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CA - Man sentenced to probation for role in 2008 ridge death

OFF THE WIRE
OROVILLE -- A man was given probation Friday for his role in the 2008 robbery death of a Paradise resident. As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Darrell Leigh Hughes was given 10 years probation after pleading guilty to two counts of kidnapping, two counts of witness intimidation and an added count of assault with a deadly weapon.
Hughes had also faced a count of murder for the death of Eric Jones on Dec. 28, 2008, but the charge was dropped after the defendant agreed to fully cooperate in the upcoming trial of co-defendants William Kurt Breunle and Christopher Philip Levin.
The prosecution alleges the three were members of an outlaw motorcycle club and attempted to rob Jones' house on Azalea Lane because of the victim's medical marijuana grow. During the botched robbery, they allegedly bound and gagged Jones, leading to asphyxiation and death.
The defendants also allegedly coerced two witnesses to go inside Jones' house and threatened them to not report the incident to police.
Identifying the defendants at the scene had been an issue before Hughes' agreement. Officials were able to recover surveillance video of the incident, but it showed that the robbers wore masks.
Breunle and Levin are each charged with a count of murder, two counts of kidnapping and two counts of witness intimidation.
Breunle has subsequently been charged with solicitation of murder after there was testimony that he tried to convince someone to kill his partner in a transmission business.
Butte County Superior Court Judge Steven Howell proceeded with sentencing Friday although Breunle and Levin's trial hasn't been held. Their trial date has been postponed until Dec. 12.
Deputy district attorney Kurt Worley had sought to continue the sentencing until January, after the trial. He said the prosecution had expected Hughes' sentencing to take place after the September trial and a delay wouldn't violate the agreement with the defendant.
Hughes' attorney, James Berglund, disagreed. He said Hughes has fully cooperated with officials, including taking part in two recorded interviews in Butte County Jail.
Berglund said his client also knows the consequences if he breaks the agreement, including being sentenced to two life terms in prison.
The judge denied the prosecution's request for a delay. Proceeding with the sentencing, Howell said the court couldn't recall a similar case where a defendant was given probation. Both attorneys agreed.
Because of the pending trial, Worley declined to elaborate about the case in court, but said he was confident in the case's details. He said Hughes' probation helped further the interest of justice.
Howell agreed to follow the terms of the agreement. The terms of probation include no contact with street gangs or related paraphernalia, and a prohibition on possessing drugs without a prescription and possessing deadly weapons. Hughes must also submit to police searches and drug tests on request.
Howell also ordered that Hughes stay away from the two surviving victims. Hughes must also pay restitution to the two victims and Jones' estate.
The judge did remove requirements related to alcohol, and participating in classes or treatment after probation ends.
After the hearing, Worley said Hughes would be released from jail into witness protection.
In addition to Hughes possibly being sentenced to prison if he violates probation or his agreement, the defendant could also face a life sentence if convicted of a future felony.

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