinly-veiled attempt to take responsibility,” but that it “dances around” actually doing so. “To say it’s not so bad is an inappropriate argument. We don’t now the impact on the victim.”
After more arguments from Schlueter, where he again argued the eligibility for probation, Proud handed out the sentencing. After being found guilty of two counts of lewd conduct with a minor and one count of continuous sexual abuse, Proud said he disagreed with Schlueter.
“Mr. Schlueter, I disagree. These were serious acts of child molestation that went on for a substantial amount of time,” Proud said. “I do believe he showed some sophistication, going downstairs in the middle of the night. He didn’t know if she was awake. Clearly, Mr. Erhardt is the poster child of taking advantage of a position of trust.”
After reviewing the circumstances again, in which he largely agreed with Verwayen, he mostly followed the probation recommendation from Stephanie Clark, who was also in attendance. Erhardt was sentenced to 16 years in state prison, minus 157 days served, and with a 15 percent conduct credit. He was ordered to register as a sex offender and pay fines and restitution totaling more than $17,000.
The hearing concluded with Erhardt being remanded to custody of the Sheriff to be transferred to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or email@example.com. Follow @CMayerMtDemo.