Junk Forensics in San Diego - The Cheri Lynn Dale Story

By Charles Caldwell

Edited by Laurie Solomon, JD Editor

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 25, page 6

Cheri Lynn Dale in 2002

The date was Jan 24, 1990. Cheri Lynn Dale and her mother Connielou Caldwell had just left traffic court in San Marcos, CA. Cheri asked her mother to please stop by a house in Carlsbad CA. She had bought a small red telephone shaped like a Porsche as a birthday gift for her brother Fred Caldwell. The phone had ended up at Lisa Stanton's house at 2441 Torrejon Place. Lisa reluctantly handed the phone to Cheri through a slightly opened front door.

Cheri returned to the car almost in tears as the gift was missing a wheel and the plug was gone. When the two arrived home, Cheri showed me the damaged present and I assured her I could fix it. My name is Charles Caldwell. I am Cheri’s stepfather.

After supper, we all watched TV till bedtime. The next morning Connielou quietly fixed breakfast trying not to wake Cheri. Connielou, Grandma and myself all ate, talking as little as possible, as our dining room and living room are connected. Cheri was asleep on the hide-a-bed.

As Connielou was leaving for work at 6:30 a.m., a friend of Cheri's, Jason DeVoid, inquired if she was home. He was asked to please not wake her as she needed her sleep. I left for work at 7:45 a.m. while Grandma was doing dishes. When I departed, Grandma, Fred and Cheri were left at home. Fred woke up before Cheri and walked through to the kitchen, seeing Cheri still asleep on the couch.

At 9:30 a.m. Connielou called home to remind Cheri they were going shopping. Grandma said she would remind Cheri. At 11:45 Connielou picked-up Cheri at home at 1234 N. Coast Hwy 101, in Leucadia, and off they went to Escondido shopping. Prior to leaving the house, Cheri presented the birthday gift to Fred.

Shortly before 5 p.m. I arrived home from work. As I turned on the 5 p.m. news previews, I see an old friend at a murder scene. It was Richard Castenada, now a Detective for the Carlsbad PD. I brought it to Fred's attention that Richard was on the news.

My wife and Cheri arrived home at the same time the news report aired. Connielou walked in first, approaching the TV and exclaiming, “That’s the house where Cheri and I were yesterday!”

Between 8 and 9 a.m., Susan Taylor had been bludgeoned to death. She had been a guest at the Torrejon residence at that time. The house had been under surveillance for some time by a narcotic’s team. It was well known to the neighbors to be a drug house and hangout for trouble-makers.

When Cheri saw the news report about an hour later on a rerun, she made a hasty departure to see if any of her friends had any details on what had happened at Lisa's house.

On Saturday, 1-27-90, two days after the murder, Cheri was driven to LA with 4 other women to be a model for a skin care seminar. She wore jeans and a tank top. There were no bruises or scratches on her body according to Delores Entzminger and Joan Hall who were with her and her mother.

On 3-7-90, Cheri was interviewed at the scene of a drug bust by officers Sutt and Presley. I didn't see Cheri for some time after that. She had been staying with friends. The next jolt I recall is when she came walking in one evening in June of 91 with her new husband, Jeff Hilner. We were all shocked; Jeff was a drug dealer and town bully. She exclaimed to her mother that she couldn't get rid of him so she married him hoping he would change.

He had cut the tires and broken the windows of many of Cheri’s friends’ cars, anytime she was hiding from him. Jeff had mental problems. After he had nearly killed Cheri, we sent her to Texas to stay with her sister.

Jeff called her in Texas begging her to come back. He became violent when she refused and swore he would hurt her “real bad.” The conversation was taped by Cheri’s brother in law; David Davis, a Bear County Texas Deputy Sheriff. Jeff’s next move was to call my wife and inform her that he was on his way to burn our house down. I was very concerned, for I had knowledge that he had previously set two house fires. Sure enough, here he came spinning his wheels and yelling “I’m gonna burn your house down!” By now I had all I could take from this man, so I met him in the front yard and he decided to leave. Thank the lord we saw no more of Jeff until Cheri’s trial.

Three relevant actions occurred on Jan. 7, 1992. First, Jeff gave a voluntary interview to Detective Robert Wick of the Carlsbad PD in which he implicated Cheri in the Susan Taylor murder. Second, Detective Wick searched a residence in Leucadia where Jeff told him Cheri had stashed a bag of bloody clothes. Neither of these things could be proven simply because they were not true. The third and probably most regrettable action taken by Detective Wick; he reported to Detective Presley in a police supplement that evidence item #15 which was a rope of blond hair found in Susan Taylor’s left hand, was missing from the evidence room. Remember this date.
On 6-11-92, Wick, DDA Thomas Manning and officer Presley flew to San Antonio, Texas to interview Cheri. They interrogated her for 5 hours. Fingerprints, teeth impressions, and hair samples were collected.

