- PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT
Twenty-year-old Patrick Wollett’s chains rattled as he shuffled into a SLO County courtroom wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, his face taut and wide-eyed in an expression that seemed to personify the heart of his defense: He was just a dumb kid who got wrapped up with violent dope fiends and, unfortunately, Joshua Houlgate was murdered in his SLO trailer on
Dec. 6, 2007.
That’s Wollett’s story according to his former attorney, Greg Jacobson, who stepped down at the request of Wollett’s and, oddly, Houlgate’s family on Sept. 2, 2009—but only after Wollett was convicted of first-degree murder; just before sentencing.
Wollett’s new attorney, Thomas McCormick, filed a motion for a new trial, which was heard by Judge Dodie Harman on March 12. The crux of McCormick’s motion is Jacobson called no experts to the stand or any character defense witnesses. He had just one brief visit with Wollett at the SLO County jail before trial, and despite Wollett’s pleas to take the stand, Jacobson forbid it.
Harman made no decision, saying she would need time to review the gargantuan court file.
So, on April 23, Wollett will either be granted a new trial or sentenced to prison as a murderer. Though he wasn’t accused of pulling the trigger, Wollett still faces 29 years to life (the triggerman, Chad Westbrook, was convicted and sentenced to 67 years to life).
During the hearing for a new trial, Jacobson sat in the witness box casually gazing at his former client as he emphasized the reasons he never put Wollett on the stand to testify: He’s uneducated, he smokes pot, and, basically, he would’ve been “destroyed on cross examination” by the prosecution.
Wearing a pin-stripe suit and thick, black leather cowboy boots, Jacobson slouched in his chair and flopped his arm over a retaining wall. Responding to questions from McCormick, he acknowledged he did not visit Wollett in jail during the trial, nor did he conduct any “mock questioning” to test his client’s ability to testify. Instead, Jacobson said, “The mock questioning took place in my mind.”
Surprisingly, one name was mentioned that had been previously banned during the actual trial as were certain witnesses who would have mentioned that name.
“Have you represented Eddie Salais in the past?” Deputy District Attorney Matt Kerrigan asked.
Eddie Salais IV is a multiple felon whom Jacobson defended in several felony cases until a 2004 gun charge in Grover Beach.
“That whole discussion of Eddie Salais … it was not permitted at trial,” Jacobson said.
In fact, Jacobson made the motion to have Salais’ name banned from court. In addition to being Jacobson’s previous client, Salais also fathered a child with the sole eyewitness to Houlgate’s murder, Sarah Lonsinger-Rey. Jacobson said he wasn’t aware of that relationship during the trial, “In fact, I was shocked.” He added that Salais had been implicated in a previous “home invasion,” but Wollett wasn’t part of it so he excluded the mention during trial. There was no further discussion regarding why Salais’ name was mentioned.
Outside the courtroom, Wollett’s family members stressed to McCormick and reporters that they believed much of Jacobson’s testimony was false. Asked about her son’s fate, Chris Anne Wollett anxiously rolled a stack of court documents in her hands.
“I just—I don’t know,” she said.