A Humboldt County marijuana grower will be sentenced in federal court in San Francisco on June 3 for the shooting murder of one of his workers.
Mikal Xylon Wilde, 33, of Kneeland, was convicted Monday by a jury in the court of U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of murdering Mario Roberto Juarez-Madrid, 40, in the course of a drug crime on Aug. 25, 2010.
Wilde was also found guilty of five other federal felonies related to illegal marijuana growing and use of guns.
Juarez-Madrid, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, was one of three workers whom Wilde had hired to water and tend more than 1,500 marijuana plants and guard against robbers on Wilde’s plantation in Kneeland, near Eureka, according to a prosecution trial brief.
Wilde had bought the 800-acre mountainous property earlier that summer, prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said evidence at the month-long trial showed Wilde hunted down and shot Juarez-Madrid after the three workers complained about conditions and said they wanted to quit their jobs and be paid for their previous work.
Wilde had given the three men guns to protect against robbers, but took the weapons away after they told him they wanted to leave, Haag said.
On the evening of Aug. 25, 2010, as the men were gathering their belongings from a trailer on the property, Wilde drove up to the trailer in his truck, got out and began shooting with his revolver, according to the prosecution brief.
Haag said Wilde shot Juarez-Madrid three times and the third shot was a contact wound in the back of his head.
Haag said the trial evidence showed that Wilde shot a second worker, Pedro Fernando Lopez-Paz, also from Guatemala, in the face. Lopez-Paz survived, hid in the woods all night and found help the next morning.
The third worker, Christopher Bigelow of Sacramento, fled from the trailer into the woods and hid until he was found by a jogger the next morning, Haag said.
Wilde was arrested shortly afterwards while driving in his truck, according to the prosecution brief. He was initially charged with murder in state court by the Humboldt County district attorney, but the case was transferred to federal court after he was indicted by a U.S. grand jury in 2012.
The six charges of which Wilde was convicted include one count of murder in the course of a drug offense and one count of using a gun to commit first-degree murder while engaged in a drug offense.
The other convictions were conspiracy to produce and distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants; manufacture and distribution of more than 1,000 plants; using guns in relation to drug trafficking by arming his workers; and using a gun during a drug-related violent crime by killing Jaurez-Madrid.
Under federal law, Wilde faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 55 years in prison and a possible maximum sentence of two life terms, as well as a fine of up to $1.5 million.
Defense attorney Tony Serra said today that Wilde believed he was acting in self-defense.
“He did not go up there to kill,” Serra said.
Serra said Wilde had been in a “power struggle” with the workers, that “there was a lot of aggression going on between them” and that the workers had allegedly stolen back one of the guns he had retrieved.
He said Wilde testified during the trial that when he arrived at the trailer, Lopez-Paz allegedly pointed a gun at him.
Wilde “saw a gun and believed he was in imminent peril,” Serra said. The attorney said Wilde remembers firing only the first three of a total of six shots he fired and that he then suffered a “stress-induced amnesiac episode” and could not remember what happened next.
Serra said Wilde was growing medical marijuana for a Bay Area collective. He said Wilde went to the trailer the evening of the shooting to arrange to have the men paid with money Wilde’s girlfriend was supposed to be withdrawing from a bank and to arrange a ride to Sacramento for them.
Serra said defense attorneys plan to appeal.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News