On 6-26-92, Cheri’s hair was compared to the hair from the clutched fist of the victim by Rosemarie Neth of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Crime Lab. Detective Wick would later misrepresent Ms. Neth’s conclusion in Cheri’s arrest warrant.

On 9-29-92, the missing hair sample was found in Det. Wick’s undercover car by his boss Sgt. Spencer. This is the same hair sample that furnished probable cause to arrest Cheri. Remember; the hair was reported lost almost 8 months prior. Then it was sworn to have been compared to Cheri’s three mo. before it was found. You think that's odd? Check this out;

On 12-16-92, the same comparison test was done again by the same Lab. Now item #14 & #15 both contain a scissor cut lock of blond hair. #14 was bits of hair found by the dead girl’s arm, but the best part is Cheri’s hair sample is now about 4" shorter than it had been in the previous test. It had lost the approximately the same length as the scissor cut locks of blond hair now appearing in the present test of #14 and #15. According to the arrest warrant written by Detective Wick, the results of the 6-26-92 test and the 12-16-92 test showed that Cheri’s hair and the hair in the dead girl's hand were “Similar in all respects”. This conclusion was an outright lie.

The game that the prosecution was playing is starting to become painfully obvious. Later on, a grand jury and a trial jury was not made aware of the false forensic conclusions contained in Cheri’s arrest warrant.

On 8-2-93, the DQA portion of the DNA of Cheri’s hair and the victim's comparison test was reported to the Carlsbad PD by Cellmark Diagnostics, Maryland. Paula Yates swore to the Grand Jury that Cheri “Cannot be excluded as the source of the DNA found in the hair in the victim’s left hand.”

On 8-23-93, Cheri was arrested in Texas by Detective Wick and DDA Manning.

On 9-12-93, Cheri is released by Judge Gus Strauss to fly to San Diego at her own expense to face Manning & Wick in court.

On 9-15-93, Cheri was incarcerated in San Diego.

On 2-22-94, After countless delays, Cheri appears before Judge Charles Rogers. Her appointed attorney Steven Wadler filed a complaint charging Manning and Wick with Perjury, Falsified Evidence, and Outrageous Governmental Misconduct. After discovering the false forensic information in the arrest warrant, Judge Rogers released Cheri on her own recognizance.

On 4-18-94, Paula Yates the senior molecular biologist at Cellmark Diagnostics swore to the grand jury that Cheri's hair could not be excluded as the source of the DNA obtained from the hair from the victim's hand. After Cheri’s arrest and indictment however, the same expert retracted that conclusion saying “Dale is excluded as the possible source of the DNA” But it was too late, the baseless arrest and indictment already occurred.

On 8-12-94, Steven Wadler was removed from Cheri's case.

On 12-12-94, Cheri's new appointed lawyer Michael Berg dropped the motion to dismiss Cheri case that Wadler had raised along with the Perjury and other charges. He did this without his client's foreknowledge or consultation. As neither I nor any of my family had any confidence in Mr. Berg's ability, we began contacting other sources for help. Mr. Berg became aware of this and informed us that it was too close to trial and that Judge Gill would not permit a change of attorneys at this time.

On 3-23-95, trial starts. The trial was a disaster. Cheri’s alibi was never presented nor were any character witnesses called. Among Mr. Berg’s choice comments in his closing argument was a quote from Adolph Hitler, a reference to Richard Nixon as a crook, and the brilliant remark “If Cheri didn’t kill Susan, who did?”

On 4-25-95, a guilty verdict was reached. David Berman was then appointed to represent Cheri in a motion for a new trial. He did a great job but unlike DDA Manning, he played by the rules and lost.

On 1-11-96, the motion for a new trial started. Now DDA. Manning is defending Cheri’s ex-attorney Michael Berg, and bragging on what a wonderful job he did defending her at trial.

On 1-1-19-96, Judge David Gill of San Diego Superior Court decided that neither Cheri nor any of her family possessed any credibility but Berg and Manning's honesty was beyond reproach. New trial denied.

On 5-8-96, Russell Babcock was retained as Cheri’s appellate attorney.

On 9-9-97, the first oral argument was denied.

