Marci Kitchen's booking photo.
Judge Kaleb Cockrum today set a Monday hearing at which Marci Kitchen is expected to enter a guilty plea to the full set of charges she is facing for the hit-and-run deaths of two teenage girls, one of whom was her daughter.
More than two years have passed since Kitchen allegedly was driving drunk and ran down the 14-year-old girls — Kiya Kitchen and Faith Tsarnas
— as they skateboarded on Eel River Drive. Tsarnas died at the scene and Kiya Kitchen succumbed to her injuries a day later on July 13, 2016.
Kitchen faces charges of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence and DUI causing injury, with special allegations that she caused the girls' deaths and fled the scene.
Friday’s hearing had previously been scheduled to discuss potential juror questions but the tenor quickly changed after Kitchen’s defense attorney, Deputy Conflict Counsel Meagan O'Connell, presented the court with a nine-page “white form” plea that had been filled out.
Some in the packed courtroom appeared caught off guard, although Joe Kitchen, the defendant’s ex-husband and the father of Kiya Kitchen
, told local blogger Kym Kemp before today’s hearing that he was contacted by a victim advocate on Thursday and told that Kitchen was pleading guilty. Visibly emotional afterward, he declined to comment further.
Cockrum explained that he wanted Kitchen in attendance for the change of plea hearing and set down how he was assigning courtroom seats for the victims’ families and their friends, as well as the defendant and her family and friends for Monday’s hearing.
Another section of the courtroom will be reserved for attorneys and members of the press, leaving seven seats for the public. The judge emphasized that no standing would be allowed, stating “that’s a security issue.”
Deputy District Attorney Stacey Eads made clear after Friday’s hearing that no plea deal was involved with the sudden shift in the case.
“She’s pleading as charged,” she said. “The people have offered nothing.”
Asked what Kitchen is facing at sentencing, Eads said there was “a bit of a dispute on that” and more clarity was expected to be provided by the court on Monday but she would put Kitchen's total exposure at about 11 years.
The expected plea comes on the heels of O'Connell laying the groundwork to move the case out of Humboldt County by filing a change of venue motion
. Kitchen’s trial, which was expected to last six weeks, had been scheduled to begin Sept. 4.
There’s no doubt the case has captured the attention of many in the community, which was in the throes of mourning the deaths of two teenage girls when news broke that Kitchen was the suspect and a back-and-forth between CHP officials and her then-attorneys
ensued over whether she was in hiding or prepared to present herself to authorities.
That was followed by a two-month lag in charges being filed against the 40-year-old Fortuna resident and a series of extended delays in the case spanning nearly two years, in part because of the serious nature of the charges and a change in Kitchen’s defense attorneys.
Monday’s change of plea hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.