The fall guy

A Chico youth arrested in a high-school party scandal is paying for the sins of teenage sex and drugs, power politics and sensationalistic journalism

Derek Rickmers was sentenced to six years in state prison last month after making a plea bargain in May.

Derek Rickmers was sentenced to six years in state prison last month after making a plea bargain in May.

Photo By Tom Angel

One year ago a shocking account of teenage alcohol abuse, promiscuous behavior and an exceedingly callous sexual assault in a middle-class Chico neighborhood stunned and angered the community.

Loaded with astounding accusations and blunt language, the story exploded into the community’s consciousness on Nov. 9, 2002, with a sensational front-page article in the local daily newspaper that described a despicable crime committed upon an underage and unconscious girl at an out-of-control party of mostly Pleasant Valley High School students. A Butte County sheriff’s investigator called it the worst case he’d seen, including sexual assaults “involving 3-year olds.”

For the next two weeks a series of front-page stories fanned the flames and in the process singed reputations and triggered profound fury and demands for justice.

The initial story in the Enterprise-Record set the tone for the media frenzy that followed and more or less sealed the fate of Derek Rickmers, a PV dropout and, at age 20, one of the oldest people at the party. The story fed off itself, creating reaction that would in turn become fodder for the next installment.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey, normally a media-savvy politician, found himself on the defensive from the start—he said he was misquoted in the initial story—and politically damaged by the same media that he had always counted on to promote his reputation as a tough anti-crime, pro-victim prosecutor.

This is a story of how the reporting on a single event, one that may never have come to the public’s attention, created blind fury and caused otherwise well-meaning people to lash out and look for someone to blame.

Now Rickmers, who admits to making some terribly poor choices that infamous night, will spend up to the next five years in state prison and then have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. A kid with no history of sexual offenses and far from the only one participating in the party’s awful events, he is arguably paying for the sins of local teenagers, the outrage of the community and the wounds suffered by the most powerful politician in Butte County.

Derek Rickmers is no saint. He’s had brushes with the law, though up till a year ago nothing unusual, nothing that many of his peers hadn’t encountered. He just got caught. He once took his mom’s car without her permission, and she reported it stolen. He pled on that case. He was also arrested for possession of marijuana and for driving on a suspended license.

On the other hand, Derek Rickmers is no sexual predator lurking in the shadows, endangering women.

According to a report written by Dr. James Pratt, a clinical and forensic psychologist hired by the young man’s attorney, Rickmers is not a dangerous man.

“The overall pattern of psychological findings is one of minimal risk to the community should probation be granted,” Park wrote in his report, dated Oct. 29, 2003. “Therefore, from a psychological viewpoint, a decision to grant probation is in the best interest of the community at this time.

“Mr. Rickmers is not likely to reoffend and is not likely to criminally act out. No deviant sexual interests. It can plausibly be concluded then that the events of October 5, 2002, were the result of opportunity and not any deviant interest in under-aged girls. In my 20 years working with sex offenders and in my 10 years of working with [sex offender] registrants in my position at the Chico Parole Unit, Mr. Rickmers does not compare with this group of individuals.”

Rickmer’s mother, Reta, is an art teacher at PV. And of course she, with a mother’s love, stands by her son.

“Derek is extremely affectionate,” she said. “He’s very friendly and extremely sociable. All the kids liked him from a young age. He was an organizer, and he wanted to have people around him.

“All the way through eighth grade he was good student and on the honor roll. But in high school he just didn’t like it anymore. He quit when he turned 18. I felt terrible.”

The victim in this case was then a 16-year-old basketball player who had just transferred to PV at the beginning of the year from Champion Christian High. She is a tall, athletic and attractive with sharp features and blond streaks in her auburn hair, which she wears in a popular waved perm style.

Other PV students said she hung around with members of that semi-mythical group that every school has, the “fast girls” who have bad reputations. Whether this image, which sets a gross double standard, at best, was cemented before or after the rumors of the party buzzed through the school is unclear.

After the incident, she tried to return to PV, but in time, because of the never-ending taunts and finger pointing, had to transfer to Chico High School, where, she would later say, she suffered the same abuse. So she took an early exit exam and moved out of state. She is currently attending a community college.

What follows is based upon information from court documents that rely on the investigation of Butte County Sheriff’s Detective Robert Ponce. Because of the generally inebriated state of all witnesses, the chronology of events at the party was never firmly established.

On Oct. 5, 2002, the girl and her friend attended a party thrown by a classmate at a house on Sir William Court in northwest Chico. The girls were juniors and newly established friends.

