Feb. 21, 2012 — If one defines the news as what people talk about, then the recent developments in “The Speed Freak Killers” case certainly qualify.
The story has ballooned beyond imagination from one of local interest to one of regional, national and perhaps even international coverage.
This true story could even be the basis for a great made-for-television thriller, although almost no one would believe it actually happened.
Two boyhood friends from a sleepy little Central Valley town — Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine — apparently develop and perfect the macabre practice of killing dogs and cats and throwing their lifeless bodies down an old well on a cattle ranch owned by Shermantine’s family.
As they grow older, their appetite changes, and they begin, allegedly fueled by methamphetamine, hunting and killing humans — mostly women — instead of animals. They continue to throw the bodies into the well they later fill in with dirt. Then they begin to use a second well to dispose of the bodies.
No one knows for sure how many people the two young men killed — some estimates go as high as 40 — but the Central Valley communities near them become fearful as more and more people turn up missing without explanation.
That all changes in 1999 when law enforcement officers find blood evidence in a cabin owned by Shermantine’s family linking to two young men to the cold-case murder of a 16-year-old girl. During the course of interrogations, each man fingers the other as the real killer.
In 2001, Shermantine is convicted of four murders and sentenced to death. Herzog is convicted of three murders and sentenced to 78 years in prison.
But in 2004, an appeals court rules Herzog’s confession was coerced. He pleads guilty to manslaughter in a second trial and is sentenced to 14 years in state prison.
Curiously, Herzog’s confession about his own conduct is thrown out because of his Constitutional Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, but his statements about Shermantine are not.
Shermantine did not incriminate himself, so he has no Constitutional protection from Herzog’s statements. Ask your attorney to explain that one to you.
In 2010, with only two days notice given to local officials, Herzog paroles in Lassen County, setting off a firestorm of controversy.
Some local residents even threaten to shoot him on sight if, by some chance, he’s seen in their neighborhood.
Law enforcement officials say they have a responsibility to protect the community from Herzog and a second duty to protect the killer from the community.
In any case, Herzog is scheduled to become a free man in September 2012.
This January, after more than a decade of negotiations, celebrity bounty hunter Leonard Padilla brokers a deal with Shermantine to reveal where the bodies are in exchange for enough money to pay off his court-ordered restitution, buy gravestones for his parents and a few sweet treats from the prison canteen.
After Shermantine gives up the locations, Padilla calls Herzog to give him a heads up.
He even offers to help him get a lawyer because he’s going to need one very soon. A few hours later Herzog’s body is found hanging outside his trailer.
Now officials are digging up the remains, and no one knows for sure how many they will find.
May their unfortunate victims finally rest in peace.
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