Jurors in Yolo County, California, recommended the death penalty for Brendt Anthony Volarvich in the murder of 37-year-old California Highway Patrol Officer Andy Stevens in November 2005.
After the May 6, 2008, jury verdict, the judge set a sentencing date of June 12, at which point he may either agree with the jury and sentence Volarvich to death or set aside the verdict and sentence him to life without parole.
In April, the same jury convicted Volarvich, 22, of Roseville, of every count against him - murder, conspiracy to commit murder, being a convicted felon and carrying a firearm, possession of an illegal weapon (brass knuckles), and possession of methamphetamine.
During the two-week trial corrections officers testified that Volarvich admitted being a member of the East Side San Jose Peckerwoods (ESSJ), a white supremacist gang, since the age of 15. The prosecution showed jurors photographs of Volarvich's white supremacist tattoos, including the word "Peckerwood" across his stomach and "ESSJ" on his chest.
The term peckerwood is used to refer both to white youths with loose ties to white power gangs in and out of prison, as well as to actual skinhead gangs who have incorporated "peckerwood" into their name. The various Peckerwood gangs are concentrated largely in California, where they are often involved in the methamphetamine trade and have ties to other white supremacist gangs. Peckerwood gang members have been charged with a variety of crimes ranging from dealing drugs to attempted murder. Many gang members sport Peckerwood tattoos to display their affiliations.
One corrections officer testified that, while being booked on a drug charge just a few days prior to the killings, Volarvich insisted that he not be housed with any Hispanics or African-Americans, only other "whites."
The defense attorney admitted during the trial that Volarvich held racist views before the killing, and that he had, in fact, shot the officer, but claimed that Volarvich's actions on the night of the shooting were due to his prolonged methamphetamine use and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Volarvich is eligible for the death penalty due to his conviction on the special circumstances of killing a police officer and shooting from a vehicle. In addition, the jury found a number of enhancements to be true: that Volarvich used a gun in his crime, that he committed a crime while out of jail on bail, and that he committed conspiracy while out on bail.
A second defendant, Gregory Zielesch, 50, of Woodland, was also convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy, possession of a firearm by a felon, and possession of methamphetamine, and is awaiting sentencing.
According to prosecutors, Zielesch gave Volarvich the gun to kill his ex-wife's boyfriend, which Volarvich agreed to do as payback for money Zielesch previously loaned him. On the way to carry out the purported plan, Volarvich was pulled over by Stevens for a traffic stop. Volarvich shot the officer in the face at point-blank range. Prosecutors argued that Volarvich, a convicted felon, shot and killed the officer because he knew that if he were caught with a firearm he could be sent back to jail.
A third defendant, Lindsey Montgomery, 22, also of Woodland, and Volarvich's girlfriend at the time of the incident, pleaded no contest in January 2006 to being an accomplice after the fact. Montgomery was with Volarvich when officers found them hiding at a motel the morning after the murder. Montgomery testified before the grand jury that indicted the defendants as well as during the criminal trial itself.
During the trial, prosecutors unsuccessfully attempted to introduce into evidence letters that Volarvich wrote in 2007 while incarcerated to members of the Sacramento-based United Society of Aryan Skinheads (USAS). In the letters, Volarvich allegedly admits to committing the murder and discusses his white supremacist ideology.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecutors asked jurors to sentence Volarvich to death, claiming that even while in jail Volarvich was a threat to others. They told the jury that, while awaiting trial, Volarvich allegedly sent a note to a fellow white supremacist, asking him to kill a man who had provided information about him to police during the murder investigation. The prosecution also told the jury that, while in jail, Volarvich threatened a black inmate by hanging a noose on the man's cell and was also caught with a homemade blade.