Earlier in the evening the girls had eaten dinner at the Olive Garden restaurant with the friend’s mom. After dinner, they went to the friend’s house, where they called another friend who filled them in on the details of the party, which was at the home of a classmate whose parents were out of town. There would probably be as many as 100 people there.

At about 9:30, the friend grabbed an empty plastic water bottle that had been issued to PV students by school officials a few weeks earlier following a scare that the city’s water system was possibly contaminated. She filled the bottle with her father’s vodka. With the friend driving, they went off to the party, where they arrived at about 10:15.

They shared a few swigs of the vodka, then split up, with the girl going to the back yard, where she began drinking plastic cups of keg beer.

That, she would later say, was the last thing she remembered until waking up on the upstairs pool table with her skirt hiked up and a number of young men sexually violating her with a pool cue. She couldn’t identify her assailants, she said.

Her next memory was of being yelled at by another girl and told to leave the party.

An angry group of women confronted Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey at a rally in Chico’s Downtown Plaza Park last fall, a week after Ramsey’s comments in a story in the Enterprise-Record set off a firestorm of feminist protest.

Photo By Tom Angel

The Monday morning after the Friday party two girls came up to the girl at school. They said they’d heard that she’d had sex with their boyfriends. She told them she didn’t remember anything from the party. Her lack of memory, referred to as an “alcoholic blackout” in the court documents, unhinged her from any responsibility for her actions that night, at least in the eyes of the prosecution.

Rickmers was invited to the party by his good friend Tavis Taylor, the older brother of the 17-year old juvenile for whom the party was thrown and the person who bought three kegs of beer, for which he would later be prosecuted, fined and placed on probation.

Because of his age at an otherwise teen party, Rickmers, the prosecution said, served as a “chaperone,” which increased his culpability in the events that took place.

According to the probation report, several witnesses said the girl was “acting promiscuously” and at one point asked loud enough for several people to hear, “What does a girl have to do to get fucked around here?”

Testimony indicates the 16-year-old made herself available for sex and consented to do so with at least five boys that night. However, legally a minor cannot give consent for sex. All five of the young men, two 18-year-olds and three juveniles, were later arrested.

According to the interviews of those at the party, Rickmers suggested going upstairs to the loft and the pool table. Witnesses, including three minors who were arrested for sexual assault, told Ponce that Rickmers “instigated a series of vaginal penetrations with a pool cue on the victim. At least one other minor assaulted her with a pool cue stick. Others penetrated the victim with their fingers. It was at this point that the victim apparently awoke in pain and the victim’s friend picked her up and placed her on a bathroom floor.”

Rickmers, Ponce said, told him that once the others in the room started “playing paper, rock, scissors to see who would get with the victim next,” he realized things had gotten out of hand.

The probation report says, “[I]t appears the victim in this case was a bit more promiscuous than an average 16-year-old. Nonetheless, the victim was vulnerable due to her drunkenness, and the defendant took advantage of her drunken state.”

The party was on a Friday. By Monday rumors had begun spreading through the classrooms and halls of PV. By the following Friday, a school counselor had heard enough to tell the school resources officer, who in turn called the Butte County Sheriff’s Department.

On Oct. 15, Detective Ponce began contacting those who’d attended the party, including the girl. One witness testified she “was extremely intoxicated, out of control, too drunk for her own good.”

But another, who later helped the girl out to the friend’s car, told Ponce the victim was not that drunk and appeared to enjoy the pool table incident. There were six or seven people in the room, he said, while other rooms in the house were occupied with partygoers having sex.

Ponce would later testify he had no reason to doubt the young man’s veracity.

But the prosecution said the 16-year-old girl was assaulted after she had consumed so much alcohol that she was no longer responsible for her actions and unable to give consent to sexual acts.

Her friend, according to Ponce, was not concerned about what had happened to her. Two months before, at a similar party, the friend told Ponce, the girl had “performed” on a pool table, stripping down to her bra and panties. And she had engaged in sexual intercourse with two different young men that same evening.

The girl was new to school and only trying to fit in, Ponce was told. The victim, the friend said, had a reputation as being somewhat “loose.”

Three weeks later the news became publicto the larger community.

The E-R’s story, headlined “Assault sickens investigator; DA unconvinced,” started the machine that would eventually crush Rickmers.

“Five Pleasant Valley High School students and one adult were arrested in what one investigator called the most disturbing case he has ever worked on,” the story began.

