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Death penalty decision looms in Forestville triple killing

  • Mark Cappello appears in Sonoma County Superior Court in March 2013. (PD File, 2013)

A decision is expected soon on whether to seek the death penalty against a Colorado man charged with killing three would-be business partners during a marijuana deal near Forestville, prosecutors said Thursday.

Detectives said Mark Cappello, 46, of Central City, Colo., shot the three men execution-style Feb. 5 as they packaged marijuana for transport to the East Coast.

Cappello and two accomplices were later arrested and charged with murder, but only Cappello is eligible for a death sentence if he's convicted at trial, now set for April 4.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who has yet to pursue capital punishment in any case since taking office in 2011, has not said what she plans to do.

But her decision is expected to be announced within the next month. A preliminary hearing was completed in October and Cappello has retained a permanent lawyer.

Judge Robert LaForge, who is overseeing the case, pressed prosecutors on the issue Thursday. How the district attorney chooses to proceed will affect defense strategies, trial scheduling and legal costs.

“A decision we're hoping is forthcoming within the next 30 days,” Deputy District Attorney Traci Carrillo said in court.

Ravitch is expected to consult her hand-picked death penalty committee as well as the victims' families and defense attorneys in reaching a decision. The process has been delayed in part because Cappello was deciding whether to retain his private lawyer, Michael Meehan, or get a court-appointed attorney. He announced Thursday he would keep Meehan.

Cappello and co-defendants Odin Dwyer, 38, also of Colorado, and Dwyer's father, Francis Dwyer, 66, of New Mexico, face trial in one of the most violent crimes to arise from the North Coast's lucrative marijuana trade.

According to preliminary hearing testimony, Cappello recruited the Dwyers to drive with him to Sonoma County to pick up about 70 pounds of marijuana. The plan was to drive it back across the country to New York, where it would be sold at a profit.

But the plan unraveled at a house off Ross Station Road. Odin Dwyer told police Cappello suddenly turned on two business partners and another man who was supplying the pot, shooting them each once in the head.

Killed were Todd Klarkowski, 43, of Boulder, Colo., Richard Lewin, 46, of Huntington, N.Y., and Raleigh Butler, 24, formerly of Sebastopol.

Odin Dwyer's statements to police could be used at trial, expected to run at least one month. Also, Francis Dwyer could be asked to testify against Cappello under a deal for reduced charges. The elder Dwyer was waiting at a Santa Rosa hotel when the killings occurred, according to testimony.

Cappello's lawyer has called Odin Dwyer's account of the slayings “a fiction.” He said the Dwyers ultimately took the marijuana and were the only defendants to profit from the killings.

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