After months of telling a federal court he intended to plead guilty to charges that he murdered one of the workers tending his marijuana farm, a Kneeland man has reconsidered and appears ready to take his case to trial.
Mikal Xylon Wilde, 32, was indicted federally March 1, 2012 on six counts, including murder in the commission of a narcotics offense, for the Aug. 25, 2010 fatal shooting of Mario Roberto Juarez-Madrid, of Santa Rosa, Guatemala, on a large-scale marijuana growing operation near Kneeland. Wilde — the first Humboldt County resident to be federally prosecuted for murder in decades — began working toward a plea agreement with the feds in December, after they decided not to seek the death penalty in the case.
In March, Wilde told the court he had entered into “an agreement in principal” that just needed a bit more time for review. Then, in May, Wilde asked for a final continuance in the case to allow a private defense attorney — J. Tony Serra — to offer him a second opinion on the agreement. Apparently, Serra didn't like the deal, as Wilde appeared in court last week and informed the judge he was leaving the deal on the table, ditching his public defender (Daniel Blank), hiring Serra and prepared to proceed to trial on July 22.
The interesting about face is made all the more so by Wilde’s choice of attorney. The long-haired Serra is a bit of a cult figure in the legal profession. He famously won the acquittal of Black Panther founder Huey Newton in a high-profile murder case but North Coasters will likely remember him most for his successful representation of a host of Redwood Summer protesters and his involvement in the lawsuit against Humboldt County and Eureka law enforcement officers for swabbing pepper spray into the eyes of nine protesters in the lobby of Pacific Lumber Co. offices in Scotia and then-Congressman Frank Riggs’ Eureka office.
Known for having taken a vow of poverty, wearing hand-me-down suits —sometimes tailored with staples and duct tape — Serra made national headlines in 2005 when he was imprisoned for tax evasion after refusing to pay income taxes in protest of the Iraq war. (Serra was similarly imprisoned in the 1970s for failing to pay taxes in protest of the Vietnam War).
According to an article in the L.A. Times
, Serra took his 2005 prison sentence in stride. “I would rather get down with inmates,” Serra told the paper. “They’re interesting, they’re dramatic, they've overstepped the bounds of society. Some of it is high principle; some of it is low principle. But these people are extraordinary. They’re not ordinary. These are my people.”
Unusual antics and prison stints aside, Serra is also a damn good lawyer, boasting what colleagues call a “remarkable acquittal rate.”
Wilde faces life in federal prison and a fine of up to $10 million if convicted on murder, conspiracy and marijuana charges. He was arrested Aug. 26, 2010 after officers responded to the CalFire airbase in Kneeland to find a man suffering from a gunshot wound to the face, and another dead at a nearby property.
During a hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to hold Wilde to stand trial in Humboldt County before the feds took on the case, testimony indicated the shooting came after a dispute broke out between Wilde and his employees.
Just a year after emerging from Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, Wilde was apparently again in financial trouble, according to court records, with a bank moving to foreclose on his home on Greenwood Heights Road near Kneeland after Wilde fell behind some $33,000 in mortgage payments. Wilde had allegedly invested heavily in a marijuana growing operation near Kneeland on a property he’d purchased under the name Ashland Ranch LLC. Wilde allegedly hired three men from the Sacramento area — Juarez-Madrid, Fernando Lopez and Christopher Bigelow — to work the sprawling hillside property, which contained more than 1,500 marijuana plants.
The dispute allegedly broke out after Wilde informed the men, who’d been living on the property for a couple months, that he was running out of money and couldn't afford fuel for a watering truck the men were using to irrigate the property. Instead, Wilde allegedly told the men, they’d have to water the plants by hand. According to preliminary hearing testimony, the men balked, asking to be paid for their work and taken home. Wilde allegedly told the men he’d come back later in the day to pay them and take them home. But when he returned to the property the next day, he allegedly opened fire, killing Juarez-Madrid and seriously wounding Lopez.
Serra was not immediately available for comment, but the Journal
will update this story if he returns our call.