On 4-25-98, through the efforts of Ken Culver of the San Diego Sheriff’s Internal Affairs Division, we obtained the missing forensic tests and the missing pages of others. The tests were on:

3-3-90, Charles Merritt, Criminologist, SD Crime Lab (revealing his false test conclusion that led to all of the other hair tests)

6-26-92, Rose Neth, SD Crime Lab (pg. 3 where she states "No conclusion could be reached" contrary to what Detective Wick swore in the arrest warrant.)

12-16-92, Rose Neth SD Crime Lab (pg. 2 where we learn there were scissor cut locks of blond hair in evidence that should not have been scissor cut locks.

5-20-94, Paula Yates, Cellmark Lab Test conclusion that was contrary to her conclusions in the arrest warrant and at the grand jury. (Note: Yates was flown to trial and Mr. Berg failed to expose her role in Cheri’s arrest and indictment using her first misleading conclusion.)

Now we had proof of erroneous and/or tampered with forensic test conclusions and that Cheri's Texas interview was also tampered with. We learned last year that her interview is not the first to be tampered with in this way, and it was discovered that DDA Peter Longanbach had instructed his secretary to “shuffle the defendant's interview to confuse the defense.”

Whoever was in custody of Cheri’s transcribed interview, shuffled 34 pages within the text then numbered them as though they were in order, then supplied the transcript to the defense and the court in it’s corrupted state. In at least one place, it turned Cheri's answer from “no” to “yeah” and placed her at the scene of the crime as though she were listening to the victim. But it did a good job confusing the defense because not even our investigator ever figured out why he kept “getting lost” when trying to compare the text to the videotape. Also, pages containing exonerating statements were excised from the transcript. Judge Gill however, chose not to compare the videotape to the transcript for some reason.

The prosecution also misquoted Cheri when they claimed she said:

  1. I went to Lisa's house on the day of the murder, 1-25-90.”

  2. That picture of the hair in the victim's hand sure looks like my hair.”

  3. I saw blood on the ceiling.”

  4. I could hear Susan on the phone as I approached the front door.”

  5. I don't know anyone with blond hair.”

  6. I went down the hallway and saw the blood.”

  7. I left a bag of bloody clothes at Charles Vary's house.”

  8. I lied about the voice sounding like Richard Amparano.”

  9. I lied because Jeff entered the room (in my first interview).”

  10. She had already been hit and bit before I got there” (The “BIT” in this statement is a product of creative enhancement by the prosecution. The audio on this tape was so bad only a portion was audible. Detectives Sutt and Presley were the original interviewers and neither heard Cheri say “bit.”

These are but a few of the damning statements officer Wick and DDA Manning claimed to a jury that Cheri made. None are true. None were challenged by attorney Berg.

In reading Taylor's autopsy report, I find evidence that Susan had been sexually assaulted at the time of the murder. As per Mary Pierson, DNA expert, the presence of Acid Phosphatase in the victim's mouth, anus and vagina were found, in direct contrast to what Coroner Dr. Eisele's swore at the grand jury and at trial.

All of Cheri’s appeals have been turned down so far, because all the appeal court does is review court procedure. The records however are wrong, because DDA Manning and arresting officer Robert Wick lied at trial and Mr. Berg refused to expose them.

In our San Diego justice system, even after seeing proof of prosecutorial wrong-doing by our Prosecuting Attorney, this wrong-doing is totally disregarded. Justice isn't nearly as important as closing a case, especially one that has the smell of official corruption.

Instead of hearing Cheri’s side of the story at trial that she was sober, with family members, at traffic court, giving Fred a birthday gift, shopping etc; the prosecutor presented a wild story that was not even challenged by the “defense” lawyer. Even at the Motion for a New Trial when physical proof was provided to Judge Gill; the traffic court receipt, the purchases from shopping with cancelled check, Connielou's timecard showing the day she took off work to drive Cheri to traffic court; red telephone that Cheri gave to Fred on the day of the murder. And the testimony of the investigator who said there was “no doubt” that the red telephone was at 2441 Torrejon on 1-24-90 - still judge Gill bought the prosecutor's story that was based on Cheri Dale saying “I went to Lisa Stanton's house on 1-25-90 and overheard an argument.” - a complete lie by the prosecutor. Cheri was never asked when the date or the day was that she had gone there, and at the MNT she had sworn that it was a completely different day that she had overheard an argument there.

I see no relief for Cheri in any type of appeal under these conditions. There must be something we can do. You see, I know Cheri is innocent. I’m an old man and have been through a lot but I have never felt so helpless and let down by my government.

Cheri's address is:
Cheri Dale W60748
CCWF C510-17-3L
Box 1508
Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508

My address is:
Charles Caldwell
1234 N. Coast Hwy 101
Leucadia  CA  92024