The former head of a Northern California Indian tribe was sentenced to death Monday for a 2014 rampage inside the tribal hall that left four people dead.
In sentencing Cherie Louise Rhoades, Judge Candace Beason called the killings at the Cedarville Rancheria Tribal Headquarters “intentional, premeditated and willful.” Beason rejected the option to modify a Placer County jury’s death sentence to life in prison.
Dressed in a gray-striped prison jumpsuit and orange plastic shoes, Rhoades, 47, shook her head as she listened to the judge read the sentence during a three-hour hearing in Modoc County Superior Court.
Rhoades was a former chairwoman of the 35-member Cedarville Rancheria Tribe of Northern Paiute. She launched her attack on her fellow tribal members, including three close relatives, during a Feb. 20, 2014, hearing at which the tribal council was expected to decide whether Rhoades and her son should be evicted from tribal housing. She had been suspended as chairwoman pending a federal investigation into allegations that she embezzled at least $50,000 from the tribe.
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After asking that all the windows be closed at the tribal hearing, she pulled out a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and began shooting in a rampage that continued several minutes.
Pronounced dead at the scene were Rhoades’ brother Rurik Davis, 50; her niece Angel Penn, 19; her nephew Glenn Calonicco, 30; and Shelia Lynn Russo, 47, a tribal administrator who managed evictions.
After she emptied at least one firearm, Rhoades grabbed a butcher knife and began stabbing people. Sisters Melissa Davis and Monica Davis were both injured.
Now chairwoman of the tribe with nine adult voting members, Melissa Davis appeared at the sentencing hearing. Her mother, Diane Henley, was among the victims who addressed Rhoades directly: “You tried to wipe out my daughters. They survived. They are stronger than ever. Nothing is going to stop them from moving on, and you will not be a part of it,” Henley said.
Philip Russo, Shelia Russo’s husband, told Rhoades: “Shelia lives forever … and you will be forgotten and die alone.”
Before delivering her sentence, Beason denied a defense motion for a new trial. Defense attorney Antonio Alvarez argued that the testimony of then-Alturas police Chief Ken Barnes was “false,” weakening his case that Rhoades did not plan the murders.
District Attorney Jordan Funk called the motion “a tempest in a teapot.”
Beason also tentatively authorized $64,874 be paid in restitution to the victims pending further discussions with the attorneys.
Rhoades is expected to be transferred to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, where there are 21 female condemned inmates.
Overall, California had 749 condemned inmates as of March 30. Legal challenges have prevented the state from executing any inmates since January 2006.
California has executed 513 inmates since 1893, including four women who died in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison.
The Bee’s Sam Stanton contributed to this story.