Murder and Justice in Wine Country: Retired Judge Ray Guadagni Releases “Napa Valley Case Files” | Books

From the 1850 massacre of the Wappo people in Napa County to the 2000 trial of a man whose reckless and furious conduct killed two New Zealand visitors, retired Napa Judge Raymond A. Guadagni examines eight murder stories locals in his latest book, “Napa Valley Case Files: Justice in Wine Country” from History Press.

A young man convicted of bludgeoning his parents to death with a baseball bat; a college student whose disappearance and death led to the arrest and trial of one of Napa County’s few black residents; a woman who shot her abusive husband; a homosexual priest leading a secret life; an 84-year-old man who “loved his wife to death”; and a man who got away with murder, for nine years – Guadagni recounts the events and ensuing investigations and trials in meticulous and fascinating detail.

It’s a style he established in his previous book, “The Napa Murder of Anita Fagiani Andrews: A Cold Case That Caught a Serial Killer,” which chronicles how a murderer was ultimately convicted 37 years after stabbing the woman. Napa to death. in 1974.

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Guadagni was the presiding judge in the trial of Roy Melanson, who was serving another sentence in Colorado and was identified by DNA methods not available in the 1970s. His in-depth and gripping account brought the bench perspective to a story that had haunted Napa law enforcement offices — and the wider community — for decades.

Guadagni brings this same global point of view to the stories he tells in “Case Files”, each of which provides a reflection of the time in which they occurred.

It begins with “The Napa County Indian Massacre”, subtitled “The First Case Heard in the Supreme Court of California”.

People v Smith et al was a native of Napa County, and when he stood trial in 1851, one of the witnesses called was George Yount, who testified about the group of Lake County men who arrived at his ranch determined to get unleash with fire, murder and terror.

That the men were arrested and tried in these “uncertain and chaotic times” was a surprise, “given the prevailing attitudes of the people of that time”, writes Guadagni, noting: “In 1851, California passed a law compensating the groups for expenses incurred on Indians. – hunting trips.

Guadagni said he chose cases he could research in depth to recreate for readers, but this one was a challenge, given the scarcity of documentation from that era. Nonetheless, due to its significance as the first case heard by the fledgling Supreme Court in a new state, he decided it was worth seeking out.

A troubling question of race arises in its second story, the case of Lynda Kanes, a student at Pacific Union College in Angwin, who disappeared on her way to work in 1971.

A week later his body was found, buried on Howell Mountain, and circumstantial evidence led to the arrest of Walter Williams, “Willie the Lumberjack” who, Guadagni writes, “had lived in the community since 1949, was amiable, popular and healthy”. -loved and so useful as a carrier/handyman for everyone.”

Williams was also one of the few black men living in Napa County, which led to issues of racial bias and the decision to close Williams’ preliminary hearing and seal the hearing transcripts.

All of this, plus the timing of the murder, when the Zodiac serial murders included two PUC students, sparked intense public and media interest in the trial, Guidagni said.

Retired judge Raymond Guadagni has released an account of the 1974 murder of Anita Fagiani Andrews in Napa, the 37-year-old effort to find her killer, and her 2011 trial in which Guadagni was a judge.

In this story as in others, Guadagni does what few TV detective series can: he takes readers behind the scenes to witness the myriad decisions that go into investigations, arrests and trials, making these stories of “wine country justice,” filled with familiar names from Napa’s history, absorbing reads that illuminate a dark side of the valley.

The detectives’ methods are particularly fascinating in the case he calls “Lying in Wait,” in which William “Billy” Duvall Jr. called the police to report that his parents’ home had been ransacked and they were dead.

It is apparent from Guadagni’s description of the painstaking manner in which the police gathered evidence that Duvall was someone interested in the double murders – obvious, it seems, to everyone except Duvall, who had devised an alibi designed to deflect suspicion.

While fiction usually ends with the inspired capture of a criminal by detectives, Guadagni takes the reader deeper into the cases, through the trial and its aftermath, and offers an insider’s view of the methods, obstacles and the decisions that legal teams and judges have to make. . The result is both realistic and thoughtful, a compelling page-turner.

Guadagni, a Napa native, studied at UC Berkeley and UC Hastings College of Law before returning to his hometown in 1975. His law firm became a contract public defender in 1978, and in 1995, he was appointed Commissioner of the Superior Court.

He became a Napa Superior Court judge in 2000 after the retirement of Judge Philip Champlin, who wrote the preview of “Napa Valley Case Files.” Champlin was also the presiding judge in one of the most difficult cases described by Guadagni, that of Bob Edwards, who at 84 killed his beloved wife of 56 years. She had suffered strokes, was not recovering from them and was immobilized in a bed because she kept withdrawing her IV drips. He had promised her that he would never let her be sent to a care facility. After suffocating her, he called the police to report her death.

Was he guilty of murder? Guadagni walks readers through the steps the police and lawyers took in deciding whether to present the evidence to Judge Champlain, rather than presenting it to a trial jury.

“It was very unusual,” Guadagni said. “Literators rarely want to leave (a case) to a judge alone.” It only takes one dissident jurist to result in a suspended trial followed by a new trial, he explained.

“But in this case,” Guadagni said, “they had to be convinced that Judge Champlin would make a compassionate and humane decision. And he did.”

Champlin, in turn, describes Guadagni as “the forensic historian of the Napa course”.

Guadagni will discuss “Napa Valley Case Files” at an event with Napa Bookmine at the Napa Main Library on July 5, beginning at 6 p.m. Register on Eventbrite ( The event is for 60 people in person. If more than 60 registered, a Zoom link will be added.

Guadagni said his next project is a story he had planned to include in “Napa Valley Case Files” but, on the publisher’s recommendation, is turning into a separate book. It’s a 1980s Ponzi scheme called LandVest that defrauded many Napa Valley residents.

“There are people today who are still feeling the effects,” he said.

Gaudagni said he welcomes comments from victims, witnesses or anyone who might “want to set the record straight”. Comments can be sent to [email protected] for forwarding.

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