Butte County Sheriff’s Sgt. Andy Duch, who was not the primary investigator in the case, told E-R reporter Eleanor Cameron, “There were 20 to 30 men standing around waiting to take a turn with the victim. …”

The story then shifted to District Attorney Ramsey, who, when asked how he would prosecute the crime, suggested the victim had consented to perform some sexual acts and that “you can’t say the young lady is without fault.”

Ramsey, recounting the phone interview with Cameron, called it “through the looking glass.”

He said that when he told the reporter that the victim had brought her own alcohol to the party, Cameron “cut him off” and accused him of “blaming the victim.”

“This was an interesting spin,” Ramsey said. “[Cameron] started expressing her opinion about how awful this was; that this was the worst case ever seen. I said, ‘Well, we’ve seen cases like this before.’ “

The story also quoted Ramsey as saying the victim was “doing the house,” a statement he later denied making.

In the third part of the story, Cameron asked Rocky Cruz, of the Rape Crisis Center, to respond to Ramsey’s statements.

Ramsey, right, sits with Deputy DA Bob Casper during Rickmers’ sentencing.

Photo By Tom Angel

Cruz said she wished Ramsey had made those statements to her and also said it sounded like the DA was blaming the victim.

Whatever was said, when published on Nov. 9 the story ignited a firestorm of anger against the DA, who now says his reputation was “absolutely” tarnished by the story.

Women’s groups, feminists and their male supporters wanted Ramsey’s head. On the dreary Saturday after the story came out a rally, organized by the Chico State Women’s Center, was held in the Downtown Plaza Park. Ramsey was in the crosshairs of many of the 400 to 500 women who attended.

Ramsey apologized for his remarks as printed in the E-R, “for words that were misconstrued and did not reflect my intent or my lifelong philosophy” on prosecuting sex crimes.

He was booed by many, who shouted back, “Prosecute!” and, “What are you going to do about it?”

He defended his record in prosecuting sex crimes and said his office would prosecute the defendants to “the fullest extent the law will allow.”

His speech received both applause and disdain.

He said he tried to approach women in the audience on an individual basis to present the facts as he saw them.

“The ones I talked to understood,” Ramsey later said. “I remember telling my daughter who’d come with me, ‘Well, three down, only 203,997 more to go.’ “

Of the six people arrested in connection with the case, the two 18-year-olds had their charges dropped, and the three minors pled guilty to sexual-assault charges after the DA threatened to try them as adults. Two of them served 180-day sentences in Juvenile Hall, and all three were all placed on three years’ probation.

Ramsey told E-R court reporter Terry Vau Dell that his office was focusing its efforts on prosecuting Rickmers.

“He is the mastermind behind the pool-room activities,” Ramsey said.

All five of the young men pointed to Rickmers as the instigator and would have testified had the case gone to trial. What’s more, a witness who wasn’t at the party testified that he heard Rickmers boasting about his actions the day after the event.

If there had been a trial, testimony concerning the victim’s behavior or the behavior of others at the party who engaged in sex would have been muted. In the preliminary hearing, whenever Rickmer’s attorney, Dennis Latimer, raised such issues, prosecuting attorney Leo Barrone objected and Judge Thomas Kelly ruled against Latimer.

Led to believe his best chance for probation lay in avoiding trial, Rickmers agreed on May 1, after six months in the Butte County Jail, to a plea bargain. He pled guilty to two counts of sexual penetration with a foreign object—even though he never admitted to using the pool stick—and two other counts were dropped.

Each count carried a possible 10-year sentence.

The victim, her family and the prosecuting attorney all indicated they were not interested in prison time for the defendant, said Latimer. They wanted to spare her having to go through a painful trial and relive a night of shame and degradation that forced her to leave school and eventually the state.

But on Nov. 14, following six more months in jail, Rickmers was sentenced to six years in state prison.

Ramsey said that Latimer is mistaken; that the family never indicated it was not interested in prison time for Rickmers. He said the victim’s family was angered by the fact that Rickmers continued to deny the charges even after taking the plea bargain.

Rickmer’s family says he is paying for the shockingly decadent teenage behavior, an angry community’s reaction and the political damage incurred by DA Ramsey.

Indeed, the probation report upon which Judge Thomas Kelly based his decision to sentence noted, “[T]his tragic event has shocked the community and a crime of this magnitude cannot go unpunished.”

On the morning of the sentencing in a Butte County Superior Courtroom, the tension and anguish were palpable.

