Alleged mass shooter to stand trial for murder in tribal dispute

ALTURAS, Calif. - A woman charged with shooting and killing four people at a tribal hearing in Modoc County has been bound over for trial.

At a preliminary hearing Wednesday morning, a judge in Alturas ruled there was enough evidence to try Cherie Lash Rhoades on four counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder.  The victims include Rhoades' brother, niece and nephew.

Attempts to add three counts of attempted murder for those in the area of the shooting who weren't hurt were denied by the judge, although prosecutors may still try to add those charges.

During the hearing, the prosecution played an audio recording of the shooting in which gunshots and screaming could be heard from the incident on February 20 at the Cedarville Rancheria tribal office in Alturas. 

As the audio was played, a victim's relative exited the courtroom, visibly upset, yelling "f---ing b-tch."

In the audio recording, the judge and court observers listened to the sound of the first gunshot.  Prosecutors said that first shot hit Rhoades' brother, Rurik Davis, in the head.  It was followed by more shots, the sound of screaming and people saying "Cherie please stop, Cherie no, Cherie no."  Victim Angel Penn's five-day-old baby was heard crying in the background of the recording.

The prosecution and defense stipulated to evidence about the shots that killed the four victims.  Rhoades' brother Rurik Davis, 50, died from the single shot to the head.  Sheila Russo, 47, was shot twice and died from a shot to her head.  Rhoades' niece, 19-year-old Angel Penn, died from a single shot to the chest.  Rhoades' nephew Glenn Calonico, 30, was shot eight times, including two shots to the chest that caused his death.

All four victims were killed with a 9 mm handgun.  Alturas Police Chief Ken Barnes testified that when he arrived at the scene, he found the empty handgun, and 16 shell casings.  He also found a second handgun that had eight rounds left in it.  He testified that he believes it had jammed, preventing Rhoades from killing more people.

Two victims survived the shooting.  Testimony revealed that Melissa Davis was shot four times, and Monica Davis was shot once.

A man who was monitoring security video during the meeting also testified.  He described holding Rhoades down outside the building until officers could arrive, scooping a knife away from her. 

She allegedly used the knife to stab Glenn Colonico after he was shot, then tried to stab Melissa Davis.

Nikki Munholland was a financial assistant for the tribe and was in the room at the time of the shooting.  She testified that she ran out of the room after the first shot, after providing background on why Rhoades may have been motivated to kill.

Prosecutors claimed Rhoades was angered by the eviction hearings that were started at the meeting.  Rhoades had previously been removed as tribal chairperson in January.  According to testimony, after her removal, she stood to lose a $15,000 to $20,000 quarterly benefit.  She had been removed as tribal chair as part of an investigation into embezzlement.

Ultimately, Undersheriff Ken Richardson took Rhoades into custody. He testified she told him the tribe brought the shooting on themselves, and that she just "cut the head off the snake."

After the hearing, many family members were visibly upset. District Attorney Jordan Funk spoke with them in an effort to explain how the process will develop from here.

Both Funk and Rhoades' defense attorney indicated a plea deal could be in the works, but for now, the death penalty is still on the table if Rhoades is convicted, and an arraignment on information is scheduled for August 13.

One family member - Philip Russo - spoke out after the hearing. He is the husband of victim Sheila Russo. He said now that the hearing is over, he hopes people will focus on the lives lost instead of how they were lost, and what they accomplished when they were alive.

"The one thing I want to make sure of going forward is that we don't just tell the story of a killer or of this tragedy," said Russo.

"That we really remember the loved ones that we lost. Let's remember them for the good things they did in their life, and the lives they led. My wife Sheila - she was an amazing woman. Probably spent much of her adult life fighting for the underprivileged. She deserves to be remembered for that. Not for how she was killed."

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