It's sort of inevitable that cops who think they nabbed a serial killer after six killings occurred are going to make inflammatory statements. But serial killer suspect Wesley Brownlee is still technically a suspect, he has not entered a plea, and his public defender is doing her best to get him a fair trial.
It made the national news last week when suspected serial killer Wesley Brownlee, 43, was arrested in Stockton, allegedly "out hunting" for a seventh victim, and "on a mission to kill," as Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said after the arrest. Brownlee was caught with a ghost gun that police say is traceable to the six victims — five in Stockton and one last year in Oakland — and had a dark face mask around his neck, and police said they had tailed him as he appeared to be seeking a victim late on a Friday night in Stockton.
But those statements about Brownlee by McFadden, and subsequent statements from San Joaquin County DA Tori Verber Salazar, are "inflammatory" according to Brownlee's attorney, public defender Allison Nobert. Nobert filed a motion Monday for a gag order that would prevent law enforcement from making further statements on the case to the media.
But, as Bay City News reports, the judge in the case, Judge Xapuri Villapudua, denied Nobert's motion, saying that further statements by investigators or police, at least for the time being, are unlikely to be prejudicial to a jury given how far out this trial is likely to be. Deputy District Attorney Elton Grau had argued that a gag order would hinder investigators at this stage.
"Here, we are in the very early stages, as Mr. Grau pointed out, trial is a year or more away," said Villapudua, per Bay City News. "We are also in the era of the 24-hour news cycle and it's highly likely that this case will not have the coverage that it's currently generating."
That seems optimistic, but for now there will be no gag order.
After the ruling, Judge Villapudua reportedly said, "My ruling does not prevent the [defense] from requesting a protective order in the future if she feels the need is arising."
Brownlee was formerly charged last week and he's expected back in court to enter a plea on November 14. He's been charged with three counts of first-degree murder, with more charges expected.
It's also come to light that Brownlee worked as an interstate truck driver — he had a curious arrest on his record from 2019 that had to do with failing to stop at a border crossing checkpoint in Arizona, so that explains that. It remains conceivable that unsolved murders in other jurisdictions that Brownlee was passing through could end up being tied to him.
As far as we know now, investigators believe Brownlee's first victim was 39-year-old Juan Vasquez Serrano, who was killed not far from Brownlee's childhood home in Oakland on April 10, 2021. Homeless woman Natasha LaTour, 46, the sole surviving victim, was shot in Stockton on April 16, 2021, six days after the Oakland killing.
Subsequent victims were all killed in more recent months, starting with Paul Yaw, 35, who was killed in Stockton on July 8, 2o22; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, who was killed August 11; Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, who was shot on August 30; Juan Cruz, 52, who was killed September 21; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, who was killed September 27.