Attorney Latimer was in an adjoining courtroom discussing another case. Judge Kelly took care of court business with his clerk and other attorneys setting trial and hearing dates. One man had come to lend some support to Rickmers. He said he had been in jail with him after getting “into some trouble with alcohol.” Rickmers, he said, was a good kid. He blamed Ramsey, as do most people who end up in the Butte County Jail.

Derek was led into the court room wearing a jail-issue green jumpsuit. His short, blond hair was slicked forward on his head.

“What did they do to his hair?” his mother Reta asked aloud, somewhat breaking the tension.

She sat with Derek’s stepfather, James Albertie, Derek’s girlfriend Nora and Derek’s younger brother Reed.

OUT OF THE PICTURE James Albertie, Reta Rickmers and Reed Rickmers at their home near Concow last month.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

The girl was joined in the courtroom by her mother, stepfather and an uncle.

The girl’s uncle, who looked to be in his 50s and was dressed in gray and had a black ponytail, addressed the judge first, using the word “rape,” saying the publicity surrounding the case was pervasive and as a result his niece would feel “forever violated.”

“We suffer at the extreme frustration to right what cannot be righted,” he said. “The assailant’s sentence has an end. We want the maximum punishment not only for the crime, but also to send a message to the community that such acts will not be tolerated.”

The girl’s stepfather, a beefy man with black hair, recounted that during the last year there had been much emotional stress. He called the case “very distasteful.”

He asked that in sentencing the judge consider the girl’s emotional well being.

“This was an emotional tragedy,” he said. “We all went to therapy. This leaves an emotional scar. She was crushed under the weight of the crime; her self-esteem was diminished. This goes beyond and affects our schools and community.”

And through it all, the stepfather said, Rickmers has shown a lack of remorse.

The victim spoke next, sniffing back tears. She recalled the name-calling and pointing, said she was forced to quit the basketball team and that her grade point average dropped from 4.0 to 1.3.

She became known, she said, as “that girl.”

“I know if it weren’t for the crime Derek Rickmers committed against me I would be a different person.”

The prosecutor, Leo Barrone, followed by telling the judge, “Your honor, that is a hard act to follow.”

He mentioned a letter Reta had written, but he didn’t read it. Instead he said it was a plea from a mother to show some mercy to her son,

Barrone said that in his years as a prosecuting attorney he had become jaded with the many letters he’s read from defendants making statements he expected them to make. But Reta’s letter, he said, “hit home in one point—in that this affects more than just the victim and families.”

At that point, Ramsey entered the courtroom dapper in a green suit and carrying a brown felt hat he’d worn against the rain outside.

Reta expressed her family’s sympathy toward the girl.

“We wish we could change it,” she said. “He has remorse and regret for what he did.”

She called him a good person and a caring son who’d been raised to know the difference between right and wrong.

“This was a huge mistake, he told me,” she said. “He was not a chaperone at the party or any kind of instigator. He has spent the last year in jail, and he has learned a lot. He wants a chance to move on with his life, too. He wants a chance, the same as the two 18-year-olds who were not charged or the others who were given probation.

“He’s already been singled out; even with probation he still has to deal with the consequences.”

Latimer, one of the most respected defense attorneys in the county, called the case one of the most difficult he’d ever had. In the past year, in high-profile cases, Latimer has seen three of his clients sentenced to state prison.

In his statement to Kelly, whom Latimer has known for years, since they were both attorneys, Latimer pointed to the initial story in the Enterprise-Record and the statement by Ramsey that the victim “was doing the house.”

“Mr. Ramsey said he was misquoted, that he never made the statement,” Latimer said. “I believe he was misquoted, but to the public that didn’t make any difference.”

Latimer argued that stories in the E-R made it appear that even a month after the incident, the investigation was still in its early stages.

(Ramsey later said that first story in the E-R was misleading because it failed to say that Rickmers and the others had already been charged. Without that information, he said, readers were later given the impression that charges were filed against Rickmers because of media pressure.)

“He began focusing his efforts on the prosecution of Derek Rickmers,” Latimer told the court. “He called him the ‘mastermind.’ Mr. Ramsey is wrong.”

Latimer argued that it was nearly impossible to say what happened that night because so many people were so drunk.

This photo of the family was taken four or five years ago, when Derek Rickmers was still living at home.

Courtesy Of Reta Rickmers

Ramsey, Latimer said, “is the mastermind of publicity.”

“He micromanages cases. He is a powerful man—a good man, but a powerful man. Mr. Ramsey wasn’t there that night. I wasn’t there that night.”

