Story of the Year: Sandoval killed Exeter officer, case declared mistrial

Jurors fail to reach a verdict over Exeter police officer Daniel Green’s murder case where his ex-wife admits to the shooting; mistrial disappoints all after five years in court

By Paul Myers

TULARE COUNTY – The story of Exeter police officer, Daniel Green’s killing reached national headlines at the end of 2019. News outlet 48 Hours spotlighted the tumultuous relationship between Green and his exwife Erika Sandoval who admitted to shooting and killing Green in his own home on Feb. 6, 2015. Then things got even more dramatic when the jury was hung 11-1 last month, forcing judge Joseph Kalashian to call a mistrial. 

Since then Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said that his office will move forward with retrying the case, perhaps as early at next summer. 

“Our office has been in contact with [Daniel Green’s] family and they commended our staff for their work,” Ward said in a prepared statement in December. “We will continue to stand with them to see that justice is done. We are going to look ahead instead of looking back.”

February 2015

Depositions, investigations and a full compliment of court proceedings shined a light on every piece of the case that has lasted longer than five years. Assistant district attorney David Alavezos, who litigated the case, stated that the DA’s office was prosecuting Sandoval for first degree murder and the death penalty for lying in wait. 

On the day Green was killed, Sandoval was identified in a security video walking up to his home and entering through the backyard. In October last year, when the trial began, Alavezos showed the security footage as a part of his opening statement. The video depicts Green’s truck leaving his house on Lickey in Goshen at 10:31 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2015. While Green is gone Sandoval enters the video, and walks onto Green’s property at 11:07 a.m.

“When she makes the right, you’ll see that her walk speeds up as she goes through the side gate,” Alavezos said.

Green returns home and backs into his driveway at 12:12 p.m., and 42 minutes later at 12:54 p.m. Sandoval leaves through the same side yard she entered.

“She does not walk up the sidewalk, she kind of goes into the street and out, then back onto the sidewalk and then crosses this yard. Not really walking in a straight direction,” Alavezos said.

After Green was found dead in his bathroom by a fellow Exeter police officer, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office arrested Sandoval as a suspect. Sandoval went on to confess to detectives. 

After shooting Green, Sandoval said she took his duty weapon, the handgun, some ammunition, his cell phone and a PlayStation 4 to stage a robbery, in a gym bag and drove away. Tulare County Sheriff’s Detective Mark Zamora said Sandoval then told them she threw the bag out of the window on Highway 99. Officers later found the bag of guns, ammo and the PlayStation along Highway 99 near the rest stop where her vehicle was on video after the time of Green’s death.

Detective Rodney Klassen, the sheriff’s lead investigator on the case, said the only thing out of place in the house was Green’s .45 caliber Glock pistol from his duty belt and a dust-free space on the carpet where a PlayStation 4 was hooked up to the TV.

During the trail Dan Chambers, Sandoval defense attorney, surprisingly put her on the stand. Sandoval indicated that her actions were impulsive, when she admittedly shot and killed Green. Sandoval says she discovered two photographs of child porn in Green’s open safe when she entered the home while he was not there.

During cross examination where Chambers questioned Sandoval about the open safe in Green’s bedroom, she said the entire room was cluttered. In addition to other items in the room, she also found a stack of papers regarding the house and his truck in the open safe. She said in her experience the safe was customarily open. But among the papers and other items she claims that she found two pictures printed on computer paper of young girls in pornographic positions who were 12 to 15 years old.

“I thought, you know, I mean, like, is he watching this kind of stuff around my son? Is he doing anything to my son? I did think about my son,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval claims that is when Green arrived back to the house in his truck. At that point she said that she was in shock and unsure what to do. She went into her and their son Aiden’s room and hid in the closet. In response to questions from Alavezos, Sandoval said she sat with the  duffel bag she brought with her to the home that had two guns from the house inside of it. Sandoval said that she was scared Green might find her in there but that she was also angry.

“I was just, my mind was really angry. I was just, like, impulsive, I guess, in thinking about everything, just, I was scared, you know what I mean? A lot of stuff was going through my mind,” Sandoval said.

