Two men were found guilty by separate juries this week in Placer County of first-degree murder in a 2006 case in which a man was tortured and killed on the belief that he had stolen chemicals needed in an illegal drug-manufacturing operation.
Donald Hugh Sherman, 44, of Penryn was found guilty Monday by one Placer jury of ordering the torture and murder of his cousin, Guy Farmer, 37, while the second defendant, Peter Schoemig, 32, of Reno, was found guilty today of murder by the second jury.
Sherman faces a state prison sentence of life without possibility of parole while Schoemig faces a prison term of 25 years to life.
The two, who are in custody in the Placer County Jail in Auburn, have been ordered to return Nov. 30 for sentencing by Superior Court Judge J. Richard Couzens, who presided over the three-month trial.
David Tellman, who prosecuted the case with Doug Van Breemen for the Placer County District Attorney’s Office, said it was the first time ever that a dual jury procedure had been used in a Placer criminal trial.
‘Both of the juries in this case reached just verdicts, considering the roles of each of the defendants in the death of Mr. Farmer,’ Tellman said.
The prosecutors said Farmer was killed because ‘he knew secrets’ about Sherman’s illegal operations, which included the manufacturing and selling of methamphetamine, and because he threatened to go to police over being tortured.
Tellman and Van Breemen told the juries in their opening and closing statements that Sherman suspected Farmer of having stolen several bottles of a chemical used in the drug-making operation. The theft and the subsequent crimes occurred over the Labor Day weekend in 2006.
When Farmer wouldn’t confess to the theft, Sherman called in a trio of ‘enforcers’ from Stockton to work the victim over. The enforcers arrived on Sept. 5, tied up Farmer and then beat him with their fists, kicked him, struck him multiple times on the knees and legs with a hammer and burned his boot-covered feet with an acetylene torch.
The missing chemicals were never found, and the enforcers left. Farmer, locked in Sherman’s garage, later broke free of his bonds and tried without success to start one of the vehicles in an attempt to drive through the garage doors. He was also yelling that he would go to the police and ‘tell on all of you.’
Sherman, carrying a firearm, and three other men recaptured Farmer and tied him up again. Sherman then made the decision to have Farmer killed by poisoning him with a solution of crushed prescription pills. Schoemig allegedly administered the fatal injection, the prosecutors said.
Schoemig and another man then loaded the body in a pickup truck, drove to a mine shaft outside of Reno and dumped the body there.
The body was discovered a month later by two men driving their Jeep around the mines.
After an initial investigation by Washoe County authorities, the case was referred to the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, which focused the probe on Sherman and several of his subordinates, including Brian Carr and Juan Figueroa, who eventually pleaded guilty to lesser offenses in the case and gave testimony against Sherman and Schoemig.
Sherman’s attorney, Kyle Knapp, told the jury his client did not order the torture or the killing of Farmer. Knapp said it was the enforcers and two other men on Sherman’s property that orchestrated the crimes and that Sherman could not control them.
‘Mr. Sherman wasn’t in control,’ Knapp said. ‘He was trying to withdraw. He wanted to get out of there. They wouldn’t let him.’
But Van Breemen said in a closing rebuttal that Sherman was not under duress and that he was in control of the situation.
‘He called the torturers,’ Van Breemen said. ‘He negotiated the price and he paid them after watching the torture. There was no withdrawal by Mr. Sherman. There is no evidence that he tried to do anything to stop the crime.’
The Sherman jury on Monday returned guilty verdicts on first degree murder, torture and possession of drugs for sale. They also voted guilty on nine counts of Sherman being an ex-felon in possession of firearms.
In addition, the jury found that two special circumstances against Sherman were true that the murder was intentional and inflicted by torture and that poison was used in the infliction of the murder.
The jury in the Sherman portion of the trial deliberated three days before returning its verdicts.
The Schoemig jury deliberated a day and a half before returning with a guilty verdict on first-degree murder. It acquitted Schoemig on the charge of torture.
In addition, the jury determined that special allegations that Schoemig inflicted torture in the murder were not true and that Schoemig did not commit murder by injecting poison in the victim.
Schoemig’s attorney, Richard Corbin, said in his opening and closing statements that his client feared for his safety and was forced to act under duress or intimidation from Sherman and the enforcers.