The behavior that happened that night would have taken place even if Rickmers wasn’t there, his attorney argued. “Why this happened, I don’t know; I can’t figure it out in my own mind. I have the greatest sympathy for this young lady, but I also have sympathy for Derek Rickmers.”

His client, he said, had already spent a year in jail and would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

"[Don’t] put him in prison for the next 10 years of his life based on speculation and the word ‘chaperone.’ “

Then it was Judge Kelly’s turn. He said he didn’t have to explain the reasoning behind his decision on the sentencing, which could have ranged from probation to 10 years on each count. But he did try to explain himself.

“This is a difficult case for the court from a lot of perspectives,” he began. “We have in this courtroom two people whose lives have been altered forever because of that evening. What I do today will not change that.”

Kelly said that Rickmers was involved in organizing the party and the fact he was four years older than the victim was significant. No matter what she did that night, the judge said, no one had a right to treat her the way witnesses described.

“Mr. Rickmers apparently thought they had the right. This was not sexual touching with hands, or sexual intercourse. It was beyond the pale, beyond the parameters you might think, beyond the court to believe anyone would consent to.”

He denied probation based on the nature of the crimes. “The victim,” he said, “was vulnerable, if self-abused, to physical and emotional injury.”

Rickmer’s mother Reta and his father, Arthur Mull, who now lives in Clearlake, were never married and separated soon after their younger son Reed, 18, was born. She and the boys moved in with artist and carpenter James Albertie in his rustic Concow home about 10 years ago, after she and he had married.

The house is a cobbled-together structure that fits neatly into a hillside in the shadow of Wild Mountain. Nora O’Connor, Derek’s girlfriend, lives in a cabin up the hill and behind the main house. She moved there after Derek’s arrest last year, Albertie said, because she could no longer afford the $600-a-month apartment they shared on West Sacramento Avenue.

O’Connor, 21, is from Seattle and works for Blue Shield. She is an attractive, articulate young woman who’s dated Rickmers for three years.

“The only reason I stuck by him was, we were on a break when the incident happened,” she explained. “I kicked him out at the end of September, but we got back together two weeks prior to him being arrested.”

She said when the detective called and left a message, Rickmers told her about the party and said, “I’ll bet it’s about some girl who got drunk.”

She said Detective Ponce came to their place about 3:30 on that Friday afternoon and said he wanted to talk to Rickmers about the party.

“Derek said OK,” she recalled. “He was supposed to pick me up at work, and at 4 I got an e-mail from the front desk that told me to call Derek’s mom.”

Reta told O’Connor the news that Derek had been arrested.

“When I talked to her, I freaked out on the phone, hung up and called her back,” O’Connor said. “Even after the arrest, Ponce said Derek would be out by Friday, out on [his own recognizance].”

But he wasn’t.

“This was the story of 2002, but nobody understood the situation,” O’Connor said. “If anybody instigated things, it was her.”

O’Connor said she’s not sure what’s she’s going to do now.

“I’ve had my life on pause for a year,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting this to be the outcome. This is who I want to spend the rest of my life with. But I don’t feel I want to wait; I don’t want to put my life on pause for much longer, and I think of the baggage he has to carry. I wish he would have never taken that plea bargain.”

She said Chico is too small for her and that she might head back to Seattle.

“This has not been the worst thing for him,” she said. “It’s opened up his eyes. I think it helped him a lot. And our relationship has changed for the stronger, even though I haven’t touched him for a year.

“People look at me like I’m crazy. They call me ‘Hillary Clinton.'”

BETTER DAYS Derek Rickmers and his girlfriend Nora O’Connor together on Halloween last year, three weeks after the infamous PV party and five days before Rickmers was arrested for sexual assault in connection with the party.

Courtesy Of Reta Rickmers

Rickmer’s mother, Reta, 50, is a breast cancer survivor who was featured on the cover of this paper two years ago. She wears her blond hair short, and it effectively frames her dark-blue eyes. She said she is still trying to come to grips with what has happened.

“This is very hard,” she said. “The feeling right now is that what happened wasn’t fair and it was undeservedly harsh. He is paying for the fact that people in Chico drink too much at a young age. They want to make an example out of him. We’ve used the word ‘scapegoat,’ and that is true. I’ve had so many people come to me and tell me that the sentencing was excessive.

“None of them think that Derek should receive no punishment, but that and the fact that it is so uneven in the way that it’s been handed out. All these kids who got probation or no charges, and then Derek gets six years for basically the same thing? It’s absurd.”