She went on to say that she heard the blender as Green went on to make a drink. Sandoval said she heard Green walk down the hall and was scared that she could have been seen in the closet and noted that she was thinking about the safety of Aiden and how he was being treated when he was with Green.

“I knew he’d take showers with Aiden. I didn’t know if he was doing stuff to Aiden, maybe, or just thinking about, like, the stuff that he had done with me, and what he was thinking when he was doing that stuff with me, what his mind thought,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval admittedly hit her “boiling point” and “snapped.” She testified that she had stepped out of the closet and into the hallway with the gun that she got from the bag and approached the bathroom where Green was.

“I stepped out of Aiden’s room. I stood right there in front of Daniel when he was on the toilet… As soon as he saw me, he said, ‘I’m going to [expletive] kill you,’ And he started getting up as soon as I started raising my arm, and I shot,” Sandoval said.

129 phone calls

Chambers said that the strongest piece of evidence in the case were the photos Sandoval claims to have found. Alavezos pointed out during cross examination that no photos were submitted into evidence, and were never mentioned during her interviews with detectives after she was arrested. Sandoval said that she was shaken and also didn’t trust the police to handle the evidence appropriately. Chambers added that he didn’t know why they weren’t put into evidence.

“They were left there but they weren’t there when the crime scene was done. So what happened there I have no idea,” Chambers said.

Without tangible evidence submitted, or a mutually recognized existence of pornographic photos, Ward said in his prepared remarks in December that the defense set out to harm Green’s reputation.

“We were trying Erika Sandoval for murder but it seems the trial took a turn and tried to murder the memory of Mr. Green,” Ward said.

Alavezos said the most likely scenario was not the discovery of some photos, it was a photo that Green posted on his social media of him and another woman. Green and Sandoval had a checkered past when it came to their relationship. They were off and on for quite some time. Things came to a violent head in 2011 when both were arrested following a domestic violence incident on Feb. 3, 2011. 

Detective Daniel Ford with the Visalia Police Department said he spoke with a friend and fellow motorcycle rider who lived near Green on Feb. 11. Joshua Miller told the detective that Green had asked him to come over to the house as a witness. Miller said Sandoval and Green were arguing and she threw things at him. She also put herself in the doorway and told Green he could not leave the house, which was in complete disarray. No charges were ever filed by the District Attorney’s Office, but rumors persisted regarding Green’s arrest.

A few days after the 2011 arrest, Ford interviewed Mark Cortez, a friend and motorcycle riding buddy. Ford testified that Cortez and Green were riding motorcycles in November 2012 and Cortez had come to a stop at a red light. He noticed Green was not slowing down as he approached the stop light but luckily the light changed before Green entered the intersection.

“Green said his baby’s mother had cut the brake lines,” Ford said.

Prior to leaving the house, Cortez told Ford that he was extremely uncomfortable in the residence and that Sandoval had gone into the garage before they left on their ride.

The days following Green’s death, Ford drove to Sandoval’s residence to pick up her and her mother for questioning. Ford said Sandoval told him she and Green had not had any problems for the last few months and that they had a “friendly relationship.” She said Green was a good father to his son and that there was no jealousy when he began dating again. In his contact with her, Ford said she seemed emotional but her eyes were tear-free and without redness during questioning.

“We asked her a line of questioning to elicit some kind of emotion, but the only tears we discovered were when we said her child would grow up without his father,” Ford said.

On cross examination by Chambers during a preliminary hearing, Ford did say that it is common for women to blame themselves in domestic violence situations and that it is not uncommon for women to shut down as they are in a state of shock.

During the trial last October, Alavezos pointed out several indicating circumstances that might have led her to shoot Green. The most notable circumstance being over a hundred phone calls after Green posted the photo of him and the other woman.

Between Feb 3 and Feb 6 Sandoval called Green 129 times, coincidentally seven days after Green posted the photo. In the four months prior to her three day calling onslaught, she made just 60 calls to Green.

“So in four months you called maybe around 60 times, and in three days, after seeing a picture, you call 120-some times?… It wasn’t because of the picture,” Alavezos asked.

