On Friday, July 14, 1978, Patrick “Hooty” Croy, a 23-year-old Shasta-Karok Indian who worked in a logging camp, began a weekend of drinking whisky and beer and smoking marijuana and hashish in Yreka, California.
By Sunday evening, Croy, and his sister, Norma Jean Croy
, were among about 20 people partying in an apartment when police were called after neighbors complained of noise.
A witness said that Croy engaged in a heated conversation with one of the officers and tried to hit him, but was restrained by friends. Police left and Croy was overheard saying, “I’m going to get a gun,” as he returned inside the building.
After some discussion, Croy and several others in the group decided to go deer hunting and stopped by Croy’s residence so he could get his rifle—although he left without bullets because his wife refused to give him ammunition because he was so intoxicated.
They drove to the nearby town of Montague, California where one of their group had left his car. Once there, someone suggested they buy beer and bullets. Croy and a friend, Tad Super, picked up the friend’s car and then drove to the Sports and Spirits Liquor Store in Yreka.
This was Croy’s second visit to the store. On his previous visit, he had gotten into an argument with the store clerk, John Thurman, who believed he had given Croy about $2 in excess change and Croy refused to give it back.
As soon as Croy entered, the argument resumed and while it rattled on, Norma Jean Croy and another woman, Carol Thom, entered. Thom immediately became loud and abusive toward Thurman who ordered her out of the store unless she quieted down.
A scuffle ensued over a cigarette display case that was knocked over and Thurman went to the telephone to call police. He stopped when he felt a pain in his back caused by Norman Jean Croy jabbing a sharp object, possibly a beer can opener. She ordered him into the cooler. As they moved, Thom began grabbing his hair and face, shouting, “Stab him.” During the struggle, Thurman lost his glasses, but ran from the store calling for help. Outside, he saw Patrick Croy and implored him to stop the others.
At that point, a police car drove up and Patrick Croy, his sister, Thom and two others got into a car and drove off. Thurman yelled to the officer, “Get them!”
Thurman went back to the store to assess the damage and determined that there was a $20 discrepancy between the money in the till and the cash register tape and as many as four boxes of .22-caliber shells were missing.
Other police vehicles joined the pursuit of Croy’s car and at least one of the cars was fired upon. Croy drove to a cabin surrounded by several outbuildings in the mountains near an area known as Rocky Gulch. There Croy, Norma Jean and one of the others, Darrell Jones, ran into the hills behind the cabin. Thom and another of their group, Jasper Alford, remained below and when officers sought to apprehend them, began shouting at the police to shoot them. By this time, nearly 30 officers from the Yreka police department and the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department were on the scene.
Then, a volley of gunfire from the hillside forced the officers to retreat. One officer returned fire at a man in a red shirt—the same color shirt Croy was wearing earlier in the evening. Another round of gunfire from the woods wounded an officer in the right hand. Thom and Alford surrendered, but continued to shout, “Kill the pigs.”
A lull ensued. Two officers, including Yrecka police officer Jesse “Bo” Hittson, moved to the cabin to attempt to apprehend one of the three whom they believed had gone over a ridge. Jones engaged in a dialogue with another officer below about surrendering, saying that he and Norma Jean Croy were wounded.
Shortly after this, Hittson was shot as he left the shelter of the cabin and moved toward one of the outbuildings. When another officer yelled out that Hittson was dead, Jones yelled from the hillside, “Hooty? Where is Hooty? Have you killed Hooty?”
About 15 minutes later, officers saw someone moving near one of the buildings and ordered him out. A burst of gunfire followed and Croy shouted that he had been shot. He crawled out and was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Croy’s rifle was found under a stove behind the building loaded with three bullets—the same type that were missing from the liquor store. The single fingerprint on the gun was Croy’s. A forensic expert linked the rifle to the bullet that fatally struck Hittson in the chest.
At the jury trial in Placer County, where the case was moved due to the pre-trial publicity, Croy asserted a diminished capacity defense and was convicted in 1979 and sentenced to death. Norma Jean Croy was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life in prison.
On December 31, 1985, the California Supreme Court affirmed Croy’s conviction for conspiracy and assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, but set aside his conviction for murder, robbery and attempted murder due to erroneous jury instructions.
During his retrial in May 1990 before a jury in San Francisco, Croy testified that he acted in self-defense. He testified that Hittson shot him twice in the back and that because there was prejudice against American Indians in that area, he felt there was no option of surrender, so he fired back.
He was acquitted.
The trial court then entered a finding that, if the conspiracy and assault charges had been included in the retrial, Croy would have been acquitted of them as well. Yet, because the California Supreme Court had left conspiracy and assault charges in place, Croy was resentenced on those charges. He was given ten years probation and released from custody in 1990 after having served twelve years.
The trial court also commented that based on the evidence he had heard, he believed Norma Jean Croy was innocent.
After she was denied parole several times, a federal habeas petition was granted in 1997 by U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton who vacated her conviction due to ineffective assistance of defense counsel. Norma Jean Croy was released from prison on February 7, 1997.
That same year, after serving seven years on probation for the lesser charges related to the original conviction, Croy was returned to prison for a probation violation and given an indeterminate life sentence.
As a result, Croy filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court asking that the entire judgment of the 1979 trial be vacated. In 2005, over the objection of the state attorney general, a U.S. District Judge granted the writ, finding that Croy had received ineffective assistance of counsel in his 1979 trial.
As a result, all of the remaining convictions from the 1979 judgment were vacated. The government elected not to appeal, Siskiyou County decided not to re-try the case, and Croy was finally released on March 20, 2005, having spent a total of 19 years in prison, seven of which were on death row.
– Maurice Possley