Mercedes Carrera and Jason Whitney Preliminary Hearing Date, $2M Bail Set

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — After being held without bail at the West Valley Detention Center for over four months, adult performer Mercedes Carrera and co-defendant Jason Whitney were finally granted bail today by the San Bernardino county judge who presides over their case.

Judge Stephan G. Saleson, a folksy 69-year-old Republican from East Lansing Michigan who served in the Marine Corps and holds a law degree from Christian university Pepperdine, also set the date for their preliminary hearing for July 17.

Joshua Castro, Carrera’s public defender, and Nicola Fitzgerald, the attorney representing Whitney, both requested changes to the no-bail situation established at the first hearing in February. That hearing occurred shortly after Rancho Cucamonga police raided Carrera and Whitney’s home, arrested the couple and charged them for sexual abuse of a minor (or minors) and possession of drugs and firearms.

Fitzgerald, a private lawyer retained as a “conflict board” attorney for Whitney since two co-defendants cannot be represented by the same public defender’s office, made a motion for the couple to be released “on their own recognizance,” a gutsy defense move that translates in laypeople’s terms as a request for the defendants to be released without having to post bail.

Castro compromised by asking for each of them to be released on $1,150,000 bail.

The inflexible San Bernardino District Attorney who charged Carrera and Whitney, Brieanne Durose, asked for bail to be set at $4,000,000 for each defendant.

Judge Saleson set bail at $2,000,000. Typically defendants can put down 8-10% of the bail amount and get the rest from a bail bondsman, if they have the collateral or co-signers for the remainder.

Sources familiar with Carrera and Whitney have told XBIZ that the couple has liquidated their assets and, though it might be theoretically possible for them to get to the 10% of the bail amount, they have not generated any income since January and are unable to pay a retainer for a private attorney.

Carrera and Whitney had already delayed their preliminary hearing, (where it will be decided if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial), because Carrera’s original public defender had neglected to contact her in prison or fully inform her of her situation.

After the original XBIZ report on the case in late March and our exclusive jailhouse interview with Carrera, the public defender office reassigned her case twice, until sometime in April, when she met with PD Joshua Castro, who has been a diligent advocate for her innocence.

DA Durose was the only person in the courthouse who knows exactly what kind of evidence Detective Donald Patton found at the Carrera-Whitney home during the raid, which happened less than 24 hours after the police received a tip about the situation and conducted an interview with the minor in question.

“Absolutely,” Detective Patton told XBIZ last month when asked if he still thought the evidence would support all nine charges. He repeated the assertion when we asked him if he still believed there were “more victims,” as the Rancho PD press release had conjectured when they released the couple’s mugshots back in February.

As far as XBIZ and our courthouse sources know, no other victims have come forward in the last four months.

A Rare Instance When Hearsay is Admissible in Court

Carrera had indicated at last month’s hearing that she was hoping to retain private counsel, but some technical developments during the last month appeared to discourage her from doing so.

According to several sources familiar with the case, the issue in question seems to be the DA’s expected strategy during the preliminary hearing. During preliminary hearings, as opposed to during the actual trial, the DA only has to establish “probable cause” and not guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Probable cause is a much lower threshold — i.e., less evidence is needed to move forward to the full trial.

It seems to everyone familiar with the case that the DA’s case hinges heavily on the testimony of only one minor, whom Carrera identified shortly after her arrest to XBIZ as her own daughter from a previous relationship. That daughter is now in the sole custody of her father and Carrera has not seen her or known of her whereabouts since the arrest.

At Carrera and Whitney’s preliminary hearing, where the prosecution’s witnesses can be cross-examined by the defense, the DA can choose to produce the minor as a witness, or she can opt for what is known as a “Prop 115 hearing” or “hearsay hearing.”

Proposition 115, known as the “Crime Victims Justice Reform Act,” made a number of changes in 1990 to the California Constitution, including the possibility to admit hearsay evidence at preliminary hearings (as opposed to the actual trial).

This opened the door for DAs to call police officers to the stand to repeat things they had heard alleged witnesses and victims say, removing the possibility of meaningful cross-examination of alleged witnesses and victims by the defense.

According to a source familiar with sex crime cases, though it is not uncommon for DAs to call law enforcement officers and not actual witnesses or victims for preliminary hearings, “it is very unusual in child molestation cases, unless there are problems with the child’s testimony.”

For XBIZ’s ongoing coverage of the Mercedes Carrera trial, click here.

https://www.xbiz.com/news/244599/mercedes-carrera-and-jason-whitney-preliminary-hearing-date-2m-bail-set