Sandoval contended that it was not because of the picture.

He noted as well that Sandoval erased several text messages off Green’s phone shortly after the killing. Alavezos charged that they were about how she was promising to treat him better, but that Green rebuffed her and said that he had heard enough, and was done with the relationship.

Alavezos hearkened back to Sandoval’s confession days after Green’s murder when detectives Klassen and Zamora questioned her. Zamora asked why she decided to kill Green. She said that it was because he would talk down to her and call her stupid, a slut and a whore in addition to other expletives. Zamora then asked why she would go an wait for him and then leave. She replied, “why not?”

Sandoval said that she was concerned about the welfare of Aiden if Green was seeing another woman.

“I was, like, man, if he’s talking to somebody else, he’s going to definitely not pay attention to Aiden and, like, be less careless with him, and I started worrying a lot,” Sandoval said.

Hung Jury

After four full days of deliberations that crossed from November and into December, the jury could not come to a unanimous decision. Instead the jury was stuck at 11-1. Chambers as well as DA Ward were disappointed in the decision. 

“I think everyone wanted the case to be final and we all wanted a verdict so there would be some sort of finality,” Chambers said.

Chambers said that he intended to stay on the case, if Sandoval does not seek a different attorney. Chambers has been representing the case since she was first arraigned on Feb. 10, 2015. Since then he has invested thousands of hours.

Despite his disappointment in the lack of a verdict, Chambers said that he respects the juror’s opinion. He added that because one juror did not agree with the other 11 jurors does not mean that they had an agenda walking in to deliberation, as some have believed since news of the hung jury.

“I think people are very emotional and have an opinion of how things turned out is very emotional. But they weren’t in the jury room… the prosecution has a very high burden of proof and they feel that the prosecution didn’t meet that,” Chambers said.

However, according to Ward and the profile on 48 Hours that premiered Saturday, Dec. 7, jurors got into a heated confrontation during deliberations. Judge Kalashian was asked to weigh in on the matter, and Alavezos requested that the jury be polled to give them a chance to identify any juror that is not cooperating. Kalashian did not grant the poll, and Ward said that it is rare to have to do one anyways.

Ward said his office will begin the process for a retrial sometime next month. The case will remain the same, based on the same evidence and the same charges and penalties, including the DA’s office continuing to seek the death penalty. Ward said he expects the path to retrial to be much faster than the five years it took the case to reach the initial trial phase. He added that the prosecution will argue the same theory in the next trial as they did before. The biggest difference will be when they address the photographs Sandoval claims to have found.

Aside from indicating that law enforcement may have suppressed the photos during their initial search, Chambers said that the amount of legal pornography found on Green’s computer would indicate that he would have had the child porn printouts. Ward said that the difference between legal porn and child porn is stark, and the indication that law enforcement suppressed evidence is a farce.

But the hung jury was not just disappointing to the lawyers involved. It also had an emotional impact on Green’s former coworkers.

“It is fair to say that there was a mixture of shock and disappointment that that was the end result. We followed the trial closely and are obviously aware of the circumstances in the case. We felt that the DA’s office did a great job of stating the facts of the case,” Exeter chief of police John Hall said.

Hall has a special memory of Green and his identical twin brother Matt from when he was with the Porterville Police Department. Green and his brother were explorers in Porterville with dreams of becoming police officers. While he never worked with Green as a full fledged officer, his death was still felt writ large.

“When that happened the repercussions of it was felt at law enforcement community throughout the county,” Hall said.

Since Hall arrived in Exeter two years ago, the case has been on every officer’s mind since February 2015. Memories were brought up on the anniversary of his death every year since.

“Every now and again someone will tell a story and his name will come up, like many other individuals will. It’s certainly something that has come up on a regular basis,” Hall said.

Sandoval will continue to be incarcerated until the retrial begins sometime next year. Ward said that he does not feel the need for a change of venue in light of the hung jury notoriety.

“I have full faith in the process and continued faith in Tulare County jurors that anyone in Tulare County can have a fair trial,” Ward said.  

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