March 25, 2022
Today, jury selection in the matter of People v. Ryan Tanner (34) was interrupted when Tanner, through his attorneys Russell Clanton and Zack Curtis, sought to enter a guilty plea for the February 2020 killing of Jason Todd Garrett (age 32) of Garberville, CA along with guilty pleas for additional crimes.
At the preliminary hearing, witness Christopher Champagne stated that Garrett was kidnapped by Tanner as Garrett worked on a van along a rural road near Tanner’s property in China Creek, CA. Champagne said that Tanner then lit the van on fire and took Garrett back to his home, where he interrogated Garrett about possibly being a thief. Champagne testified that at one point, Tanner used a knife to cut Garrett’s throat and then used duct tape to cover his wound. Later, Tanner used a rifle to shoot Garrett in the head at close range. Tanner then burnt down the cabin where the homicide occurred.
During the investigation of the case, Champagne had informed Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department investigators that Tanner had threatened to kill him if he did not assist with the murder and subsequent burial of Garrett’s body. It was Champagne who led investigators to Garrett’s body, located in a hidden grave on Tanner’s property.
Champagne’s testimony during the preliminary hearing complicated the case, because it included the false claim that Tanner also murdered six law enforcement officers in the days after Garrett’s murder. However, DNA evidence linked Tanner to Garrett’s murder: investigators found a cigarette butt with Tanner’s DNA close to Garrett’s grave. Additionally, a criminalist from the California Department of Justice found DNA linking Garrett, Champagne and Tanner to the roll of duct tape used on Garrett’s neck.
Around the time of Garrett’s murder, citizens of the Briceland, Ettersberg, and Redway communities had become increasingly concerned with Tanner’s behavior. A few days prior to the murder, Tanner used a rifle to threaten his neighbors and, on another occasion, stole a car from them while armed with a firearm. Also, in the weeks prior to the murder, Tanner assaulted his girlfriend with a firearm.
Earlier this week, Judge Cockrum ruled that prosecutors would be allowed to present evidence of a prior kidnapping a year before the murder, as well as recordings of Tanner during a phone call wherein he claimed that he was the “guardian of the mountain” and if thieves came on his property, they “might end up dead.”
Including his guilty plea to manslaughter with use of a firearm for the killing of Garrett, Tanner pled to a total of eleven counts (each one is classified as a “strike”) against seven different victims. On April 11, 2022, Tanner will be sentenced to 39 years in prison and will waive credit for the more than two years he has already served in jail. Prior to accepting the plea family members and victims were notified.
Deputy District Attorney Whitney Timm prosecuted the case with assistance from District Attorney Investigator Marvin Kirkpatrick; Deputy District Attorneys Luke Bernthal and Jessica Acosta; and District Attorney Victim Witness Advocate Velda Gooden.