Saturday, June 2, 2007

Cause of Fausnaugh's death uncertain

Tiffany Revelle -- Record-Bee staff
NICE -- More than two months have passed since the body of Nice resident Michael Eugene Fausnaugh, 39, was found in a dirt turnout by Highway 29's southbound lane. After three were held for his murder, the District Attorney's office chose not to file charges.

A pair of construction workers on their way to a work site stopped to tighten down their load, and found Fausnaugh's body in the early afternoon hours of Thursday, March 22. They reported the sighting to jail staff at the nearby Juvenile Hall facility, and Lake County Sheriff's Office deputies found the body at milepost marker 515 north of Mockingbird Lane in Upper Lake.

Highway 29 was closed between its intersections with the Nice-Lucerne Cutoff and Highway 20 for more than four hours, and detectives were on-scene until 3 a.m. gathering information.

Now, Public Information Officer Cecil Brown of the Lake County Sheriff's Office says further investigation hinges on a pathologist's report to determine the cause of his death.

"We're still waiting for information to come back from the pathologist," said Brown. "The District Attorney's Office can't make decision about who to charge and what to charge them with until we get that."
Specifically, he said they're looking for "information regarding the extent of the injuries, and whether one or more of the injuries contributed to his death," said Brown.

According to a March 27 LCSO press release, witnesses reported seeing Fausnaugh with Jamie Martin, Terri Kenney and Shamus Maroney the evening before his body was found at the Middle Creek Campground on Elk Mountain Road in Upper Lake. Witnesses told detectives that Fausnaugh had what appeared to be "significant head injuries," and described how Maroney, Kenney and Martin put Fausnaugh in their vehicle and left, reportedly to seek medical attention, according to the report.

Nice resident Maroney, 27, was already in custody after a March 23 arrest for a parole violation, and a murder charge was added after initial investigation.

Martin, 20, of Lucerne, and Kenney, 48, of Nice, were released March 29 under Penal Code 825, which essentially states that a defendant must be arraigned within 48 hours of the arrest. The District Attorney's Office has one year to gather evidence sufficient to refile, according to Lake County Jail staff.

"It's a complex case," said Brown. "There are a series of questions that can't be answered until the pathologist's report is done."

"The detectives from the Sheriff's office and the Lake County District Attorney's Office are involved in discussions about what crimes may have been committed and who is responsible, and they're determining what charges would be appropriate," said Brown. "They can't make that determination until they have solid information from the pathologist regarding cause of death."

Lake County does not have a pathologist, he added, so evidence had to be sent out of county to an independent contractor. When asked how long the process can take, Brown said, "It can take a very long time." Several months and even years elapse in some cases, he said, largely because of reliance on outside laboratories to complete some of the tests typically run in homicide cases.

"We know a lot about this case already," noted Brown. "We're just waiting for the pathologist's report. I wouldn't call it a cold case."

Brown further noted that all deaths are initially viewed with some suspicion until detectives are satisfied that no crime was involved.

"Clearly we have to be able to prove in court why the person died. A pathologist is involved in all homicide cases because we have to be able to prove in court that a specific action caused a person to die," said Brown.

Speaking to the commonality of using a pathologist in the investigations of deaths in Lake County, Brown said, "If the attending physician is willing to attest to the cause of death based on known medical history and conditions, then we don't involve the pathologist. In other cases when we are not satisfied that we can determine the cause of death, then a pathologist would be involved. A great number of the deaths investigated by the coroner's office are from natural causes."

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