She said her son is taking things as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

“He is being very mature about it, and that is one of the things that makes it easier for me. He is resigned to making the best of it and to doing his time and getting it over with. … He wants to be trained as a mechanic, and he wants to learn Spanish. So he’s got a really good attitude.”

Still she can’t hide her great disappointment with everything that transpired.

“When I hired Denny Latimer to be my lawyer, he said he had a couple of goals to get out of this case,” she recalled. “The main one was to keep Derek from going to prison. The second was to make sure that people did not use him as a scapegoat. The third was that he didn’t get bulldozed. But all that happened.”

Reta said she’s been a feminist “since the word was invented,” but she believes the victim in this case has to take some responsibility for what happened.

“As you get more equality, you also have to take an equal amount of responsibility,” she said. “I just don’t agree with people being made victims and not having to take any responsibility for their behavior. I’m not saying I don’t feel sorry for her. I do, honestly I do.”

James Albertie, Derek’s stepfather, is a pleasant, gentle man whose face just sort of relaxes into a smile, even when he’s angry. He’s been a stepfather since Derek was 7 years old.

“He was very happy to have me as a step-dad,” Albertie, 58, recalled. “This was my first marriage, and he was very affectionate, very friendly.”

Before they got married, he invited Reta and the boys to move in with him and built two rooms onto his house for the boys.

“It was fine for a number of years, until Derek became a teenager, and then we had a lot of problems,” Albertie said.

“Derek wouldn’t do anything unless he was automatically the best at it, and he couldn’t make it with authority figures. There was a lot of frustration and anger, and we didn’t know where it was coming from.”

He said in recent years he and Derek began getting along much better and that Derek took responsibility for the earlier friction.

Albertie said he’s sorry that he could never get their side of the story out.

“A lot of my feelings are anger. For a month, every day the story was on the front page of the Enterprise-Record. It was really upsetting because we knew that what took place was a lot different than these reports, and we always wanted just to get our side out so that it was balanced.

“We never got that opportunity. I found that very frustrating. We felt that the only way this could have come out and been fair or just was a trial where everybody understood everything that took place. But you know, the lawyer convinced us that Derek would have a better chance, a lesser prison term or probation, by taking these two pleas than going to trial. I don’t think [Derek] ever realized what he was actually pleading to. I don’t think that the judge had much choice.”

Albertie said he’d be the last person to blame the victim in a sexual assault but questions society’s absolute avoidance to do so and wonders whether we are unfairly tilting the legal process.

“I can understand that for years and years in our system women have really gotten the raw end of the deal,” he said. “They’ve been afraid to come forward on rape charges. They’ve been put through hell when they have been taken to trial. Their names have been destroyed, and there have been so many things where men have gotten off on these charges. There’s been a long history of that, and in the last few years I think there has been a reactionary swing that’s gone the other way, because now there are all these rape shield laws where you can never go back and find out anything about the past.

“There is nothing to excuse the actions that took place. Derek was wrong with what he did that night. But so was everyone else.”

Rickmers, who was moved to the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy the day before Thanksgiving to await final placement in state prison, wrote the following letter in pencil and on jail stationery to the News & Review on Nov. 20.

“This ordeal has been in control of my life for almost 13 months now. I do have a lot of info and opinions I’d like to share, though that’s why I’m writing you. I would appreciate it if you refrained from attacking the girl as much as you can. We were both in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we both made mistakes. There’s no reason to go there anyway.

“My real beef is with Ramsey and the so-called ‘legal system,’ which is a pathetic joke. No one could ever understand the bias that occurs every day unless they experience its injustices first-hand. The only way to beat this system is to have connections with the DA. I’ve seen the DA use scare tactics by piling up charges to force a plea in every single case. There is no such thing as ‘OR’ or ‘bail reduction.’ They abuse your rights and leave you in jail till you wear down enough to take a plea. They lie to you about what will happen to get you to sign. Then they use their No. 1 tool, probation and its recommendations, to finish you off. …

“I have no faith in the system. It’s a political circus with Ramsey as ringleader and an insurance policy called ‘probation recommendations.’ “

“If you need proof for yourself,” wrote Rickmers, “get a hold of the statistics. I’m sure you’d be surprised by the conviction percentage for Butte in the past few years, especially for sex crimes.”

In the end, ironically, Rickmers and Ramsey seem to agree on one thing: The Butte County DA prosecutes sex crimes with a vengence.